Several other teams may have surpassed or rival what Milwaukee's farm system boasts, but the Brewers still feature a host of potential big-league standouts despite the trades for CC Sabathia and Ray Durham depleting the ranks by six (one is still a player to be named later going to Cleveland).
Milwaukee's minor league teams won't come close to equaling what they accomplished in 2007, when five of the six participated in postseason competition.
However, the Brewers and their fans are excited about numerous prospects at all levels who should be knocking on Milwaukee's doorsteps in the near future.
Among them are four players, all of them at Class AA Huntsville, who are ranked in the top 100 of Scout.com's charts for 2008 and several more who garnered serious consideration by the network's baseball publishers.
Many of the other ranked players have bounced back and forth between the bigs and the minors this season or recently got called up and have remained with their parent clubs, so the ratings—delayed by technical difficulties—obviously aren't as updated or fresh as desired.
However, it's always fun to check them out and debate where players should fall, and that includes these players from the Milwaukee system. Statistics are through games of Aug. 14.
Huntsville shortstop Alcides Escobar, No. 30
The slick-fielding, strong-armed Escobar is the No. 5 shortstop in the Scout.com rankings. He has cranked up his bat in recent weeks and was second on the team in hitting at .346. Escobar has taken over the Stars' lead with 169 hits and 31 stolen bases. He was second in runs scored with 86 and total bases with 223 and sat fourth in RBIs with 70. Although he's tightened up of late, Escobar has committed 19 errors.
A lot of fans have been clamoring for him to replace Rickie Weeks on the Brewers' roster at some point with the idea of inserting Escobar at shortstop and moving J.J. Hardy to second or third. It doesn't look like Huntsville will make the playoffs, so he could be a September call-up, although my gut tells me that he'll have to wait until sometime next year.
Huntsville pitcher Jeremy Jeffress, No. 39
This flame thrower sits at No. 18 among pitchers in the Scout.com ratings. He spent most of the campaign at Class A Brevard County, making his Huntsville debut Aug. 13, walking three and giving up two hits and two runs in 2.1 innings, although he struck out two. Jeffress has been the organization's top pitching prospect since being its top selection in the 2006 draft out of high school. He finished 9-5 at West Virginia a year ago and was 4-6 with a 4.08 ERA with 102 strikeouts and 41 free passes in 79.1 innings with the Manatees this summer, which included one bad relief outing.
His kind of arm has been scarce in the Milwaukee system, so the powers that be won't rush him to Miller Park. It'll be interesting to see how he progresses the remainder of the year, but I suspect a full year at Huntsville looms for him next summer with Nashville a possibility at some point.
Huntsville LF Cole Gillespie, No. 56
Ranked No. 13 among outfielders, he hasn't been spectacular. But he's made a steady climb since being picked out of Oregon State in the third round of 2006 and shares the team lead in games played with 119. Gillespie led the Stars with 37 doubles, was tied for third with four triples and was third in homers with 13 and RBIs with 74. Gillespie was hitting a respectable .287 and led Huntsville with 69 walks (compared to 91 Ks) and chipped in 14 stolen bases.
Huntsville third baseman Mat Gamel, No. 69
He terrorized Southern League pitching before the All-Star break but dropped off drastically since playing in the Futures Game and losing a big bat behind him when Matt LaPorta was traded to the Indians.
Gamel, who sits at No. 5 at his position, may be much higher in some people's eyes, but his defense continues to drag him down, although it's gotten better despite 28 errors. A position switch could be in the offing despite what Milwaukee brass has said about keeping him at the hot corner.
Despite his more humanlike second half, Gamel was hitting .332 and leading the team with 92 runs, seven triples, 17 homers, 91 RBIs and 258 total bases.
If he had stayed hot, I could easily have seen him visit the Brewers' dugout when rosters expand. Now, I'm not sure. But I'd love to see him take a few whacks at big-league pitching.
Other top prospects
Huntsville catcher Angel Salome
He was rated the No. 8 backstop by Scout.com folks and continues to add punch to the lineup. Salome led the team with a .356 average in 86 games. He has socked 29 doubles and nine homers and is second in RBIs with 76. He had struck out only 53 times in 323 at-bats, which helped give him a .408 on-base percentage and .950 OPS, both tops on the squad. At 5-7, he's pretty much gotta make it at catcher, where he's committed two errors while also seeing time as a designated hitter.
Huntsville outfielder Michael Brantley
He has missed time with injuries but is regarded as having the best plate discipline in the system, which is evident by his .403 OBP and only 22 whiffs in 354 official plate appearances. Brantley, ranked the No. 26 outfielder, was hitting .325 and had scored 72 runs in 89 games.
Brevard County third baseman Taylor Green
Despite being rumored as the leading candidate to join the CC Sabathia trade as the "player to be named later," Green has continued to produce and the bonus is that he carries a left-handed stick. Scout.com's No. 11 third sacker, Green was leading Manatees' regulars with 114 games, 418 at-bats, 121 hits, 15 homers, 73 RBIs, 185 total bases, .382 OBP and .289 average. He also has a good eye, coaxing 61 walks compared to 59 strikeouts. He had 18 errors.
Brevard County catcher Jonathan Lucroy
This guy has moved up the board after hitting .310 at Lower Class A West Virginia in 65 games with 10 homers and 33 RBIs and .391 OBP. The bump up to the Florida State League hasn't bothered him much: In his first 51 games, Lucroy, the No. 10 catcher, had compiled eight doubles, eight homers, 33 RBIs and was hitting .286, leading the team with a .464 slugging percentage. Lucroy also had a .350 OBP because he had walked 20 times compared to 34 strikeouts.
Nashville utility player Hernan Iribarren
This left-handed slap hitter was rated the No. 4 second baseman but has seen most of his playing time in the outfield with the Sounds. He was batting .278 with 13 doubles and 18 stolen bases in 87 games after getting two drinks of coffee with the Brewers earlier this season. His versatility and defensive capabilities are welcome commodities, but he appears to be blocked regardless of where he plays because he lacks power altogether as evidenced by his 105 total bases on 88 hits.