Who shined on Brewers' farm? Who's next?

October 20th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers set a club record by using 61 players on the way to winning the National League Central in 2021, many of whom jumped back and forth between the Majors and Minors to help out as needed.

Here’s a look at some of the standouts from the Brewers’ system in 2021 and one big question for ’22:

3 players who forced their way onto the radar this year

A fourth-round pick in 2020, Wiemer went from outside MLB Pipeline's Brewers Top 30 at the start of the season to No. 23 in a midseason update to the Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Year following a monster campaign split between Low-A Carolina and High-A Wisconsin. Wiemer led the Brewers’ farm system with 27 home runs and 220 total bases, ranked second in the system in hits (117) and runs (86), third in RBIs (77) and extra-base hits (47) and tied for third with 30 stolen bases. He was one of 16 Minor Leaguers with at least 20 homers and 20 steals.

“Joey had an extremely impressive season between two levels,” said Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan in announcing Wiemer as the organization’s top Minor League performer. “He seemed to get better as the year went along, narrowly missing a 30-30 season.”

Howell didn’t play during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season but nevertheless took a giant step forward in 2021. The 12th-round pick boosted his slugging percentage from .317 at Wisconsin in 2019 to .455 between Wisconsin and Double-A Biloxi in ’21 without a significant jump in strikeout rate.

His power-speed combo -- Howell hit 16 home runs and stole 20 bases -- is comparable to Wiemer. Howell, who grew up a shortstop, earned bonus points while playing all over the field, starting multiple games at all three outfield positions and every infield position but first base.

Floyd was the Brewers’ 10th-round pick in 2019 as a late-inning specialist out of Texas Tech and, like Howell, made up for a lost 2020 season with a breakthrough in 2021, pitching high-leverage relief at both Wisconsin and Biloxi. Floyd's performance this season (2.89 ERA with four holds and 10 saves) earned him a spot in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, which history says is a great place to be for a player with aspirations of making it to the Majors.

If you’re looking for a comp, try former All-Star closer Huston Street, another late-inning reliever who worked with a fastball-slider combination. Floyd impressed with a 3.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 13.50 strikeouts per nine innings between the two levels.

“He’s very comfortable with that pitch [the slider] and it’s unique to have a young A-ball pitcher with that command on both sides of the plate,” Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson told MiLB.com in July. “He can sweep it sometimes, can throw it a little sharper, can try to back-foot lefties with it or try to back-door lefties with it. He’s just got a ton of confidence in that pitch and can throw it in any count.”

2 possible breakout players to watch in 2022

Mendez is just 17 and hit .316 in 40 games between the Dominican Summer League and Arizona Complex League in 2021, making enough of an impression after arriving stateside that the Brewers named him their Complex League Player of the Year. They signed Mendez, a left-handed hitter, out of the Dominican Republic in 2021. If he advances to a full-season affiliate in ’22, Mendez will have an extended opportunity to build on his successful debut season.

Black, a supplemental first-round pick in 2021 who debuted at No. 7 on MLB Pipeline’s list of Milwaukee’s top prospects, certainly does not qualify as a sleeper in the system. That said, Black does fit as a breakout candidate after a relatively modest pro debut in which he posted an impressive on-base percentage (.426) between the Arizona Complex League and Carolina, but didn’t hit for any power (.272 slugging percentage with Carolina).

Between college ball at Wright State, the MLB Draft and getting his feet under him in pro ball, it was a very long season for Black, and the expectation is that he’ll return refreshed in 2022. His hit tool is his best asset, and the Brewers see the 21-year-old poised for a big offensive season in his first full year as a professional.

1 big question for next season

Are LHP Ethan Small (No. 5) and C Mario Feliciano (No. 13) ready to make the jump?

The Brewers are never shy about trusting unproven players in prominent roles, most recently left-handed pitching prospect Aaron Ashby in 2021. Here are two candidates primed to come next in 2022: Small and Feliciano.

Small would follow in the footsteps of pitchers such as Ashby, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta, all of whom saw extended action out of the big league bullpen before settling in as starters. On the subject of Ashby, the Brewers still see him as a starter next season, president of baseball operations David Stearns said last week.

Small pitched in the All-Star Futures Game, historically a harbinger of making it to the big leagues, but missed much of the summer with a left finger injury that sidelined him for about six weeks in July and August. He returned to finish the season strong, compiling a 1.98 ERA in 18 starts over three levels of the system in ’21 and earning the Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.

Feliciano also missed a chunk of ’21 with an injury -- in his case, an impingement in his right shoulder. That derailed a season that was off to a promising start, which included a brief promotion to Milwaukee for his Major League debut on May 1 against the Dodgers, working a pinch-hit walk in the 11th inning and scoring the walk-off run. Unfortunately, Feliciano got hurt in the final week of May and missed two months, then didn’t hit much when he returned to Triple-A Nashville at the start of August.

With Brewers backup catcher Manny Piña becoming a free agent, Luke Maile arbitration-eligible and Feliciano already on the 40-man roster, there’s a chance he gets some reps as a backup to Omar Narváez in Milwaukee in 2022.