First off, let me apologize for the delay with the May edition of Farm Hops. I'm currently in Israel, which has hampered my ability to get anything done. Anyway, I'm at a keyboard for an extended period right now, so I'll throw my notes at the screen and see if something coherent comes out.
May was another terrific month for the Huntsville Stars, an ok month for the Sounds, and another agonizing month for everyone else. The Stars may not be destroying the competition in the standings, but the individual players are leading the league in basically everything. In some cases, you have to go through four different Stars before you get to someone on another team which is truly remarkable. Since this column is coming mid June, I'm going to include some of my thoughts on the draft as well.
Player of the month (The "LaGamel Award"): Jonathan Lucroy
I'm going to call this the "LaGamel Award" for the rest of the season because one of those two will likely deserve to win this award each month. So, rather than give it to one of those guys each month, I'm just going to bow before their continued awesomeness and award someone else. This month it's Lucroy. Down in the Sally league, Jonathan carried a .323/.411/.615 line with 7 2b's, 7 hr's, 5 stolen bases (against 0 cs) and a k/bb ratio of 12/14. He was dominant to say the least. While Angel Salome had a similar month, the walks puts Lucroy over the edge for me in May. Lucroy is known for being a solid defender behind the plate and may be the most likely of all our prospects to actually sick at the position he is playing at in the minors.
Pitcher of the Month: Donovan Hand
Donovan got promoted mid May, so his stats are split between High A Brevard and Double A Huntsville. Donovan is not the hardest thrower in the system (he works low 90's) but he has great control and he strikes out a decent number of guys. May wasn't the best month for the top prospects, but we saw glimmers of hope from Zach Braddock and Jeremy Jeffress. Both guys strike out a whole bunch of people and have decent control. May was also a good month for Amaury Rivas and Patrick Ryan, who just missed on this award.
Around the Farm:
The biggest news for Brewer fans from Nashville is that TGJ is on the roster and Russell Branyan is not. In fact, Branyan has already got 5 homers in Milwaukee to go with his 12 in Nashville. Branyan is a very streaky player with well known problems, but his ability to stink up the joint in Nashville is astonishing. Also playing great ball in Nashville is Brad Nelson. Brad, who was ok in 2007 in AAA, but he only walked 31 times against 98 k's in 411 ab's. The power was there, as he slugged .470 with 20 home runs, but his .317 OBP kept him from having any serious chance of moving up to MKE. In 2008, out of nowhere, it seems, Brad is hitting .329 with 40 walks against 36 k's in 213 ab's. Brad has managed to double his walk rate while significantly cutting his strikeout rate and hitting for a higher average. It seems less likely that Brad is on a hot streak every week, so Brad may have actually pulled himself out of prospect purgatory and returned himself to the top shelf status of 2002. Amazing.
On the other side of things, it wasn't a great month for Hernan Iribarren, who only hit for a .621 ops in May. Nonetheless, when Rickie Weeks went down with a knee injury, Hernan was called up. Hernan, like Branyan, is known as a very streaky player, so hopefully he'l have one of those months in the bigs where he hits .440 or something. Another disappointment from may was the sudden retirement of Steve Sollmann. He was never a top prospect, but he displayed everything you want in a utility guy. He will be missed, especially since at one point last season he looked like he might become the Brewers version of Kevin Youkilis.
On the pitching side, Jeff Weaver more or less proved he still doesn't have it, Derrick Turnbow depressed all of us with his epic collapse, and Mitch Stetter continued to not throw strikes, leading the Brewers to call up Mark DiFelice, Tim Dillard, and the spectacularly undeserving Zach Jackson. Nonetheless, 31 year old Lindsey Gulin had a good month, as well did Steve Bray.
