03/16/09 10:00 AM ET
10 Brewers prospects to watch
Three catchers among organization's most promising youngsters
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
Lorenzo Cain, OF: Watching Cain, it's hard to believe the 22-year-old didn't start playing the game until he was in his late teens. What he's still learning in terms of instincts and the "little things" about the game he more than makes up for in tools and makeup. Since selecting him in the 17th round in 2004 as a draft-and-follow out of high school in northern Florida, Cain has filled out physically and emerged as the best defensive outfielder in the organization. Splitting his time between Class A Advanced Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville, with a brief stop at Triple-A Nashville, Cain combined to hit .279 with 11 homers, 60 RBIs and 25 steals. He went on to bat .333 in the Arizona Fall League after missing the first several games with a sore hamstring.
Cutter Dykstra, OF: This chip off the old Lenny block was a second-round pick last spring out of high school in California, where he shifted from his original position of shortstop to the outfield like his dear old dad. His athleticism, speed and little bit of pop look genetic as well. Now 19, Dykstra hit .271 with five homers, 17 RBIs and four steals in his brief first taste of pro ball between the Rookie-level Arizona League and Helena.
Alcides Escobar, SS: The Brewers have patiently waited for the dazzling defensive whiz signed out of Venezuela in 2003, and he has shown he's worth the wait. The 22-year-old burst through with a huge season in '08, hitting .328 with eight homers, 76 RBIs and 34 stolen bases at Huntsville, tying for third in the system in steals. He finished third in the Southern League in batting (behind teammates Angel Salome and Mat Gamel, respectively) as he enjoyed his second consecutive .300-plus summer and was third in the Minors with 179 hits. He also enjoyed a brief debut in the big leagues. Though he's likely slotted to start the season at Nashville, he is viewed as the heir apparent at shortstop in Milwaukee. Escobar ranked No. 8 on MLB.com's preseason Top 50 Prospects list.
Mat Gamel, 3B: One of the top hitters in the Minors in 2008, the 23-year-old combined between Huntsville and a brief taste of Nashville to hit .325 with 20 home runs and 99 RBIs. His 99 runs scored and 172 hits both ranked seventh in the Minors, while his 281 total bases tied for fourth. And that was with a sore elbow hampering him down the stretch, so imagine what he'll do when healthy. He topped some stiff competition to earn the club's Minor League Player of the Year award and is a line drive hitter to all fields with good plate discipline. Gamel, a 2005 fourth-round pick out of Chipola Junior College in Florida, projects heavily in the Brewers' future, though the likelihood is he will break camp with Nashville. His 53 errors in 2007 and 32 more in 2008 raise the question as to whether a move to first or the outfield could be in his future.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Cole Gillespie, OF: Despite being hindered much of the year by a broken toe that required offseason surgery, the 2006 third-rounder out of Oregon State still posted his usual impressive numbers across the board. He hit .281 with 14 homers, 79 RBIs and 17 steals at Huntsville, a year after batting .262 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and 16 steals in a full season at Brevard County as he just keeps getting better every year. The 24-year-old Gillespie, a Southern League All-Star, led Huntsville with 38 doubles and has shown good plate discipline. He's a solid athlete who could play either corner outfield spot.
Caleb Gindl, OF: Don't be put off by the seemingly diminutive stature of the 5-foot-9 Gindl. The 2007 fifth-round pick has hit everywhere he's gone in his brief career and batted .307 with 13 home runs, 81 RBIs and 38 doubles in his full-season debut at West Virginia last summer. This came after winning the Pioneer League batting crown in his pro debut in '07 at Helena, where he hit .372. He posted a .388 on-base percentage with the Power, but his 144 strikeouts show a need for a little more plate patience. The left-hander still ranked seventh in the organization in batting and fifth in RBIs.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP: The Brewers' top pick in the 2006 Draft out of high school in Virginia, Jeffress has one of the best fastballs in the Minors, clocked in triple digits more than a few times. In 2008, the Brewers named him their Minor League Pitcher of the Year as he combined for a 4.31 ERA between Brevard County and Huntsville, striking out 115 batters over only 94 innings. He headed to the Arizona Fall League but was shut down early as a precautionary measure with a tired shoulder. Still only 21, Jeffress came to camp healthy and ready to go, and it's not surprising the Brewers are hoping for great things from him. He has good mechanics and is adding a curveball and changeup to his arsenal.
Brett Lawrie, C/IF: The time is finally arriving for Brewers fans to see Lawrie's long-awaited pro debut. The system's most promising power threat, he was a first-round pick last spring out of high school in British Columbia. Lawrie signed late, though, after competing for his home country at the World Junior Championships and the Olympics. He also participating in the World Baseball Classic. A very solid catching prospect, he'll stay at the position for now but could project in the infield, either at third or even second, thanks to his athleticism. He wowed scouts before the Draft when he connected for five homers in an exhibition game in Arizona against a Dominican Summer League extended spring team and his international experience should make up for the lag time between his signing and his debut. Look for him to make Brewers fans fall in love with him in a debut with Wisconsin in the Midwest League.
Jonathan Lucroy, C: Adding to the Brewers' wealth of catching prospects is Lucroy, a 2007 third-round pick out of the Louisiana-Lafayette. He's working on all aspects of his defensive game and at least some of them are clearly coming along well -- he threw out 45 percent of would-be basestealers between West Virginia and Brevard County. He also hit .301 with 20 homers and 70 RBIs and nine stolen bases, not too shabby for a catcher. The 22-year-old hits to all fields and finished second in the system in homers and eighth in batting.
Angel Salome, C: Rounding out the list of catching prospects is the 5-foot-7, 200-pound Salome, who has been dubbed "Pocket Pudge" for his size and his rocket of an arm. A 2004 fifth-round pick out of high school in New York City, Salome won the Southern League batting crown last summer, hitting .360 with 13 homers, 83 RBIs and a .415 on-base percentage in only 98 games. He led the system in batting (finishing fourth in the Minors) and was fourth in RBIs. Though a sore shoulder shut him down after one game in the Arizona Fall League, he is ready to roll. Salome, who has a .322 average over five pro seasons, batted .415 at Helena in 2005 and is a solid line drive hitter to all fields. He's working on his overall defensive game.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.