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Feature
 
 
Season Wrap, Part 1: Tools and Dark Horses

Ebert
on 10/27/2001

 
Billy Hall really emerged this season as a great "tools" prospect.

The first thing that comes to most people's minds when they hear the word "tool" is something that is stored in a cabinet in the garage or in the basement: a hammer, a saber saw, a router, etc. And, if you aren't thinking about buzzsaws and the like when you hear the word "tool", chances are you are thinking about the rock n roll act, Tool, or one of their songs. Or, maybe when you hear the word "tool", you just sit back and think that you are indeed a tool, and need to move on with your relationship. This is perfectly normal.

There are the select few people, though, that when they hear the word "tool", their mind immediately jumps to the baseball diamond and their thoughts turn to promising young players, full of potential. This is what we are going to discuss hear today. In baseball terms, the word "tool" means a specific aspect pertaining to a player's ability to play baseball. For instance, a tool is being able to hit. Another tool is being able to hit for power. Yet another tool is the ability to make a strong throw from the outfield. All of these little aspects of a player's game add up to what the player is, and will become. Tools can either be associated with actual production or potential, or both. There are tools for offense, tools for defense and tools for pitching.

The most common use of the word is when you hear about a player being a "5-tool" talent. There are 5 major tools used to appreciate a non-pitcher's talent: hitting, hitting for power, speed, defense and throwing arm. There are very few players in the minors with "5-tool potential", or the ability to become above average in each of those 5 major categories, and even fewer players in the major with actual 5-tool ability.

In this portion of our season wrap, we will focus on the best tools in the Brewers' minor league system. As stated, since there are so few 5-tool players, we will focus more on individual tools, instead of tools as a package. There will be a winner in each tool category, along with two runners-up. Obviously, we will not go over every single last tool there is - we will focus on the major ones and we hope you learn something from it. Enjoy.

Best Batting Prospect: Jason Belcher (Bill Scott/Dave Krynzel) Belcher was our clear pick for the #1 slot here. He is one of the few prospects in the system to have above average contact hitting skills and a fine-tuned sense of plate discipline. Jason will be a .300 hitter in the majors, and in his prime will walk more than he will strike out, and added to that he has burgeoning power that might give him a shot at 25 homers a year in his prime. Scott was the runner up even though he packs more punch in his bat right now. He has shown he can hit for average and he draws a decent share of walks but was prown to streakiness in his first pro season and needs to make more contact. Krynzel has arguably the most contact hitting talent of the bunch, but has a much smaller power potential and doesn't walk a whole lot right now.

Best Power Prospect - Kade Johnson (Bill Scott/Corey Hart) When Johnson makes contact with the ball, he hits it hard. Nearly half of his 2001 hits yielded extra bases and he has even more power where that came from. If he can get his contact hitting and plate discipline squared away, he could probably be a 35-40 home run guy in the majors some day. Scott, as mentioned before, as a good bit of punch in his bat, although it was more geared towards the gaps in 2001 than it was over the outfield wall. If he adds some more power he could probably be a 30 home run guy sometime in the future. Hart may have the most power potential of the bunch, given his massive Sexsonesque frame, and down the road could well be a more adept overall batter than Scott, but he is still very young and growing into his body.

Best Baserunner - Ryan Knox (Chris Barnwell/Manuel Melo) Fastest Baserunner - Manuel Melo (Ralph Santana/Dave Krynzel) Melo had a killer season on the basepaths in the Dominican Summer League this past summer, stealing 60 bases in 70 games, with only 14 caught stealings. It is difficult to say how much of the dominating speed will transfer over when he begins playing in the U.S., but he absolutely took off in the DSL. Knox is very fast in his own right, and is a smart college player who knows when to stretch a single into a double and a double into a triple. Santana had an impressive season in his own right, stealing 30 bases in 68 games in the Pioneer League, although he may not run as much as the defensive catching gets better. Barnwell was only caught stealing twice in 19 attempts this past Pioneer League season, and turned 5 doubles into triples. Krynzel has a ton of speed, although he needs to work on actually stealing bases successfully.

5-Tool Player - Billy Hall (Cristian Guerrero/Derry Hammond) Hall grades out to above average in potential in each of the 5-tool categories: hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, defensive and defensive arm. He does need continued work on each of them, though, and his speed may not be a major factor when he reaches the majors. Guerrero also grades out to above average in all the categories, and has more potential than Hall, but is much rawer than Billy. Hammond is above average in all the categories except speed, where he is at most average.

