After the completion of the regular season and alternate training sites, most player development staffs have turned their attention to instructional league play. In the past, instructs have been populated by new draftees, recent international signings and players at the bottom rungs of their organizational ladder. This year, in an attempt to make up for lost time due to the pandemic, it’s been expanded to include many more players. MLB Pipeline will be providing position-by-position reports from instructional league camps in Florida and Arizona.
Aaron Ashby, LHP (Brewers' No. 6 prospect); Brock Begue, LHP; Nick Bennett, LHP; Victor Castaneda, RHP; Luis Contreras, RHP; Jake Cousins, RHP; Jeferson Figueroa, RHP; Taylor Floyd, RHP; Bowden Francis, RHP; Rafael Garcia, RHP; Juan Geraldo, RHP; Jackson Gillis, RHP; Justin Jarvis, RHP; Antoine Kelly, LHP (No. 7); Edinson Mejia, RHP; Mario Perez, RHP; Israel Puello, RHP; Brandon Ramey, RHP; Alexis Ramirez, RHP; Evan Reifert, RHP; Arman Sabouri, LHP; Brady Schanuel, RHP; Quintin Torres-Costa, LHP; Abner Uribe, RHP; Michele Vassalotti, RHP; Braden Webb, RHP; Noah Zavolas, RHP
The Brewers sent many of their top prospects to the team’s alternate training site in Appleton, Wisc., this summer, including 9 of the top 10 on the team’s Top 30 Prospects list. Many of those young players are now continuing their season in instructional league at Milwaukee’s Spring Training complex in Phoenix, where they help comprise a much larger and deeper group of talent that has club officials excited about the club’s future.
While the overall sample size for evaluation has been small so far -- Oct. 12 marked the Brewers’ first instructional league game against another organization – several young pitchers in camp still have taken a noticeable step forward, which is an accomplishment given the unusual circumstances in the 2020 season.
“I think our staff did a nice job, from afar, keeping in touch with these guys, doing some remote training and monitoring them to make sure they were getting everything they needed,” said Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan. “Everyone pretty much showed up where we wanted them to be, so now it’s just about getting them innings.”
Alexis Ramirez and Abner Uribe have stood out early in camp, with the right-handers showing more velocity than they did a year ago.
“He’s been mid- to upper-90s,” said Flanagan about the 21-year-old Ramirez, whom Milwaukee signed for $10,000 from the Dominican Republic in early 2018.
Uribe, 20, has always looked the part on the mound, with his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame and big arm, but struggled to throw strikes in 2019, posting a 10.61 ERA with 11 walks in 9 1/3 innings between two Rookie levels. He’s made gains on that front this fall in Arizona, pounding the zone with a fastball that continues to tick up.
Michele Vassalotti, another 20-year-old righty, will be another hurler to watch going forward. After signing with Milwaukee out of Venezuela at age 16, he’s beginning to see his stuff catch up to his physically mature frame.
“He’s always had the size and the delivery, but, in the past, he’s only shown flashes of velo. He’s been running it up into the mid-90s during camp,” noted Flanagan.
The Brewers have as much catching depth in their system as just about any organization, with six backstops ranking among their Top 30 prospects. Mario Feliciano and Payton Henry, Milwaukee’s Nos. 4 and 16 prospects, are the obvious headliners in that group and likely would have spent much of the 2020 season, if not all of it, either at or above the Double-A level. Yet, it’s the Brewers’ next wave of talent behind the plate that has club officials feeling particularly optimistic about team’s long-term options at the position.
Thomas Dillard (5th round, 2019) and Zavier Warren (3rd round, 2020) were both drafted as catchers even though neither caught regularly in college. Though targeted primarily for their natural hitting ability, the Brewers also felt that both players possessed the requisite athleticism and physical tools needed to move behind the plate, viewing it as opportunity to maximize their offensive value. The early returns on Dillard, who spent the summer at the alternate training site, have been positive, and the club feels similarly based on what they’ve seen from Warren this fall.
“Beyond being a good switch-hitter, he seems like someone who can stick back there,” said Flanagan. “We’ll need to be patient with him, but he’s been really impressive so far.”
But it’s the youngest catcher in the group, Jeferson Quero, that has opened the most eyes, showcasing an impressive combination of tools, skills and intellect at age 18.
“He’s doing more than just swinging the bat well and flashing his ability,” Flanagan said about Quero, a Venezuela product who signed for $200,000 in July 2019. “Our staff has really taken to him, and he’s impressed them on and off the field.”
Brice Turang and Eduardo Garcia, the two highest-ranked infielders in Milwaukee’s system, benefitted greatly from their time at the alternate site before reporting to instructional league, where, according to Flanagan, they’ve “looked like they’re coming into Spring Training after playing winter ball.” Hayden Cantrelle, a fifth-round pick in 2020, has also hit the ground running in instructional league after a summer stint in Independent ball.
The presence of Garcia, Jesus Parra and Jheremy Vargas in camp reflects the strength of the Brewers’ recent international scouting efforts in Venezuela. Garcia ($1.1 million) and Parra ($210,000), both 18, were signed during the 2018-19 period, while Vargas ($650,000), 17, joined the organization in July 2019. After posting a .770 OPS with 23 extra-base hits during his 2019 pro debut, Parra has continued to show an advanced right-handed bat during fall camp. Vargas, meanwhile, has impressed with his all-around ability, opening eyes with both his aptitude and performance.
“We didn’t bring a lot of true first basemen into camp,” said Flanagan, “so at times we’ve played a lot of these guys out of position just to get them at-bats. Vargas stepped in over there and showed all the instincts you want to see in a baseball player. It’s limited looks, but he’s done well.”
The Brewers were ecstatic to get a look at Garrett Mitchell this fall after they selected the UCLA outfielder, owner of perhaps the best all-around tools in the class, with the No. 20 overall pick. Unfortunately, a minor quad injury that Mitchell suffered just before the start of instructional camp has prevented him from appearing in any games. He’s still managed to make the most of his first pro experience, though, earning glowing reviews from his new organization.
“Garrett has been impressive,” said Flanagan. “His eyes have been wide open, just absorbing everything and being a student. It’s a really deep outfield group here, so we’ve been covered with guys in his absence, but we certainly want to get him out there and get him into some games.”
Hedbert Perez, 17, stood out this summer as the youngest player at Milwaukee’s alternate site. His $700,000 signing bonus was the second largest given out by the Brewers during the 2019-20 international period, behind the $1.3 million contract commanded by fellow Venezuelan Luis Medina. They both have offered a glimpse of their offensive potential during instructional camp.
“He’s put up some impressive exit velos on doubles that he hit really hard,” said Flanagan about Perez.
“With Medina,” he continued, “we’ll bust out the machine during batting practice and crank up the speed. He’s been catching up to some big velos in those sessions, and I think it’s going to translate well into games for him.”
Tristen Lutz, 22, is a veteran in instructional camp this year. He’s handled himself as one, too, turning in quality at-bats daily while working to refine his approach. Micah Bello also has had a strong camp, showing more impact potential at the plate to go along with his usual defensive prowess in the outfield.
“From day one, he’s really swung the bat well -- even his outs are hard hit,” said Flanagan. “We’ve always been excited about his defense, but the bat had only shown flashes. Now, it’s like he’s hitting third or fourth in our games here and really putting up some good at-bats.”