August 23, 2012
By Jason Arndt
Brewers Farm Report
Brevard County’s Gagnon could be fit for the future
Evaluating how pitching talent in the Minor League’s translates into big league success is no easy task nor is there is an exact science to it.
Case in point the recent success of Brewers’ Mike Fiers in Milwaukee after just a handful of national news publications of hundreds even mentioned him prior to the 2012 season. And history has shown prospects can falter under Major League pressure.
With the recent news of veteran pitcher Randy Wolf’s release from the Brewers, there is franchise urgency to find starters among pitchers in the minor league system.
As the Brewers look to the future, three pitchers have caught the eyes of Brewers’ officials:
1. Wily Peralta, 23, 6′ 2″, 240 lbs, Triple A Nashville
Peralta was ranked the top prospect in the Brewers organization by Baseball America at the conclusion of the 2011 season. In his stints with Huntsville and Nashville last season, he struck out 157 batters in 150 innings and had an earned run average of 3.17.
The right-hander has been with the Brewers organization since being signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005 when he was 16 years old.
In Peralta’s first full season in Triple A (6-10), he was rocked early on and led him to be omitted from Baseball America’s Top 50 Midseason Prospects after accruing six losses on eight straight starts in the middle of the season.
However, he has been able to bounce back and has pitched better since mid-July picking up five of his six victories including a spectacular 11 strikeout performance July 26 against Memphis.
MLB.com has Peralta rated as the Brewers’ number two rated prospect behind newly acquired SS Jean Segura.
In the midst of Peralta’s early season struggles and the Brewers’ urgent needs for starting pitching throughout the 2012, Tyler Thornburg was able to take advantage of the situation and step into the Major League rotation at times.
2. Tyler Thornburg, 23, 6′ 0″, 190 lbs, Triple A Nashville
Drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft, the right-hander was considered by many scouts to have an “unorthodox pitching delivery comparable to San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum.”
At the conclusion of the 2011 season, Thornburg was the fourth best prospect behind Peralta, righty Taylor Jungmann and lefty Jed Bradley.
Thornburg was not among the top 100 prospects in the pre-season ratings by Baseball America and at the time of the poll, he was just finishing up a season with High A Brevard County.
The right-hander caught the attention of Major League scouts following a near perfect game performance April 16 with Double A Huntsville striking 11 batters.
Thornburg continued his rounds of success in Huntsville and warranted a promotion to Triple A Nashville after he compiled an 8-1 record with an earned run average of 3.00.
Thornburg was thrown into action at the Major League level after a season-ending injury to Chris Narveson and other starters missing a start or two along the way. As the season progressed, Thornburg’s role with the parent league became limited and was sent back to Triple A Nashville to get innings in.
Since that demotion, Thornburg has struck out 27 batters in 24 innings pitched in five starts. Due to Thornburg’s experience at the Major League level and Peralta needing more time to develop consistency at the Triple A level, Thornburg is the obvious choice to be recalled first.
Brewers Farm Report believes that barring major performances by Peralta during Spring Training next season, he might need to show at least 7-10 solid starts to begin the 2013 season to earn his right to be recalled.
3. Johnny Hellweg, 23, 6′ 9″, 210 lbs, AA Huntsville
Recently acquired in the Zack Greinke trade from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Hellweg has compiled productive appearances with his new team in Huntsville. Between him and fellow Star Ariel Pena involved in the trade, Hellweg is believed to have a higher ceiling.
Rated as the sixth best prospect in the Angels organization before the trade, he was touted as having the best fastball and curveball in that organization following the 2011 season. In addition, several Major League Angel players have called him “gas” due to the velocity and precision of his fastball. He also has four key pitches that can be mixed quite well.
Huntsville has not defined his role with the team due to starting two of his five games thus far, but in the past has started with success in the minor leagues.
Due to his tall frame and amount of pitches, he should be able to accumulate quality innings once he officially receives more starts.
Thornburg’s former team, the Brevard County Manatees have a pitcher with a chance to make it to the Majors, but can not be considered until mid-2012.
4. Taylor Jungmann, 22, 6′ 6″, 210 lbs, High A Brevard County
Of all the top prospects, Jungmann’s ratings heightens due to the injuries and decline of other pitchers that were highly touted at the beginning of the season (LHP – Jed Bradley, continued struggles in Brevard County; RHP – Cody Scarpetta, season lost due to Tommy John surgery and likely won’t be at 100 percent until the middle of 2013)
Jungmann needs more seasoning and if he receives a promotion to Double A next season and puts together solid performances by the middle of 2013, he could warrant a call-up.
As the 2011 Brewers’ first-round pick, the organization will give him every chance to succeed at the minor league level.
The tall 22-year-old has gone 10-6 with Brevard County and has an earned run average of 3.59 and has reinforced scouts belief he could be a key innings eater, leading the Florida State League with a shade over 143 innings while walking just 39 batters.
Records can be deceiving for Brevard County pitchers, as the Manatees offense is ninth of 12 teams in the Florida State League in runs scored and scores and average of four runs/game.
With that statistic in mind, there are a couple pitchers in Brevard County that do warrant attention and not many people know about.
Drew Gagnon, 22, 6′ 4″, 195 lbs, High A Brevard County
Gagnon was overlooked due to the inadequate experience he sustained while with Rookie Pioneer League Helena last season. However, he was the Brewers’ 2011 third round selection behind Jungmann and Jed Bradley. And prior to the 2011 draft, scouts had an idea of who he was. Gagnon did not sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates when they drafted him in the tenth round out of high school in 2007 and steadily improved through his Cal State – Long Beach career.
Scouts have doubted his fastball and are rating it at a max of 94 miles per hour and he can maintain great movement on it if he keeps it closer to 90 mph. In addition, his breaking stuff has improved and scouts rate it as above average.
With Yovani Gallardo locking up the ace position for years ahead and the development of other pitchers behind him, Gagnon could be a formidable 3rd/4th pitcher for the Brewers if he continues to improve in 2013.
Gagnon earned a promotion to High A Brevard County after going 6-1 (2.38 ERA) with the Wisconsin Timer Rattlers this season and through the entire season, his WHIP totals have been near 1.0 through nearly 100 combined innings pitched between the Rattlers and Manatees.
The pitcher has walked an astonishingly low 36 batters in 142 innings pitched while allowing 120 hits. As stated above, many scouts have raved about his command.
Pitchers that fell off the ratings scale
RHP Jimmy Nelson – Has struggled to compile quality appearances this season and his innings have been greatly reduced through the duration of the 2012 season.
LHP Jed Bradley – Drafted in the first round along with Jungmann in 2011, there have been issues of command with his pitches and has given up more than one hit per inning.
RHP Cody Scarpetta – Underwent Tommy John surgery prior to the 2012 season and is not expected to make a significant until midway through the 2013 season at minimum. And with Tommy John surgery, there is always a concern of whether someone can return to form.
RHP Santo Manzanillo – Was expected to be part of the Nashville Sounds rotation before the 2012 season but suffered a significant car accident and is now getting work down in the Arizona developmental league.