Most Exciting Player - Billy Hall (Dave Krynzel/JJ Hardy) Hall pretty much does it all on the diamond - he hits for average, runs well, hits for power, plays outstanding defense at times. The only thing holding Billy back from being in the majors is inexperience and a lower-than-needed walk rate. Krynzel could be a prototypical leadoff man in a few years if he learns to take more pitches. He already is an accomplished bunter, runs as fast as anyone in the system, plays exquisite defense and has occasional power spurts at the plate. Hardy has good talent in virtually every area of the game and in a few years may be one of the bigger prospects in the game.

Best Pitching Prospect - Nick Neugebauer (Mike Jones/Jose Mieses) Neugebauer is unquestionably the best pitching prospect in the system, and is arguably one of the best in the best in the game. Nick brings high 90's moving heat, a sharp high 80's slider, a change and a curve. The only elements of his game that need futher work are his control, and as an offshoot of that, his relatively high pitch counts. Jones has the makings of another Neugebauer, but has a long way to go to get to where Nick is now. Jones' fastball is as good as Nick's, or better on a good day, if a few MPH slower. His main task over the next few seasons will be developing two good secondary pitching - right now, all he has is an average curve and a below average change to complement his blistering fastball. Mieses' future is a bit more muddled than the other two because of a lost year to back and shoulder injuries. When he is healthy, Jose has the best control in the system and has 4 major league-ready pitches. Everything he throws moves, and it has to, because his fastball tops out in the mid 80's.

Best Fastball - Nick Neugebauer (Mike Jones/Matt Yeatman) As mentioned above, Neugebauer's fastball is explosive, residing mainly in the 94-97 mange and topping out at over 100 MPH. It has good movement and when it is working for Nick, he can get both lefties and righties out away and up with it. Jones' fastball has even more movement than Neugebauer's and can stay in the 92-96 range throughout the ballgame. Mike's fastball bores in on right-handed batters, and he can both strike you out and break your bat with his fastball. Yeatman throws gas in Neugebauer's velocity range, but his ball doesn't have quite the movement of Nick's. As long as he keeps his fastball down and is able to control it, though, it could be a dominating pitch at the major league level.

Best Breaking Pitch - Ben Hendrickson (Nick Neugebauer/Jose Mieses) Hendrickson's curveball was named the best breaking pitch in the Midwest League this past season, and it could already work for him on the major league level. It is an absolutely dirty pitch to right handed batters, as the bottom falls completely out of it, and it can be equally effective when Ben gets inside on left handed batters. Neugebauer's slider can reach the low 90's when he lets it loose and is perfectly unhittable at times. Matched with the velocity on his fastball, Nick's slider may become one of the best "out" pitches in the coming years. Mieses' breaking pitch is a pitch hardly used anymore - a palmball. The palmball works a lot like a knuckleball, because the ball has little or no spin on it, so when his palmball is juking around the plate, it can be unhittable, although it comes in slow enough where, if left too straight, could be nailed by major leaguers.

Best Control - Jose Mieses (Ryan Poe/Geraldo Castillo) Mieses has the unquestioned best control in the system. Jose rarely loses composure on the mound and always battles for strikes. His ability to control his pitches is even more impressive when you look at the fact that every single pitch he throws has heavy movement - not a single straight pitch in his repertoire. Poe also has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone, and will walk few people. He throws a bit harder than Mieses, so he can hit the zone without worrying about a pitch moving in and out of it. Ryan did have Tommy John surgery this past summer, though, and won't be back until late next season. Castillo, like Mieses, is a young Dominican product who pounds the strike zone, albeit with a lot of offspeed stuff.

Best Reliever - Brian Mallette (Jason Childers/Mike Adams) Mallette's 2001 campaign was a breakout season for him, as he finished the season with a sub-2 ERA and lead the organization in saves. While Brian doesn't have a dominating fastball, he gets very good movement out the 90-93 MPH range his fastball lives in, and works in a number of good offspeed pitches. Childers, a converted starter, thrived in the bullpen in his first year there and made himself into a prospect. He also throws low 90's heat, but like Mallette, has good control and throws good offspeed stuff. Adams went undrafted out of college this past summer but turned heads with his Pioneer League performance. Again, like Mallette and Childers, his fastball lives in the low 90's, but he has good control and secondary pitches.

Best Defensive Catcher - Brian Moon (Pedro Esparragoza/Chris Haggard) Moon could be placed in the majors next season and be among the top 10 defensive catchers in the game. Esparragoza is "cat-like" behind the plate and has a strong throwing arm. Haggard is a smart college catcher with a good arm and good mechanics/instincts behind the plate.

Best Defensive First Baseman - Corey Hart (Jude Voltz/Kevin Barker) Hart is a huge target at first (6'6") and has tremendous range and a good arm for turning the first-second-first double play, testified to by the fact he played shortstop in high school. Voltz is also a big target at first (6'6), although he doesn't have the range that Hart has. Barker has good range at first and has a pretty good arm.

