Although the Brewers have the reputation as a team that struggles to develop Major League caliber arms, the past few years have seen the Brewers graduate a number of arms to their big league club. Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson top that list and give the Brewers two pitchers that will be apart of their starting rotation for the foreseeable future. Mike Fiers and Tyler Thornburg have also filled huge needs for the team in both the rotation and bullpen.
Young, cost-controlled pitchers are the most valuable commodity in all of baseball. When you look at the price of free agents on the market, it becomes quite clear that the Brewers absolutely have to be able to develop these arms in order to be competitive. Also because pitching injuries are so prevalent in today's game, having the depth in the minors is an absolute necessity.
So with Nelson, Peralta, Fiers and Thornburg on the 25-man roster for good who is next up for the Brewers? I'll start with the highest level pitchers and work towards Rookie ball.
Taylor Jungmann is currently the prospect that is furthest along in Triple-A Nashville. Jungmann's story is well known among Brewers' fans. A first round pick, considered a safe bet to get to the majors quickly turned struggling minor leaguer grasping on to any value as a prospect.
As for 2014, Jungmann has shown some signs of life between his stints in Double-A and Triple-A. His K% is up to 21.7% in Triple-A from just 13.8% in Double-A in 2013. His walk rate has dropped from 12.3% to 10.2%. These are both very good things in Jungmann's progression, however his ERA is still high at 4.22 and he is allowing a lot of baserunners (1.30 WHIP). These numbers look bettter than they did at the beginning of August as Jungmann has had a tremendous month with a 1.57 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 23 innings. Barring a disastrous last start, this will be the first month that Jungmann posts an ERA below 5 since joining Triple-A.
Personally I do not have a lot of confidence in Jungmann. He is likely to make the big league club at some point, but for my tastes he does not have good enough command of the strike zone nor does he have the stuff to get a lot of swings and misses at the big league level.
In Double-A the Brewers other 2011 first round draft pick Jed Bradley is having a solid yet unspectacular season for Huntsville. Bradley is a lot like Jungmann in the fact he has improved upon his strikeout rate and walk rate, but is still struggling overall.
At 25 and 24 respectively, Jungmann and Bradley are no where near what the Brewers expected of them. However, that does not mean they can't contribute to the big league club at some point. Whether it is as a bullpen pitcher or a backend starter remains to be seen. The pair still have work to do, but improvements are always nice to see. While the top prospect luster has worn off them, the useful major league player option is still there.
More exciting on the prospect spectrum are the Brewers trio of starters in Brevard County. Jorge Lopez, Taylor Williams and Tyler Wagner . Wagner and Williams have had spectacular seasons while Lopez put together a very strong first half, but has hit the wall in the second part of the season.
Lopez has shown flashes that have excited many evaluators this season. Just 21-years-old with a long and lean 6'4" frame, Lopez uses a fastball that sits between 91-93 MPH, a curve ball that has the potential to be a plus pitch and a change-up that can be a usable third pitch. Lopez is also a very good athlete that will only help him in his development. The key for future years will be to see if he can find the consistency instead of just the flashes he has shown.
Williams has the detriment of being a 5'11" right handed pitcher. Some will immediately look at his height and label him a future reliever, however if 2014 is any indication Williams is not ready to settle as a reliever. After striking out over a batter an inning in 107 innings of Low-A ball, Williams has struck out 15 batters in 15 innings in High-A Brevard County. Perhaps more impressive is Williams control. He has walked just 25 batters in 122 innings. Williams works with a low to mid 90's fastball and an above average slider. He also mixes in a change-up, but that must improve for him to have any chance of sticking as a starter.
Wagner is having one of the more exciting years of any prospect in the Brewers' system. The former college closer turned professional starter works with a two-seam fastball in the 91-93 MPH range topping out at 94-95, an above average slider that works well with his sinker and a passable change-up with some projections. While his peripherals may have some overlook the numbers he is putting up, Wagner does a great job of limiting hard contact and generates a tremendous amount of ground balls because of the late sinking movement on fastball. Wagner will go as far as his secondary pitches allow him to go.
At the Rookie ball level Devin Williams and Kodi Medeiros are exciting prospects that I expect will be in Low-A Wisconsin next season. I expect to have a much better read on both pitchers and their offerings during next season.