The Milwaukee Brewers have been a young team throughout the decade. Young players such as Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, and Corey Hart have been the core of the team during the franchise turnaround.
But with some of the key players getting older, Milwaukee will need a set of prospects to produce at the Big League level.
The following are the top twenty-five prospects, according to www.milbprospects.blogspot.com.
1 Alcides Escobar , SS , MIL
2 Brett Lawrie , 2B , MIL
3 Kentrail Davis , OF , MIL
4 Mat Gamel , 3B , MIL
5 Evan Anundsen , P , MIL
6 Jake Odorizzi , P , MIL
7 Caleb Gindl , OF , MIL
8 Eric Arnett , P , MIL
9 Jose Pena , OF , MIL
10 Mark Rogers , P , MIL
11 Jon Lucroy , C , MIL
12 Kyle Heckathorn , P , MIL
13 Angel Salome , C , MIL
14 Amaury Rivas , P , MIL
15 Cody Scarpetta , P , MIL
16 Max Walla , OF , MIL
17 Wily Peralta , P , MIL
18 Jeremy Jeffress , P , MIL
19 Maverick Lasker , P , MIL
20 Taylor Green , 3B , MIL
21 Eric Farris , 2B , MIL
22 Logan Schafer , OF , MIL
23 Mark Willinsky , P , MIL
24 Cutter Dykstra , OF , MIL
25 Zach Braddock , P , MIL
Alcides Escobar, Jon Lucroy, and Zach Braddock are all currently on the Brewers 25 man roster.
Escobar appears to have the shortstop position locked up for years. The team traded JJ Hardy to Minnesota for Carlos Gomez, signalling that their trust has been placed in the hands of the young shortstop from Venezuela.
Alcides's glove is one of the best in the National League already. His double plays are crisp and he possesses a cannon to throw out the runner.
However, his plate discipline comes into question often. Escobar draws very few walks, which would be very helpful with his speed. He is currently tied for the NL lead in triples.
Second base may be where the biggest dilemma pops up. 2008 first round pick Brett Lawrie has shown that he has the tools to play for the Brewers, and it is just a matter of time before the Canadian gets the call.
But Rickie Weeks is the franchise's second baseman. Lawrie is too valuable to get rid of, and he already switched from catcher to second base.
My prediction is that we will see him on the roster next season, then become the starter in 2012, while the Brewers get rid of Weeks. They could trade him for a much-needed young pitcher or possibly a center fielder or catcher. His contract expires at the end of 2010.
The key emphasis of the team is on a young arm—Eric Arnett and Jake Odorizzi.
Arnett was the team's first round pick out of Indiana University in 2009. He throws a low to mid 90's fastball, a sinker, a mediocre changeup, and the potential of a slider. One issue facing Arnett is his high pitch counts while with the Hoosiers. He is currently with Class A Wisconsin.
Odorizzi was the 32nd overall pick in 2008, a bit overshadowed by the selection of Lawrie (the Brewers received the supplementary pick as a result of losing Francisco Cordero). His velocity is about the same as Arnett's. His slider is considered "nasty sometimes" according to one scout. His curveball can be his out pitch.
Look for both of these pitchers to be in the rotation by 2013, if not earlier. While surprising, the team could trade either one of them for a mid-season acquisition, just as they did in 2008 with Matt LaPorta.
At the catcher position, veterans have held the position for the longest of times. That may change soon, however. 27 year-old George Kottaras has shown good pop and an OBP over .400 as the backup-turned-starter this season. If the team is smart, they will keep him around next season as the minor league catching talent matures.
Jon Lucroy has been Kottaras's backup ever since Gregg Zaun went down in mid-May. At only 23 years old, he has skills behind the plate that blend right in with the rest of the Big League backstops. He is an above-average hitting catcher, proving this with a single in his first MLB at bat.
Angel Salome has long been considered the top catching prospect, though his hype has dropped over the course of the past year. Salome will not make the team as a defensive catcher, but rather as a hitter. He hit .360 in 98 games with AA Huntsville in 2008. Over his minor league career, Angel is hitting .316.
Currently on a personal leave from baseball due to the birth of his child, expect to see Salome in September, but as a rarely-used catcher.
As for the bullpen, Braddock and John Axford are the two top prospects. Braddock was projected as the closer by 2013 by Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt. His slider is devastating and is his main pitch. Braddock has not given up a run yet in 2010.
The closer projection may have taken a different turn with the downfall of Trevor Hoffman. This, along with injuries, set up the table for John Axford. A 42nd round pick in 2005, Axford is only signed through 2010. The Brewers need to sign him this offseason to lock up the future shut down closer.
If Axford becomes the franchise's closer, the Brewers may not keep Braddock. His talent could be used elsewhere as a closer, making more money than Milwaukee would pay him to set up for Axford.
Axford has appeared in seven games in 2010 after being a September call-up in 2009. He notched two saves in two attempts, striking out the side against Minnesota. His 97 mph fastball blows away batters. Axford has shown that he can be a dominant closer in only seven appearances. In addition to his pitching, his mustache has made him a fan favorite within a month.
Mat Gamel played in 61 games last season, hitting five home runs and batting .242. His power is his greatest asset. The Brewers may try to hide his weak glove, as they did with Ryan Braun, who struggled mightily at third base as a rookie. Gamel had a .885 fielding percentage in 2009.
Casey McGehee has solidified himself as a legitimate third baseman, currently leading the NL in RBI. The team would not want to lose their hidden gem, so Gamel is faced with a few options:
1) Move to right field, where his glove won't be as big of a problem;
2) Get traded for a young pitcher;
3) Become a back-up third baseman.
The most interesting story is that of Jeremy Jeffress. The right hander, 22, has always had Major League-level talent with a hard fastball and a hard slider.
Drafted in the first round of the 2006, he was suspended for 50 games in 2007 for drug abuse. In 2008, he reached AA, struggled, and was sent back to A ball. Most recently, he tested positive for marijuana, receiving a 100 game suspension along with the knowledge that one more positive test would lead to a lifetime ban.
The Brewers still have hopes for the talented Jeffress, who is scheduled to return to baseball soon. But with good young pitchers around him, he will have to fight for his spot on a future team.
Other top prospects on the top 25 list that I did not mention specifically, include: Kentrail Davis, Kyle Heckathorn, Cutter Dykstra, Amaury Rivas, Cody Scarpetta, Max Walla, and Logan Schafer.
Here are some other prospects I am high on: OF D'Vontrey Richardson, P Tim Dillard, P Chuck Lofgren, and OF Lorenzo Cain.
Looking ahead to 2013, here is my projected lineup:
C: Jon Lucroy/ Angel Salome
1B: Prince Fielder (they'll sign him to a big contract)
2B: Brett Lawrie
SS: Alcides Escobar
3B: Casey McGehee
LF: Ryan Braun
CF: Kentrail Davis
RF: Mat Gamel
Starting Rotation: Yovani Gallardo, Eric Arnett, Cody Scarpetta, Jake Odorizzi, Amaury Rivas
Closer: John Axford