Mat Gamel completely destroyed the league in May. Absolutely, completely demolished it. Mat came out of May leading the Southern League in Batting Average, Rbi's, OPS, SLG, total bases,runs, 2b's, and hits. Disappointingly, Mat was all the way down at 2nd in the league in OBP and Hr's. Of course, the 2nd-4th slot in basically every category is filled up by someone in Huntsville. Matt LaPorta had a bit of down month in May, when his OPS was only .916, but h continues to pace the league in homers and is on pace for about 45 at the moment. While people rightly compare the ages of Gamel and LaPorta, they ignore the fact the the is LaPorta's first full season in the minors. Remember, record setting rookie Ryan Braun was still in BC at this point in his first full year. While LaPorta may not be the complete hitter that Gamel is, he might have the most power in the whole system, which obviously includes Braun and Fielder. LaPorta is a masher in the Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, Mark Teixiera mold, but he is likely a better hitter than the first two.
Speaking of complete hitters, Alcides Escobar finally established himself as the hitter he's been projected to be for several seasons now. In May, Alcides hit .379 with a .927 OPS. In this month, Alcides knocked 4 homers, which doubled his career high in any previous seasons. On top of the power, Alcides walked 10 times---half of his previous full season career best total of 20!. Escobar still isn't the hitter the other elite prospects in the system are, but he has certainly established himself to be at least as good as JJ Hardy was at a similar level in 2003. For those of you who think Escobar might have just had a fluke May, check out his .405 batting average in June. Michael Brantley has also been on a power binge like none other in his career, finally raising his slugging percentage above his OBP. Brantley projects as a centerfielder in the bigs, but has still spent way too much time playing in the corners, at first base, or designated hitter this season. He's incredibly young, so it's not really fair to compare him to his teammates. With that in mind, Brantley may finally change the mind of his detractors, who believe he's a long term bench player. Brantley has also displayed plus base stealing ability this season, swiping 17 so far, good for second in the league.
Continuing in theme, Angel Salome had a terrific month of May, allowing him to compete with Mat Gamel for the top average in the league. Angel hit .407 in May along with a 1.063 OPS, which brought him up to 4th in league in OPS. Salome, who is known as the hardest worker in the entire system, has done a tremendous job of coming back from suspension. There were many questions left over after last season, but Angel has answered them all and more this year, proving that if anything, he can definitely hit like a big leaguer. The biggest question left with Angel is his defense, and all reports suggest things are improving this year.
The guys who have gotten the least attention in Huntsville all year are easily Chris Errecart, Cole Gillespie, and Mike Bell. Errecart has legit major league power, but he isn't a whiz in the OBP category. He slugged over .600 in May, but as someone who is limited to 1b, and is behind "LaGamel," there is almost no chance Errecart gets the shot he deserves in Milwaukee. I would say he is the most likely of the next wave of prospects to be traded. Gillespie, on the other hand, may actually have a chance at a career in Milwaukee. Unlike Errecart, the Brewers have always been high on Cole. I'm not trying to suggest that the Brewers don't like Chris, it just seems like Cole has more buzz around him. Cole has an above average walk rate and developing power. he profiles similar to someone like Matt Murton, but with more speed and defensive skills. He's not likely to be a starter if everyone else pans out, but he hits righties well and plays good defense, so he would be a useful 4th outfielder/platoon partner. Mike bell plays a position that's a lot less crowded than outfield or 1b, so he may have more of a future with the club even though he doesn't hit as well as the rest of the club. Bell actually led the Manatees in home runs last year, but his OBP and BA skills are below average. His current platoon split is heavy on the lefties, so he doesn't necessarily profile as a starter. He's a useful player and a decent prospect.
