By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com
The Milwaukee Brewers, like most of their affiliates, couldn’t muster a winning record this season. But in a month in which the Crew did play winning ball, it had September callups to thank for their success. In the final month of the season, Milwaukee’s top prospect, Jimmy Nelson, sported a cool 0.90 ERA in four appearances, while Tyler Thornburg racked up two Brewers victories with 22 strikeouts in his four September starts.
While Nelson and Thornburg made the leap to the Majors, it was the youngest Brewers who made it to the postseason. Rookie-level Helena, the only team in the organization with a winning record, earned a trip to the first round of the Pioneer League playoffs before losing in two games to Great Falls in the White Sox system. 2013 Draft pick Michael Ratteree hit .560 in the series with a home run and six RBIs — the most of any player in the two rounds.
Most of the Brewers’ best 2013 system performers came from lower-level leagues, setting the table for several big Major League debuts in the next couple years. We talked to Milwaukee’s director of player development Reid Nichols to get his insight on these top players.
Brewers Organization All-Stars
Catcher — Clint Coulter, Wisconsin (33 games), AZL Brewers (17 games), Helena (20 games): The Brewers’ No. 11 prospect actually moved from Class A down to Rookie ball in his sophomore season, doubling his percentage of base stealers thrown out.
“He’s young and has got a lot of work to do defensively, but he’s got big upside,” said Nichols.
The 20-year-old catcher was a fan favorite during his time with Wisconsin, as he was voted to have his own bobblehead night with the Timber Rattlers. The Washington native had his best average of the season while in the Arizona League, hitting .350 and knocking in 15 runs.
First base — Jason Rogers, Huntsville (133 games): The 2013 Milwaukee Minor League Player of the Year led the Double-A Southern League with 87 RBIs and tied Joc Pederson (Dodgers) for second with 22 homers. The 25-year-old was also named the Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Month in July and August.
The Georgia native primarily plays first base but has also played some outfield and third base and will be working more on the hot corner in the Dominican Republic this winter to add value to his resume.
“Jason’s a very good hitter,” Nichols said. “He’s got a good eye at the plate, he battles at every at-bat (and) he’s a good first baseman.”
Second base — Gregory Hopkins, Brevard County (129 games): The New York native and St. John’s product’s biggest draw is his defense, but his bat is quickly matching the quality of his glove. The 2010 24th-round Draft pick started off his third year with his first career grand slam in the sixth game of the season.
“He is a very good defensive player up the middle, on the corners,” Reid said. “He’s got a great glove, good sense in the field and gives you good at-bats.”
Rogers, who turns 25 on Nov. 22, ranked second for the Class A Advanced Manatees this season with 118 hits, 63 RBIs, 55 runs and 25 doubles, just behind first baseman Nick Ramirez.
Third base — Taylor Brennan, Helena (58 games): In his sophomore season, the 21-year-old improved in every offensive category and developed his glove work at the hot corner. Brennan, who only had one homer in 2012, tied Jacob Morris (White Sox) for second-most home runs in the Pioneer League with 12, two behind Jacob Scavuzzo (Dodgers).
The Washington native boosted his fielding percentage to .897 in 2013, but after topping Helena with 18 errors, defense continues to be a focus.
“He worked hard at it and I’d like to see him keep working at it,” Nichols said. “He can get better, but he has improved quite a bit.”
Shortstop — Orlando Arcia, Wisconsin (120 games): The 19-year-old out of Venezuela missed the entire 2012 season after he fractured his ankle in extended spring training, but he returned to Brewers camp in 2013 with improved speed and defense. Arcia ranked second on the Timber Rattlers with 20 stolen bases, just six shy of outfielder Michael Reed’s team lead.
“He knows where the ball is. He’s similar to back when we had J.J. Hardy, being in the right position at the right time,” Nichols said. “Smart player, sees the play happening in front of him.”
The Brewers may hope he one day resembles the Brewers’ senior-circuit shortstop Jean Segura, but Arcia still has a lot of experience to gain, particularly after leading his squad with 23 errors last season.
