Our coverage continues with the breakdown of the players the Milwaukee Brewers have tabbed to represent them as part of the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the 20th season of the Arizona Fall League. While the majority of the state of Wisconsin is dusting off their foam Cheese Heads and ironing their Aaron Rodgers jerseys the Brewers have invited eight minor league prospects to partake in some fall baseball action down in the desert.
The players the Brewers invited are an interesting group that already includes a few Hall of Famers (Canadian HOF) as well as first baseman Hunter Morris who looks to be a contender for Southern League player of the year and mid-season acquisition John Hellweg who is the epitome of a high ceiling power arm with the potential to be dominating. Overall, the Brewers, who had one of the weaker farm systems entering 2012, had a few nice surprises in their minor league player development. They are looking to continue that trend over the fall.
Johnny Hellweg – Drafted in the 16th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Angels. Traded to the Brewers in 2012 as part of the Greinke deal.
2012: 139 2/3 innings, 7 wins, 3.29 ERA, 105:75 K/BB
The 22-year old right-handed Hellweg stands at 6’9” and is a prototypical power pitcher with a fastball he can dial up in the mid-to-upper 90s. He complements his power fastball with an excellent slider that flashes plus at times. Like many pitchers of Hellweg’s stature he has difficulty with his command and definitely needs to work on his ability to repeat his pitching motion, something that I believe will come with repetition. It will probably be a full season before we see him in Milwaukee as he has to work out the kinks in his mechanics and continue to develop his off-speed pitches. Hellweg has the ultimate ceiling of a number two starter and the floor of a late inning reliever. Look for him to arrive in Milwaukee by 2014.
Nick Bucci - Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB Draft from the Canadian prep ranks.
2012: 42 2/3 innings, 3 wins, 1.90 ERA, 44:15 K/BB
The 22-year old Bucci is one of the aforementioned Hall of Famers. He was recently inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame along with his teammates who brought Canada the Gold Medal in the 2011 Pan Am Games. The 6’2″ Bucci projects to have a ceiling as a back of the rotation starter if he can figure out how to improve his command and improve his change-up. The Brewers currently see Bucci as a potential mid-rotation starter and I think that is a bit aggressive as he has not shown the ability to strike batters out at a rate that would suggest such a lofty expectation. He works routinely in the 89-92 mph range with his fastball and he works in a slow curve ball which has its moments of being a plus offering. I think Bucci will ultimately move into a long relief type role where his fastball can receive a bit of an uptick and his curve ball will be enough of an above average offering to complement the fastball. Of all the players the Brewers are sending to Arizona, Bucci has the most room to develop and impress. His fall league performance as well as his 2013 performance will go a long way in determining if he is going to progress as a member of the rotation or as a bullpen option. Look for Bucci to make it to Milwaukee in 2014 where his two-pitch mix will help solidify the Brewers bullpen.
Jimmy Nelson – Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of the University of Alabama.
2012: 127 1/3 innings, 6 wins, 2.83 ERA, 119:62 K/BB
The 23-year old Nelson has split the 2012 season between Class-A Advanced and Double-A and has had some mixed results. While in the Florida State League, the big right-hander was pretty dominant. He struck out 77 batters in 81 1/3 innings to go along with a 2.21 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, but following his promotion to the Southern League his command abandoned him. He posted a 42:37 K/BB rate over 46 innings which lead to an inflated 3.91 ERA. Like many prospects, the 6’6″ Nelson needs to work on his command if he wants to reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter. Nelson’s repertoire consists of a power fastball that sits in the mid-to-upper 90′s and has been clocked as high as 98 mph. He mixes in a solid mid-80′s slider which has excellent movement and is a definite strikeout pitch. Lastly, he has a developing change-up which looks to be at least average going forward. Nelson has a lot of things going for him including his workhorse frame. This bodes well for his chances of staying in the rotation at the upper levels but he needs to clean up his mechanics. Again this can be tougher for big guys, such as Hellweg and Nelson. He was rated the tenth best prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season and was applauded for his solid slider. Look for Nelson to be in serious consideration for a rotation spot in 2014.
Kyle Heckathorn – Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round (47th) in the 2009 MLB Draft from Kennesaw State University.
2012: 119 1/3 innings, 5 wins, 4.75 ERA, 88:38 K/BB
The 24-year old Heckathorn is another big bodied starting pitcher in the Brewers system. The right-hander stands at 6’6″ and unlike his other organization mates he possesses strong command. He has a career 2.50 K/BB and was named the Brewers minor league pitcher of the year in 2010. Heckathorn possesses a high velocity fastball that has been clocked as high as 97 mph. He also mixes in a hard slider and a solid change-up. Despite his high velocity, he is not a traditional strikeout pitcher. In 2012 his K/9 rate was 6.6 but his 2.9 BB/9 rate was very solid. On the surface his 4.75 ERA is not going to get him much support from prospect evaluators. However, due to the fact that he relies on a solid ground ball rate, his ERA is inflated as evidenced by his more reasonable 3.77 FIP. Heckathorn profiles as a mid-rotation starter with an ability to limit free passes, keep the ball in the yard, and induce groundouts. I have to believe that if Heckathorn was ever going to rack up the strikeouts it would have happened by now, but if that part of his game ever does come around he could end up being a solid sleeper and jump up the ranks quickly. Look for Heckathorn to make his Brewers debut at some point in 2013 as he has the polish and the frame to contribute sooner than later.
