Strong pitching brewing in Milwaukee system
Team's top four prospects and six of first nine are hurlers
MILWAUKEE -- For years, the Brewers' Minor League system has churned out hitters but few pitchers. Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks have all been drafted, developed and turned into All-Stars during the Miller Park era. Ben Sheets, who was drafted during the Brewers' final season at County Stadium, and Yovani Gallardo, who came later, are the only All-Star pitchers developed in-house during that same span.
That trend is shifting. In coming years, club officials are expecting the arms to out-graduate the bats.
"That's somewhat by design," assistant general manager Gord Ash said, "because we were so pitching-deficient that we probably were too conscious about adding pitching, and we kind of got out of balance again now."
It is also the result of some trades. The Brewers parted with then-prospects Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley for CC Sabathia in 2008 and with Brett Lawrie to land Shaun Marcum and Alcides Escobar and others to get Zack Greinke in 2010.
Today, each of the Brewers' top four prospects entering the season, as rated by MLB.com, are pitchers, and six of the top nine.
The top player on that list, right-hander Wily Peralta, will not remain for long because he is pitching in the Brewers' rotation and will make his third 2013 start against Barry Zito and the Giants on Tuesday night at Miller Park. But the next three -- Tyler Thornburg, Taylor Jungmann and Johnny Hellweg -- are toiling down on the farm.
Minor League Baseball is under way, and you can keep track of the Brewers' top prospects throughout the season on MLBPipeline.com and Prospect Watch. Get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Brewers' Minor League teams on MLBPipeline.com/Brewers.
where to watch
|6||Jed Bradley||Brevard County||A+|
|8||Victor Roache||Extended ST||TBD|
|14||Drew Gagnon||Brevard County||A+|
The Brewers' two best teams on paper are at Triple-A Nashville, which boasts three bona fide prospects in the starting rotation, and Class A Wisconsin, where the Timber Rattlers will try to defend the Midwest League championship.
The Nashville club is particularly intriguing, with Thornburg atop a starting staff that also includes Brewers 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Hiram Burgos and hard-thrower Johnny Hellweg, who was acquired from the Angels as part of last summer's Greinke trade. The Opening Day lineup included Minor League Player of the Year Hunter Morris at first base, plus second-base prospect Scooter Gennett and outfielder Caleb Gindl, all of whom made MLB.com's Top 20 Brewers prospects. There was also super-utility man Josh Prince, but he was since promoted to the Majors.
Gennett is off to the hottest start of those players, batting .355 through his first eight games.
"It's funny to say this, but our Nashville team must be one of the youngest in the league in terms of everyday players," Ash said. "You've got Morris, Scooter, Gindl is still young, Prince, [Sean] Halton. Even the guy we got from Oakland, [third baseman Stephen] Parker, is relatively young. And then the pitching with Thornburg and those other guys."
Thornburg is particularly of interest to the Brewers after his disjointed 2012 season. His 15 strikeouts through three starts was tied for fifth-best in the Pacific Coast League as of Monday morning.
"I think we'd like to get him in a role and leave him there, see what he can do," Ash said.
Debuts and Draftees
The Wisconsin club included five more members of the Brewers' Top 20 on Opening Day, four of whom were selected in last year's Draft: right-hander Damien Magnifico, catcher Clint Coulter and outfielders Mitch Haniger (who had eight hits in his first 24 at-bats) and Tyrone Taylor. The other Top 20 player was shortstop Orlando Arcia, who signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 and missed most of last season with a broken ankle.
The Timber Rattlers will get another top prospect when outfielder Victor Roache is ready to return from a hamstring injury.
Coulter (27th overall pick in last year's Draft), Roache (28th), Haniger (38th) and Taylor (92nd) were the Brewers' first four selections in 2012, a move by the Brewers to add some hitters back to their prospect mix.
"At the lower levels, it's a little more balanced," Ash said.
New Kids on the Block
All three of the players acquired from the Angels for Greinke last July made an appearance on MLB.com's list of the Top 20 Brewers prospects. Shortstop Jean Segura was briefly No. 1 last season before graduating to the Major Leagues, where he exhausted his rookie status.
That left right-handers Hellweg (No. 4) and Ariel Pena (No. 19). Both are power arms who could succeed as Major League starters with command and secondary pitches. Pena has been particularly erratic and will probably need time to develop -- he started the year at Double-A Huntsville and walked five batters in his first 6 1/3 innings. Hellweg, 24, could help the Brewers this season.
In his first two Nashville starts, Hellweg was 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA and seven strikeouts versus five walks, a ratio he will have to work on as the season marches on.
"We still think he has a very good chance to be a real good Major League starter," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said March 11, when the Brewers optioned Hellweg to the Minors to focus on starting. "If we didn't think that way, we would have kept him in camp because he would have had a chance to make the team out of the bullpen. But I like him. We all like him."
Teams on TV
The Sounds and Timber Rattlers are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.