The Huntsville pitching staff certainly does not have the same resume as the hitters, but there are some bright spots. First off all, April's pitcher of the month, Omar Aguilar, was promoted to Huntsville in mid May. While his stats have been lackluster since the promotion, the big right hander still throws really hard, so give him the benefit of the doubt---he's a legitimate top 25 prospect. Of course, this month's pitcher of the month Donovan hand also pitches for Huntsville, but he's been profiled already. The Power 50 has been tracking the renewed successes of Steve Hammond all year, but it bears repeating. Steve's missing a lot more bats this yea, albeit some of them are through an increased walk rate. Steve's an older prospect, but lefthanders get as much time as they need, so I'm sure we will see him in the majors at some point in the next two seasons. Another pitcher that you may have read a lot about if you follow the link reports is Patrick Ryan. Patrick didn't allow his first run of the season until May 19th, which is awesome no matter how you look at it. He's allowed a few runs since then, but he's still doing a very good job. Patrick doesn't strike out many players, but he doesn't walk many either, so that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The Manatees, as a whole, may drive you completely you completely crazy this season. It's easier to focus on the disappointments than the successes, but there have been some really nice moments so far this year. Sure, watching Darren Ford flounder in his second go around is disheartening, even if he did make the all-star team. Watching Stephen Chapman completely fall apart in May was also pretty challenging (though he is showing some signs of life so far in June). Both Jeremy Jeffress and Zach Braddock had some great moments and some not great ones, but as mentioned several times over on the minor league forum, age, health, and peripherals are much more important at this level than ERA. For example, JJ may have 5.14 ERA, but he is also carrying a 4:1 k/bb ratio, and he's striking out well over a guy an inning. Braddock is also striking out over a guy an inning and showing that he's more of a workhorse than he did in 2007. Zach's a bit of an enigma because we really didn't get a very large sample of his ability last year. For all his accolades, he only threw 47 innings last year, a total which he will easily surpass in his next 3 starts. While he hasn't had the impeccable control he showed in WV so far this season, I suspect he will stop walking so many guys in the near future. Finally, the appearance of Brent Brewer was thoroughly unexpected. Brent struggled in WV to start the year, so his promotion was extremely confusing. there have been suggestions that the Brewers were just trying to keep Brent on a schedule, or that he just needed to demonstrate improvement in a few areas to be promoted. The cynic in all of us (as well as the deep seeded conspiracy theorist) has questioned whether Brent's promotion had something to do with regaining the chemistry he had with the WV crew in 2007 (or maintaining chemistry with the 2008 Power. Either way, Brent's in High A now, which is where many thought he belonged at the beginning of the year, so all's well.
As for good things in BC, look no further than Milwaukee's Minor League Player of the Year for 2007 Taylor Green and the uber toolsy Lorenzo Cain. Taylor has played like a superstar so far in Brevard County, carrying an OPS of .852, which is good for 4th in the league. Taylor's .311 batting average is good for 6th in the league and he's in the top ten in lots of other offensive categories. There were questions about Taylor's ability to hit at a higher level after he came out of nowhere to dominate in WV last year, and he's answered them all. Taylor's shown good power, with 7 homers and 15 doubles. While his defense a third hasn't been that great this season, that just opens up the possibility that the Brewers could move him back to 2b.
Lorenzo Cain's bat finally came to life in May after barely getting by for the past year+. In May, Lo hit .292 with an ops of .822 and he matched his 2007 homer total of 2 as well. So far in June, Lo's been hitting the cover off the ball, prompting the Crew to jump him all the way to AAA when Hernan Iribarren was called up. Lorenzo will likely head to AA after the playoff push is over and some of the dominant Stars are promoted, but it's nice to see that he's finally played his way out of BC. Cain is a true 5 tool prospect, and if he's really put it all together, we could have a very similar player to Carl Crawford on our hands. Lorenzo's recent success is very exciting because we've been waiting for him to develop for three years now.
As mentioned earlier, Jonathan Lucroy is having a great season in WV. While many might be expecting Jonathan to move up to BC in the near future, notice that the Brewers tend to take their time with catchers. Catchers in general tend to be held back and reach the majors at a later age. Of course, Lucroy is basically the same age as Angel Salome, so they may try to push him a little---just don't get your hopes up that Brett Lawrie will replace him in the Sally league. Another player with a good May was Caleb Gindl, who batted .283 with an .811 OPS. Gindl's just 19, so a line like that should impress. We should be comparing Gindl to guys like Gamel, Cain, and Green during their time in WV, not Lucroy, who is much older. The thing to watch for with a super young prospect like Gindl is consistant improvement rather than total domination. For example, while Gindl's May did have some warts---he's still striking out too much---his walk rate improved, and as a result he was a better hitter. A final hitter with a good May was Steffan Wilson. Steffan's an older prospect, but he's got a nice power swing which has led to 11 homers so far. Steffan needs to work on every other aspect of his game, but he'll definitely be the one to move up if Gamel and Green are promoted. In fact, given his advanced age, it's possible that he'll skip BC and replace Gamel in Huntsville if Mat moves up, thought don't hold it against me if I'm wrong.
