Big decisions looming for Brewers
Glut of hitting prospects will present club with pleasant questions
The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent Draft picks.
The Milwaukee Brewers already are one of the Major Leagues' poster children for teams that have stocked themselves with young homegrown talent.
With more prospects on the way, especially young hitters, there will be some decisions to be made in the not-too-distant future in terms of who stays, who goes and who moves over.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
The Brewers boast three players on MLB.com's preseason Top 50 Prospects list in shortstop Alcides Escobar (eighth), third baseman Mat Gamel (23rd) and flame-throwing right-hander Jeremy Jeffress (44th).
Milwaukee also is faced with the pleasant dilemma of having three young catchers among its own top 10 list, including 2008 first-round pick Brett Lawrie, a Canadian teenager who will make his pro debut this spring.
The prevailing theory within the system is that this nice problem will play itself out over time. For now, you let all of them play full-time at different levels (with the likely scenarios seeing Lawrie at Class A Wisconsin, Angel Salome at Triple-A Nashville and Jonathan Lucroy at Double-A Huntsville) until a decision has to be made.
For now, all of the Brewers' best hitting prospects on the verge of promotion are likely to start the year at Nashville, playing every day and awaiting the call.
Alcides Escobar, SS
The slick-fielding Venezuelan, only 22, is the future of the middle infield in Milwaukee after hitting .328 with eight homers, 76 RBIs and 34 steals at Huntsville.
Mat Gamel, 3B
Arguably the best pure hitter of the bunch, Gamel was slowed down the stretch in 2008 with a sore elbow and minor injuries plagued him to start Spring Training. But the guy can hit and should man the hot corner before long.
Angel Salome, C
The 5-foot-7, cannon-armed Salome has hit at every level and won the Southern League batting crown with a .360 mark at Huntsville in '08. He, too, awaits the call.
Omar Aguilar, RHP
He combined for a 1.98 ERA and 17 saves, second in the system, last year at Class A Advanced Brevard County and Huntsville. Using a plus fastball and slider, he limited opponents to a .177 average.
Brent Brewer, SS
The name alone should be enough to guarantee him a shot with the big club, but this guy can play. A 2006 second-rounder out of high school, the 21-year-old stole 31 bases last year between Class A West Virginia and Brevard County and has a great arm.
Eric Farris, 2B
The club's fourth-round pick in 2007 out of Loyola Marymount, he ranked among the organization's leaders with a .293 average and 32 steals at West Virginia in his first full season. The Brewers are very high on his upside.
Cody Scarpetta, RHP The Brewers had to add the 20-year-old Scarpetta to the 40-man roster for procedural reasons after his first contract as a 2007 11th-round pick was voided due to an injury and he was re-signed. He throws a fastball in the mid-90s and a power breaking ball and combined for a 2.23 ERA and 58 strikeouts over 36 innings in 2008 in his debut between the Rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Helena.
2008: Brett Lawrie, C/IF
Drafted out of high school in Canada with the 16th overall pick, Lawrie still waits to make his pro debut after playing for Team Canada in the Olympics last summer at age 18. He has tremendous power, but of the three catching prospects is the one most likely to move to the infield because he has that much athletic versatility. Think Craig Biggio.
2007: Matt LaPorta, 1B/OF
The seventh overall pick out of the University of Florida, the hot-hitting outfield prospect was one of the key players used to acquire ace C.C. Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians last summer.
2006: Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
The 16th overall pick out of high school in Virginia, Jeffress has had his blazing fastball clocked in triple digits and continues to work on harnessing and refining his great stuff. He was the club's Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season and fanned 115 over 94 innings between two stops.
2008 Draft Recap
RHP Jake Odorizzi (1) The Illinois high school hurler went 1-2 with a 3.48 ERA in 11 Arizona League games, limiting opponents to a .220 average. He throws a fastball in the low-90s with a slider and is a great athlete with a big upside. ... LHP Evan Frederickson (1) posted a 5.06 ERA between Helena (3.09) and West Virginia (6.20). Drafted out of San Francisco, he struck out 34 but walked 31 over 32 innings, indicative of his power and control issues. ... OF Cutter Dykstra (2) is, as his name might suggest, the son of former big league star Lenny Dykstra and similar to his dad in many ways. The 19-year-old high school pick from California hit .271 with five homers, 17 RBIs and four steals between the Arizona League and Helena. ... OF Logan Schafer (3) was drafted out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and is a great center fielder known for his defense. He hit .272 between Helena and West Virginia. ... RHP Robert Wooten: (13) was drafted out of the University of North Carolina and went 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 14 games between Helena and West Virginia. Over 31 2/3 innings, he fanned 44 while walking only six.
Hitter of the Year -- OF Lorenzo Cain
Cain did not begin playing competitive baseball until his late teens, so his instincts are a tick behind some of the more polished prospects in the system. But his tools and makeup are off the charts and he can do pretty much everything. He made a huge impression during the Arizona Fall League.
Pitcher of the Year -- RHP Jeremy Jeffress
With a fastball that has been clocked more than a few times at 100 mph, the former first-rounder was the Brewers' pick for as Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008. And they expect even bigger and better things from him in 2009. So do we.
The Brewers' depth when it comes to infield prospects means they can wait for injured INF/OF Taylor Green to come back from offseason surgery to repair a wrist injury. He is expected to miss the first three months of the season. The organization's Player of the Year in 2007, he hit .289 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs at Brevard County last summer. ... Two more sleepers to watch are LHP Chris Cody, whose 1.81 ERA between two Class A stops ranked third among all Minor League starters, and 1B/3B Steffan Wilson, who hit .289 with 19 homers and 100 RBIs in his first full season at West Virginia. ... Brewers fans will be able to stay closer to home now to watch their Class A prospects as the organization has moved from West Virginia in the South Atlantic League to nearby Appleton, Wisconsin in the Midwest League.
"He seems like he's really locked in and determined to be committed this year fully on the field, and I like where he's going."
--Brewers player development director Reid Nichols on top pitching prospect Jeremy Jeffress
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.