Brewers banking on wealth of prospects at lower levels
MLB Pipeline checks in from Spring Training camp, unveils team's Top 20 Prospects
PHOENIX -- The good news about the Brewers' farm system is that it began paying dividends in 2013. Milwaukee played 12 rookies, with outfielder Khris Davis, second baseman Scooter Gennett and right-handers Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg establishing themselves as significant parts of the club's future.
The bad news is that outside of a pair of righties, top prospect Jimmy Nelson and hard-throwing but erratic Johnny Hellweg, the system doesn't have much to contribute in 2014. Most of the Brewers' best remaining prospects have yet to play above high Class A and are two or three years away from the Major Leagues.
Even if some of the higher-ranked prospects may not make much impact at Miller Park this season, farm director Reid Nichols said he's pleased by the state of the system.
"We're very optimistic," Nichols said. "I think we, as an organization, fly under the radar. I think we're better than people give us credit for."
The strengths of the system are its outfielders -- starting with Tyrone Taylor, Mitch Haniger and Victor Roache -- and its shortstop depth -- highlighted by Orlando Arcia and Yadiel Rivera. Developing pitching will be a key for a franchise that has ranked in the upper half of the National League in ERA just twice in the last eight seasons, which not coincidentally were the two years the Brewers also made the playoffs.
Milwaukee spent six first-round or supplemental first-round picks on pitchers in the 2008-11 Drafts: Jake Odorizzi, Eric Arnett, Kyle Heckathorn, Dylan Covey, Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley. Odorizzi, the best of that group, was used in a trade for Zack Greinke. Covey didn't sign, and the other four -- all college pitchers -- haven't progressed as well or as quickly as anticipated.
"We've gotten the charge to develop starting pitchers," Nichols said. "I'd have to say I'm not disappointed with the approach we've taken with them. There have been minor injuries and small setbacks."
Three questions with Roache
Roache led NCAA Division I with 30 homers as a Georgia Southern sophomore in 2011, but he broke his left wrist diving for a ball early in his junior season. Drafted 28th overall and signed for $1.525 million in '12, he hit 22 homers at low Class A in his pro debut last summer.
MLBPipeline.com: How scary was the broken wrist? You wound up needing surgery, with a plate and screws and pins inserted.
Roache: When it happened, I knew it was pretty bad. I heard it, felt it, saw it. I knew it wasn't too good. Some people told me they heard it from the stands. My first thought was, "Will I be able to swing a bat again?" Because the outside bone was broken, and the inside bone was dislocated.
MLBPipeline.com: You started slowly in 2013 but really caught fire in the second half, batting .274/.334/.505 with 16 homers in 69 games. What made the difference?
Roache: I think my body felt better. The wrist felt better. My confidence was better, and my timing came back on a consistent basis. It was just a matter of time before I got confident in the box again.
MLBPipeline.com: What's on your to-do list for the 2014 season?
Roache: Hopefully, this year I'll do a better job as a hitter. As a power hitter, you're going to strike out because you swing hard. But I want to show a more disciplined approach. I'm starting to learn how pitchers are going to pitch me, and I want to go up there with a better plan.
Camp standout: Haniger
A supplemental first-round pick who signed for $1.2 million in 2012, Haniger partially tore a ligament in his right knee 14 games into his pro career. He played with a brace on his knee in '13, when he batted .264/.348/.431 with 11 homers between two Class A stops.
This spring, Haniger has shed the brace and is showing the above-average power potential the Brewers saw when they drafted him. He led the Arizona Fall League with 24 RBIs during the offseason, and he impressed Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke this spring by going 5-for-10 with a double and a homer in big league exhibitions.
"Haniger is having a good spring," Nichols said. "He's got enough power, and he's a pretty good defender with a plus arm. He'll play more center field this year. The brace slowed him down last year, so we played him more in right field, but he views himself as a center fielder. And if he's in center field, that gives him more value."
Haniger, 23, will open the season at Double-A Hunstville. He's the most advanced position prospect in the system, though he probably won't be ready for the Majors until mid-2015 and is blocked in Milwaukee by Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez.
Breakout candidate: Arcia
Oswaldo Arcia made his big league debut as a Twins outfielder in 2013, and his younger brother Orlando could follow him to the Majors in a couple of years. While Oswaldo is a slugger, Orlando sticks out more for his glove.
Signed for $95,000 out of Venezuela in 2010, Orlando Arcia missed the entire 2012 season with a broken ankle and wasn't a speedster to begin with. But he's quick enough and ranges well to both sides, and he has the arm strength to make all the plays at shortstop.
"Arcia is fun to watch," Nichols said. "He's an instinctive player who sees the game happen. Everything slows down for him. I think he'll be a solid-average Major League hitter, too. He's looking very good at the plate."
Arcia batted .251/.314/.333 as the second-youngest regular (age 18) in the low Class A Midwest League last year. While he likely won't ever have much power, he excels at making contact and should hit for a solid average once he adds some strength. Arcia will probably return to the MWL, at least for the start of the season.