On the flip side, Zealous Wheeler and Lee Haydel had disappointing months of May. Wheeler's season stats are still quite nice because he had a dominant April, but his helium has worn of and he's looking more like a good prospect than a great one. Lee Haydel has been compared to David Krynzel, which as we all know, hurts. But, Lee's got a ton of time to improve , so don't write him off any time soon. Finally, Eric Farris made his 2008 debut and disappointed completely. Farris was discounted last year because he was supposedly a finished product without any projectability left, but he's shown very little so far in 2008. He hit a whole lot better than this in Helena last year, but he could easily be next in a seemingly endless list of college guys that killed in the mountains and fizzled in the humidity of the southeast.
On the mound, things have been pretty up and down for the Power. Evan Anundsen had a great April followed by a pretty average May. Evan gets lots of groundballs, which is a good predictor of future success, so a higher than expected ERA in May is not a big deal. Another pitcher who had a little more success than Anundsen was Amaury Rivas. Rivas is a 22 year old who spent all of 2007 in Arizona, so he wasn't someone we were counting on for much this year. That said, he's been the ace of the WV rotation, with a 2.50 ERA, 1.20 whip, and 45 k's against 18 walks. Given his age, he's possibility for a call up to BC at any moment. While RJ Seidel and to a lesser extent Nick Tyson have underwhelmed in 2008, Rob Bryson has pitched better than most have noticed. Bryson leads the team with 52 k's (in 42 innings, a full 15 less than Rivas, who is second with 45) and had a 3.27 ERA in May. Bryson's also done a good job of limiting the walks, so he's one to keep a close watch on considering he's just 20 years old. Finally, Mike Ramlow and Corey Frerichs are having good years out of the pen. Ramlow is repeating, and neither guy had much success in 2007, but they are worth monitoring so far.
2008 June Draft
I'll end this month's mega column with a few brief thoughts on the draft.
First of all, I love the Lawrie pick simply because Jack Z. has had a lot more success with hitters in the first round than pitchers. As a hitter, the likely hood of a career ending injury are much lower, which is a plus to me. Another plus is that Lawrie has the ability to play lots of positions, so the Brewers can assess his ability and assign him where he needs to be without forcing him to re learn the game every season like they did with Corey Hart, Bill hall, Ryan Braun, and probably many others in the future.
I'm also a big fan of the Odorizzi pick because he reminds me a lot of Will Inman. Afterall, Odorizzi was picked with one of the sandwich picks, so why not just try and completely replace Will. Odorizzi is exactly the kind of guy we've come to expect Jack Z. to take in the first round, and it was nice to get him along with a player i feel alot more comfortable with like Lawrie. Frederickson, I'm not as sure about, but a lefty with a huge fastball is worth about a million bucks, so why not. Frederickson will probably be second in the system in terms of ceiling behind Jeffress, so he's a worthy 1st round pick. I don't love the Cutter Dykstra pick simply because it irritates me to read scouting reports that say things like "great bloodlines." Cutter doesn't deserve my dislike just because he's the son of a big leaguer, but then again, he'll probably get a longer leash than many others because his dad was a big leaguer, so it all works out.
Well, that's all I got this month. If you've read this far, thanks for reading. If you stopped reading a couple thousand words ago, there's no pointing in me commenting because you aren't reading this! Anyway, I'll be back sometime around the first week of July. Don't forget to check out the link report on a daily basis!