After a season spent building towards the future, the Milwaukee Brewers are creating quite the buzz this fall with their strong crop of talent in instructional league.
Comprised of 13 of Milwaukee's Top 30 Prospects, including three players ranked in the Top 100, the Brewers' instructional league roster reads more like an organizational All-Star list, standing out for its impressive blend of both high-end talent and depth.
"It's a really deep group here this year, and it made it a challenge for us to put together the roster," Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan said. "There were guys in our system who normally we would want to have down here, but you have to draw the line somewhere just to make sure everyone can get their work in."
|2. Corey Ray, OF |
|5. Phil Bickford, RHP |
|6. Trent Clark, OF |
|9. Gilbert Lara, SS |
|10. Cody Ponce, RHP |
|11. Kodi Medieros, LHP |
|15. Monte Harrison, OF |
|16. Lucas Erceg, 3B |
|23. Demi Orimoloye, OF |
|24. Jake Gatewood, 3B |
|28. Mario Feliciano, C |
|29. Chad McClanahan, 3B |
|30. Trey Supak, RHP |
Yet many of the Brewers' players participating in camp this fall are new to the organization, with some having come over in one of several Trade Deadline blockbusters, and even more from the organization's 2016 Draft.
"We don't have a lot of history with some guys because of the trades we made this year, so we're still trying to figure them out and assess what we have," said Flanagan.
Due to their influx of talent in the past year, the Brewers are placing a greater emphasis on doing more off-the-field work with players this fall. Specifically, there are a lot more classroom sessions this year, especially for position players, during which players and staff form small groups and basically have a Q&A for 45 minutes about a particular topic.
"We want to get these new guys into the system and get them educated about why they're here and what we're trying to do," Flanagan stated. "Starting pro ball can be a blur for young players, so our goal is slow things down and let them get acclimated to the Brewers."
Bickford impressing new organization
Selected by San Francisco in the first round (No. 18 overall) of the 2015 Draft, Phil Bickford posted a 2.69 ERA with 105 strikeouts and 27 walks in 93 2/3 innings between Class A Augusta and Class A Advanced San Jose before the Giants sent him and Andrew Susac to Milwaukee on Aug. 1 in exchange for left-handed reliever Will Smith. Named the Brewers' No. 5 prospect upon joining the organization, the 21-year-old righty finished his campaign by offering club officials a glimpse of his future with five impressive starts in the Class A Advanced Florida State League.
"There wasn't a lot of season left after he came over at the Deadline," Flanagan said about the No. 54 overall prospect. "But he got right to work and has looked really sharp this fall.
"He's been all ears and eyes and just trying to get used to our staff. For him, being down here for instructional league should help him get to know our staff and facilities so he can come in here next year for Spring Training ready to go."
Ponce making up for lost time
Expectations for what was supposed to be Cody Ponce's first full season became tempered when the Brewers' No. 10 prospect began the season on disabled list due to forearm tightness. Although the injury cost the 6-foot-6, 240-pound right-hander the first two months of his season, he would recover in time to make his 2016 debut in early June with Class A Brevard County.
Ponce began his campaign on a positive note, posting a 2.50 ERA over his first nine starts, but his overall consistency and command faded quickly down the stretch, as he went 0-4 with 19 earned runs allowed on 27 hits (14 extra-base hits) in 16 innings spanning his final four regular-season starts.
"Cody had a nice stretch of starts during the second half before hitting some speed bumps, but he made some adjustments toward the tail end of the season and he's carried it over into instructional league," Flanagan noted.
Though Ponce technically is in camp to make up some of the innings he missed during the regular season, the Brewers also see it as an opportunity for him to hammer home some things he's been working on.
"Refining the direction and the consistency of his delivery is a big thing for Cody, because he struggled with that at times throughout the season," Flanagan said.
Beyond that, Ponce, who boasts two future above-average-or-better offerings in his fastball and cutter, also is making an effort to develop his changeup, a below-average pitch for him.
"Cody knows that his changeup is important to his future, so he's started to emphasize the usage of pitch a lot more here as opposed to what he's down in the past," Flanagan added.
The Brewers used their first two picks in the 2016 Draft on college hitters, selecting Louisville's Corey Ray in the first round (No. 5 overall) and Lucas Erceg, a Menlo College product, in the second. But while Ray came with all the hype and fanfare, it was Erceg who swung the bat like a first-rounder in his pro debut, batting .327/.376/.518 with 30 extra-base hits and 51 RBIs in 68 games between the Pioneer and Midwest Leagues.
"Lucas hit right off the plane after we signed him, and he's kept that up out here," Flanagan said.
And though there may be no immediate plans to move Erceg off of third base, it's worth noting that the Brewers have had him working at shortstop this fall in camp.
"That he's looked somewhat natural out there already in the early going is a very positive development," Flanagan said about his club's No. 16 prospect. "We'll see where that leads, but we're taking advantage of this time to see what he can do at the position."
As for Ray, the Brewers' No. 3 prospect (No. 28 overall), had an outstanding junior campaign at Louisville, batting .310/.388/.545 with 15 homers and 44 steals, but his transition to the professional ranks wasn't particularly smooth, as he batted just .247/.307/.385 with five home runs over 57 games with Brevard County. However, some of the 22-year-old's struggles can be attributed to his aggressive placement in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League
"We challenged Corey and he handled himself well," Flanagan said. "It was an aggressive placement, but we believe he'll be better off in the long run as a result."
And while Ray stood out as an amateur for his high-end combination of power and speed, the Brewers are encouraging him to develop into a more complete and well-rounded player as a professional.
"With that power-speed combo, he's definitely an exciting player to watch. But we'd also like to see him work on some of the finer aspects of his game," Flanagan said. "For example, we have him bunting a little bit now in camp, which is something he really didn't do a lot of in college, but with his speed, could make him more impactful player in the long run."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.