Best Defensive Second Baseman - Steve Scarborough (Jeff Pickler/Ralph Santana) Scarborough would also be among the best defensive shortstops - he has superior range at second and a very good arm. Pickler is a very solid player, makes good throws and few mental mistakes, although he doesn't have a tremendous amount of range or a very good arm. Santana has better range than Pickler and will end up with a better arm, but needs to be more consistent.

Best Defensive Third Baseman - Josh Klimek (Chris Barnwell/Chris Rowan) Klimek has a solid arm at third and a pretty good amount of range, although it isn't great - he doesn't make many mental errors at third. Barnwell is a gritty defender at third and has good range, although has an arm better suited to second. Rowan has good range and a good arm but is mistake-prone.

Best Defensive Shortstop - Todd West (Billy Hall/JJ Hardy) West is one of the best defensive shortstops in the system in a long time - he makes a lot of hard plays looks routine and makes all the routine plays. Hall has a ton of range at short and a excellent arm, but has too many mental lapses. Hardy has potential to be better than either West or Hall, and has spectacular range and a very good arm, but is still young and learning.

Best Infield Arm - Billy Hall (Jeff Eure/Chris Rowan) Hall can nail pretty much anyone from deep in the hole when his throws are on target. Eure has a strong catcher's arm at third and can nail pretty much anyone, too, although he is inexperienced there. Rowan has a very good arm, but as stated above, needs to be consistent.

Best Defensive Outfielder - Thomas Carrow (Dave Krynzel/Ryan Knox) Carrow plays Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field and gets superb jumps on the baseball to compliment his above average speed. While Krynzel doesn't quite have Carrow's instincts (yet), he can make up for that with absolutely stunning speed in the outfield. Knox takes excellent routes to balls and can run down a lot of things most outfielders can't.

Best Outfield Arm - Cristian Guerrero (Derry Hammond/Carlos Soriano) Guerrero's arm defines "cannon" out in right field - he can throw out anyone, anywhere at anytime. Hammond's arm is also way above average, although he is a little more inconsistent still. Soriano is about on level with Hammond. Best Tool - Nick Neugebauer (Brian Moon/Jason Belcher) Neugebauer's fastball is the best tool the Brewers' system has seen in a long time. His fastball reaches 100 MPH and moves more than an RV when it is on, and will be a bona fide major league pitch someday. Moon's defense at catcher is only second in the organization to Blanco's, and may even surpass Henry's D as a backstop. Belcher's hitting prowess will just be fun to watch as he moves on up the system. He is a legit .300 hitter with 25 HR potential, who walks as much as he strikes out - wouldn't that be nice to see in Milwaukee?

Best Manager Prospect - Ed Romero (Don Money/Mike Guerrero) Romero led the Huntsville Stars to the Southern League Championship this past season, bringing a group of guys together who admittedly were not the most talented team in the league. Romero emphasized camaraderie, gamesmanship and fundamentals, and it paid off for the Stars. Money brought the Beloit Snappers back from a horrendous start to the 2001 season to help them finish the season in the postseason. He helped bring along a group of very young pitchers and give them confidence going into next season at High Desert. Guerrero managed the Dominican Summer League Brewers' team to the DSL Championship as the team posted an astounding 51-21 regular season record and has had only 1 losing season in 7 years as a head coach in the DSL.

Now, to move on to the second half of the first part of Brewerfan's minor league season wrap. Each year, some player comes out of nowhere to become a stud prospect, or at least a solid contributor. Oftentimes, if one looks back on their stats from past season, one will see why they burst out and that it makes sense that they did. Sometimes, it's a fluke (remember Billy Spiers leading the AL in homers after 1 week of baseball years back, with 4?) and the player just fades away. What we are now going to try and predict is, which player will both come to the minor league forefront next season, and stay there until they get to Milwaukee. Ladies and gentleman, Patrick's and Toby's 2002 Dark (Blue And Gold) Horses.

First off, here are Patrick's three choices and three runners-up:

Derry Hammond: Not a true sleeper, because he batted .269 with 19 HRs and 73 RBIs this past season for the Beloit Snappers, where he played a full season in 1999. He did take somewhat of a step back since he played at high A Mudville in 2000. His overall plate discipline skills need improvement, like most to all Brewers at any and all levels. He did get on-base at a .330 clip, not too bad compared to his batting average, and slugged .492. He is a very talented young man with extraordinary athletic tools. He plays & projects as a RF with a strong arm and good power potential. This season was his first in which he truly put together those tools and started to show why he was a 3rd round pick in the 1998 draft. A wrist injury late in the season limited his season to 360 ABs, but he should still see a promotion to High Desert in 2002, where he could absolutely explode at a hitter's park in a hitter's league. He will be 22 entering next season, so he really needs to take advantage of his window of opportunity.