Mitch Haniger, Wisconsin (41 games), Brevard County (88 games): Milwaukee’s No. 12 prospect made a big impact on the Timber Rattlers’ offense in less than two months with the team. At the end of the season, Haniger’s production made him Wisconsin’s leader in average (.297), slugging (.510) and OPS (.909). The California native also fared well in the Florida State League. He placed in the top three in runs (52), doubles (24), walks (32) and slugging (.396) for the Manatees.
“He’s got a good eye and will generate power,” Nichols said, adding that Haniger battles at the plate.
The 22-year-old also enjoyed time in the Arizona Fall League, knocking in 24 runs with a .280 average and 11 walks for AFL champion Surprise.
Victor Roache, Wisconsin (119 games): After a broken wrist sidelined him in 2012, the Brewers’ No. 8 prospect hit a two-run homer in his first professional at-bat. The power kept coming as Roache ended up tying Khris Davis’ 2010 Timber Rattlers franchise record for home runs with 22. The Michigan native finished third in the Midwest League in long balls and also led Wisconsin in home runs and RBIs (74).
“It’s taken him some time to get his feet back on the ground, but he’s starting to show signs of being where he was before he got hurt,” Nichols said.
Michael Reed, Wisconsin (118 games): In his third season, the 21-year-old broke out as an everyday starter for the Timber Rattlers, leading his teammates with 13 triples, 71 walks and 26 stolen bases. In the Midwest League, only Andrew Toles (Rays) had more triples with 16.
“Reed’s an all-around player,” Nichols said. “Good arm, good speed — just need to give him some time.”
The Texas native spent most of his outfield time in the corners. Nichols said he can play center but is best suited for right field. Reed had the fewest errors of everyday Wisconsin starters with three all season.
Utility — Hunter Morris, Nashville (134 games): After a slew of accolades in 2012, the 25-year-old was promoted to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. His stats dipped a little, but his 25 homers put him second in the league, just one shy of the leader, Brock Peterson (Cardinals).
“Morris for us last year put up huge numbers for Double-A,” Nichols said. “Making adjustments to Triple-A, he’s had some struggles early, but I think he’ll come out of it and he’ll be an annual producer.”
The first baseman also led his Sounds teammates with 123 hits, 73 RBIs and 227 total bases. This is the Alabama native’s third time being named an Organization All-Star.
Right-handed starting pitcher — Johnny Hellweg, Wisconsin (one game), Nashville (23 games), Milwaukee (eight games): The Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year had a breakout season, which included his big league debut. His 12 wins and 3.15 ERA earned him Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year award, and he was named a postseason All-Star.
“Johnny Hellweg is all kinds of stuff. He’s got a great fastball, he’s got a good breaking ball,” Reid said. “It almost looks like he’s handing the ball to the catcher from the mound, it’s intimidating.”
The 6-foot-9 Michigan native went 6-0 in June and July in the Minors, allowing just one earned run in 38 innings. During that time, Hellweg made his Major League debut but returned after four poor outings that resulted in an 8.00 ERA and a 0-1 record. His biggest issue is his control — he had 109 walks in 161 2/3 innings across all levels in 2013.
The Brewers’ No. 3 prospect redeemed himself somewhat when September callups came around. In his second stint with Milwaukee, the 25-year-old went 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts, pitching at least four innings in each appearance.
Left-handed starting pitcher — Brent Suter, Wisconsin (three games), Brevard County (43 games): After primarily serving as a reliever in 2012, the Harvard product returned to his college role of starter in 2013. He pitched more innings than any of his Manatees teammates and tied David Goforth for second-most wins on the team with seven, two behind Jacob Barnes.
The Cincinnati native was named the Florida State League Pitcher of the Week on July 1 after a start in which he allowed just one run on five hits in his first career complete game.
“Brent Suter is a very smart pitcher,” Nichols said. “He knows how to read hitters and works the plate front to back.”
Relief pitcher — Tommy Toledo, Brevard County (43 games): The Tampa native began his time in the Brewers organization as a starter, but two years later he made the transition to a solid reliever. Not only did Toledo’s 20 saves lead the Manatees, but they tied Nashville’s Rob Wooten for the most in the organization.
“His velocity has increased out of the ‘pen, and he pitched very well for us in the relieving role this year,” Nichols said.
The University of Florida product ended the 2013 season with a 10 1/3-inning scoreless streak, allowing just six hits and two walks with five strikeouts in that span.