Santo Manzanillo – Signed by the Milwaukee Brewers as a non-drafted free agent in 2005.
2012: 22 innings, 2 wins, 6.95 ERA, 14:15 K/BB
The 23-year old Manzanillo is a right-handed relief pitcher who, for various reasons, has been a bit of a disappointment thus far in his minor league career. He spent the better part of his early career learning the nuances of pitching in the Rookie leagues. He really broke out in 2011 when over 61 2/3 innings across two levels he accumulated a 1.75 ERA and racked up 17 saves while posting a 62:26 K/BB rate and subsequently shot up prospect lists as a potential closer. Baseball America listed his fastball as the best in the Brewers organization before the 2012 season. Unfortunately, his career hit a rough patch when he got into an off-season car accident in his native Dominican Republic and separated his shoulder. He bounced back from the injury in 2012, but the results have been awful. Across three levels he has shown below average control and his inability to command his pitches has made him quite ineffective. While it was nice to see him back in action, 2012 was a lost season. He will look to sharpen his command and return to being the pitcher he was in 2011 with a few appearances in the Arizona Fall League as a taxi squad guy. With a good showing, look for him to start 2013 in Double-A. If he is able to recapture the success he had in 2011, he could be a part of the Brewers bullpen by late 2014.
Khris Davis - Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of Cal State Fullerton.
2012: .350/.451/.604 with 15 HR, 53 R, 52 RBI over 316 Plate Appearances
The 24-year old Davis was the Brewers’ 2010 Minor League Player of the Year. He has continued that success at each stop despite the fact that he lacks the “tools” that many evaluators like to see out of a corner outfielder. Davis has a decent amount of pop in his bat as evidenced by his consecutive seasons of 22, 17, and now 15 home runs, but questions still remain on how that pop will translate at the Major League level. Despite being athletic, he has been relegated to left field due to his range limitations and lack of arm strength. Most scouts view him as a “tweener” with no ideal spot on the diamond. It is always difficult to evaluate guys like Davis, because he has consistently outperformed his tools and the scouts’ projections. The questions still linger as to when his lack of projectability will ultimately catch up to him. He couples his athleticism and power with a solid eye at the plate. He is on track to see some time in Milwaukee as early as 2013, but the Brewers outfield is pretty crowded. They may end up using Davis as a trade chip down the road.
Brock Kjeldgaard - Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 34th round of the 2005 MLB Draft from the junior college ranks in Iowa.
2012: .211/.326/.398 with 12 HR, 44 R, 44 RBI over 316 Plate Appearances
The 26-year old Kjeldgaard was also a member of the Canadian national team that took home the Gold Medal in the 2011 Pan Am games, thereby earning a spot in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. He is old for a prospect, especially considering he has yet to see Triple-A. This is largely due to the fact that he is a converted pitcher and he spent the early part of his career on the mound. His best tool is his ability to hit for power. Throughout his minor league career, this has been his only redeemable quality as he strikes out too much to sustain a decent batting average. He lacks the type of plate discipline that is necessary to succeed at the upper levels and at this point is probably just organizational filler.
Hunter Morris – Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft from Auburn University.
2012: .303/.357/.563 with 28 HR, 77 R, 113 RBI over 571 Plate Appearances
The 23-year old Morris is having an absolutely dominant 2012 season picking up right where he left off in 2011. Interestingly the left-handed hitting first baseman was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the current location of the Brewers Double-A organization. He is the first player in Huntsville baseball history to have been born in and played for the Huntsville Stars. His 2012 season was so dominant that he was named the Southern League MVP and led the league in HR, RBI, Hits, Slugging % and Total Bases. He boasts solid power from the left side, something all teams covet. He plays strong defense at first base and has the athleticism to handle a corner outfield spot in a pinch. He was tabbed as the best power hitter prior to the 2012 season by Baseball America but failed to crack their top ten prospect list. This will not be the case in 2013 as he has surely earned his spot. Look for the Brewers to proceed with caution with Morris as he has firmly entrenched himself as the heir apparent to the departed Prince Fielder. They will not be willing to jeopardize his future (or theirs) by rushing him if he is not ready. I expect him to spend the bulk of 2013 at Triple-A Nashville with a mid-season call up. He has a real chance to start 2014 as the Opening Day first baseman with an eye on becoming a roster mainstay.
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