Taylor McCormack: A 7th round pick from this past year's draft from a Florida high school. McCormack is a 3B in the Jeff Cirillo mode, to whom he has been compared. He projects to have the potential to be a high average hitter with a good all-around knowledge of the strike zone. While he is not particularly a thumper, he does project to have good gap power and could easily reach double digits in HRs. Now, many may look at his numbers and wonder how a rookie playing for the Arizona Brewers that hit .198/.279/.244 can be considered a sleeper pick much less a prospect. I like McCormack's long-term projection, if nothing else because I'm hopeful that for once a true 3B prospect can actually turn out.

Adolfo Cacimiro: Listed as a 6'4", 175-pound lefty from the Dominican. His size screams projection, and the fact he's a lefty makes him all the more appealing to follow. This past season, in 16 appearances (2 of them starts), he pitched 64 innings and allowed only 36 hits while striking out 92 and walking 40. This led to a 3-3 season with a 1.55 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. While his walks are concerning, his strikeout totals were mesmerizing, and he is still a pup, being a child from the 80s (1981 to be exact). I look for a big season from Cacimiro, probably starting the year for the Arizona Brewers with a possibility for a rapid advancement given the system's need for LHP.

As a couple of other names to throw out there, Dustin Lansford, Eric Henderson & Ryan Miller would be 3 pitchers to watch at the lower levels of the system next year. Lansford throws pure cheese, but hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to turn any heads by blowing hitters away. Eric Henderson is a lefty that like Lansford, needs to find a way to stay healthy after being a high pick (4th round) in the 2000 draft. And while Miller's ERA at Beloit was scary, especially heading into High Desert next season, his peripheral numbers were encouraging to hope for improvement.

And now on to Toby's picks:

Tommy Carrow: It may be unfair to call Carrow a dark horse after looking at the numbers he put up in Ogden, his inaugural pro campaign: he walked an astounding 33 times in 157 AB and finished the season batting .331/.454/.471. He does, however, live under the shadow that is Brewers' prize CF prospect David Krynzel. While Carrow doesn't have Dave's blazing speed or raw contact hitting ability, Tommy is able to match Krynzel step for step, or better, on defense, and has a much better sense of plate discipline. Hopefully Carrow can put pressure on Dave next season from Beloit and give the Brewers a second top-flight CF/leadoff prospect. With a solid early season in Beloit, it wouldn't be surprising to see Carrow and Krynzel on the same team for a time at High Desert, which, along with Derry Hammond, would make up the best defensive outfield in the minors. While it isn't realistic to expect Carrow to put up the kind of walk numbers he did in 2001, he has set himself up for success in the coming years.

Jonah McClanahan: McClanahan is a pretty solid tools guy who has yet to be able to play a full shortseason, either because of personnel or because of injury. Jonah has shown spurts of being able to do just about everything - hit for average, hit for power, take walks, steal bases and play plus defense - but he hasn't yet been able to put it all together. If Jonah ends up in Beloit to start the season (which is iffy), he will have to fight for playing time but hopefully he will get into a groove and start playing everyday. He is mainly a corner outfielder, but he has the speed to play centerfield, too, which could benefit him if his power hitting doesn't take an upswing.

Jeff Robinson: A seventh round draft pick in the 1999 draft, Robinson has battled arm problems ever since his first season in the system. When he hasn't been injured, Jeff flashes one of the hardest fastballs in the organization, and has a decent change and curve. Besides arm troubles, Jeff's biggest problem has been keeping the ball in or near the zone. He throws a lot of balls, running up his pitch count and adding to his arm woes. If he is healthy when the season begins, expect him to start the season in High Desert, but I imagine that the Brewers would like to get him to Huntsville ASAP to work with pitching coach extraordinaire Mike Caldwell.

Three other guys to keep an eye on: Roberto Maysonet, Paul Stewart and Brandon Gemoll. Maysonet pitched last season in Beloit and has a major league arm, but has major control problems - if he can ever get himself squared around and get his secondary pitches working for him, he could be dangerous. Stewart was all set to become a big prospect 2 seasons ago when he was on the 40-man roster and pitching in Huntsville, but he had a horrid season in 1999 and is just getting back to Huntsville now. Gemoll was the 8th round pick in the last draft but logged on 43 AB between Maryvale and Ogden because of injury - he has the talent, though, to start the season in Beloit and be their DH, where he could have a very good season.

In our next edition of the season wrap, we will continue out minor league focus with an All-Minors team, an All-Prospect team and Brewerfan's 2001 Minor League Awards.

If you have any comment or questions, feel free to email Patrick (nightbee@brewerfan.com) or Toby (toby@brewerfan.com).

 




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