New Crew OF prospect wave reminiscent of past stars

March 15th, 2023

PHOENIX -- If you’re looking for good young outfield talent, you might want to give Milwaukee a call. The top four players on the new Brewers’ Top 30 all roam around the grass, and all four -- Jackson Chourio, Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer and Garrett Mitchell -- are either big league ready or at the upper levels.

It reminds farm director Tom Flanagan, who has been with the Brewers' organization for decades, of a time when homegrown developed bats were all the rage in Milwaukee.

“I kind of equate it back to the early 2000s, what it was like with J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder," Flanagan said. "It's a different type of hitters, maybe a little more well-rounded.”

Taking nothing away from that OG quartet, it’s true that these four outfielders are all veritable toolboxes, starting with top prospect Chourio, who will be just 19 years old for all of 2023, having already reached Double-A. The other three are all banging on the door and should have the chance to impact the big league lineup at some point.

All have been making strong impressions in big league camp as well. Frelick, a contact and on-base machine, went 4-for-10 in his first four games before leaving to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Wiemer, who has the most raw power of just about anyone in the system, homered once in his first 12 Cactus League at-bats. And Mitchell, who some have wondered what kind of impact he’ll have at the plate, had three home runs, while going 6-for-18 out of the gate.

The big question is, of course, how can they all play at the same time? Even when shifting rules were relaxed, no one had been so revolutionary to put three (or more) guys in center field at the same time. So while all four are capable of playing up the middle long term, there’s been some mixing and matching.

“It's real competitive,” Flanagan said. “We’ll get questions from people, ‘How come so and so didn’t play center that much? You guys don’t see him as a center fielder?’ You can only play one guy there at a time, so it’s a lot of divvying up the playing time.”

Eventually, all four will be ready to impact a big league lineup, so even moving guys around the grass won’t be feasible. It’s an issue for another day, with Flanagan and company enjoying watching them all this spring for what could be a big 2023 season in terms of hitting-prospect impact.

“Those guys are so athletic, they can go to the corners or who knows, maybe onto the infield somehow,” Flanagan said with a smile. “It’s a good problem to have. But as everybody knows, it usually sorts itself out one way or the other.”

Camp standout: Carlos Rodriguez
Born in Nicaragua, Rodriguez was at Florida SouthWestern State College, a junior college, when the Brewers took him in the sixth round of the 2021 Draft. He didn’t pitch that summer because of a minor triceps issue, but he made his full-season debut in 2022 a good one, pitching across two levels of A ball at age 20. He earned the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors after leading qualified Brewers farmhands in a host of pitching categories.

The club's No. 13 prospect continued the good work early in spring as he got ready to represent Nicaragua in the World Baseball Classic, where he’ll be challenged in the pool with the Dominican Republic, Israel, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Based on how he looked in early sessions in camp, he’ll be up for the task.

“I think it’s a great experience for him and we’re excited to see it,” Flanagan said about the Classic competition. “He worked doing some pitch design things in the offseason. He's got a big five-pitch mix already. We were trying to cap him on pitches and every game, five, six innings, he’d punch out seven, eight, 10 guys. He really knew how to pitch with all his stuff. Now I think the velocity is kind of ticking up a little bit; he's an interesting guy to watch.”

Breakout candidate: Wes Clarke
Taken in Round 10 of the 2021 Draft and signed for just $75,000, Clarke entered pro ball with a reputation on strength-based homers but it was unclear if the swing would work in pro ball or where he would play defensively. The Brewers liked how he swung the bat in his first full season -- he did homer 14 times and had better overall numbers after a late move to Double-A. But they were more surprised with how good his glove work was.

“Honestly coming out of the Draft, I think we weren't sure on this position,” Flanagan said. “It's one of those, ‘Hey, we drafted him as a catcher but is he going to stay behind the dish?' The early reports when we sent him to a full-season club last year was that he can he can really catch. The bat we were more confident in and we feel he can really drive the ball. He's a guy that’s definitely in that sleeper category.”

Something to prove: Joe Gray Jr.
Gray’s raw tools have tantalized ever since he was the Brewers’ second-round pick in 2018 out of the Mississippi high school ranks and he’s been as high as No. 7 on the team’s Top 30 list. It looked like it might be clicking when he turned in a 20-20 season in 2021 during his full-season debut. A .193/.279/.353 line and 33.6 percent strikeout rate with High-A Wisconsin wasn’t exactly the follow up year he was hoping for.

“He really scuffled last year,” Flanagan said. “I think he got kind of in a bad headspace out of the chute and as the season went on, he just tried to make up for lost time and chased numbers and things like that. Coming to the camp here, mentally, he's in a really good spot and he’s been on the big league side for a few backup games.

“He has the power and he can really run balls down and throw in center field. At the plate, it’s his strike zone judgement, some swing-and-miss in there that correlates with chasing pitches. I think he’s making some adjustments with the bat [this spring].”