Farm Report: Starting Pitcher

Wily Peralta looks like he has a very bright future
Rounding out our analysis of the Brewers organization is an in-depth look at the starting pitcher, which for a change might be the strongest group.  This is also the group that may spark the most debate among my method of ranking prospects.

First, there will be a couple of notable absences from this group - last year's first round draft picks Taylor Jungmann (12th) and Jed Bradley (15th).  While they need to be mentioned on this list I won't be ranking them being on draft position or Arizona Fall League stats.  Bradley is widely considered one of the the top pitching prospects (if not the top) and is very highly regarded.  There is some concern about workload for Jungmann, he pitched a ton last year for Texas.

Another name that isn't on the list just yet is last year's second round pick, Jorge Lopez.  Lopez did pitch 12 innings for the Arizona rookie Brewers.  He struck out 10 with a 2.25 ERA.  Where these three pitchers land will be a determination of how highly the organization thinks of them.  Early indications would put Bradley and Jungmann as high as Brevard County (High A).  If the team is looking to lighten workloads short season Helena would be a better choice.  Lopez... probably Wisconsin (Low A) at best.

In six months all three of these guys should be on this list, but right now I won't be ranking them based on where they were drafted.

Moving on, here is a look back at our other position breakdowns with an update to the relief pitchers section.  Apparently my third ranked relief pitcher (Robert Hinton) signed with Baltimore.  My writing layoff finally caught up to me.

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Relief Pitcher

1. Wily Peralta - After spending most of the 2011 season with Double-A Huntsville (21 starts) Peralta was bumped up to Triple-A Nashville where he made five very impressive starts.  In 31 innings at the minors top level he was dominant, with a 2.03 ERA with 40 strikeouts and only 11 walks.  For the year he had a 3.17 ERA in a career high 150.2 innings pitched.  The big improvement was his walk to strikeout rate which had been so-so the prior season.  In 2010 he struck out 1.63 batters to every walk, that improved by one full strikeout (2.66 strikeouts per walk last season).

Peralta should be the first name mentioned if the Brewers need a major league starter, be it because of injury or ineffectiveness.  He has a mid-90s fastball and a good breaking ball with a much improved change.  A full year at Nashville wouldn't hurt, but Peralta is ready and you wouldn't be wrong to pencil him in to the 2013 rotation.

2. Tyler Thornburg - A third round pick in the 2010 draft, Thornburg dominated Midwestern League (Low-A) batters to the tune of a 1.57 ERA in 68.2 innings before a mid-season promotion.  After moving up to Brevard County he was still good, but not quite dominant.  In 68 innings with the Manatees he had a 3.57 ERA.  For the year he struck out 160 batters in 136.2 innings pitched.  Everything indicates he should be with Huntsville in 2012 and he's been climbing the ladder quickly.  Depending how the transition to Double-A goes, he could reach the major leagues as soon as late 2013.

3. Michael Fiers - Fiers was too good in 2011 to look past anymore.  Prior to last season the question was whether or not he would be able to translate his A-ball success to the more advanced levels of the minors.  Well, he looked pretty good last season.  In 126 innings split between Huntsville and Nashville he had a 1.86 ERA and struck out 132 batters while only walking 32.  He's 26 years old and may have a chance to win a spot on the opening day roster with a strong spring.

4. Cody Scarpetta - Another player who will be in the big leagues sooner than later (whether the Brewers like it or not - Scarpetta had to be added to the 40-man roster earlier than normal due to an invalidated rookie contract).  At the moment, he looks more like a future reliever but he will be given every opportunity to establish himself as a starting pitcher.  With Huntsville in 2011 he had a 3.85 ERA in 117 innings, Scarpetta has had marginal command though.  In his last two seasons he walked 128 batters, too many if he's going to be a starter.  Nashville in 2012.

5. Nic Bucci - I was torn between Bucci and Kyle Heckathorn for the fifth spot, but am given Bucci the nod for putting up similar numbers and being two years younger than Heckathorn.  At the start of the 2012 season Bucci will be 21 years-old and should be pitching for the Huntsville Stars.  With Brevard County last season he had a 3.84 ERA and pitched a career high 150 innings.  He also cut his walk rate from 68 in 2010 to 51 in 2011 despite pitching 30 more innings.

Final Thoughts - There are a lot of pitchers to be excited about in the Brewers farm system.  After struggling to develop any major league pitchers besides Yovani Gallardo the organization has come up with a sizable number of high potential pitching prospects.  Along with the eight players mentioned you can throw names like Kyle Heckathorn, Austin Ross, Jimmy Nelson and Brooks Hall in the mix and the group gets deeper.  And if former top prospects like Mark Rogers (injuries) or Amaury Rivas (struggled at Triple-A) have bounce back years then you have an even stronger prospect group.

This is the deepest the Brewers have been in the pitching department, despite giving up a prospect like Jake Odorizzi a year ago.  The future is bright for developing starters in the near future, which is important considering only two of the Brewers five starting pitchers are under contract after this season.


Farm Report: Relief Pitcher

There's something about ranking relief pitchers that just feels like a waste of time.  It's not that these players won't contribute, it's more that there are so few players that are true relief pitchers.  Most relief pitchers are failed starters and when a pitcher is in the minors he is still in the process of being an unsuccessful starter before becoming a successful reliever.

Still, we'll give it a go.  The important stats for relief pitcher are pretty simple, low WHIP, high strikeouts and few home runs.  Before we get started here's a look back at the hitters:

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1. Santo Manzanillo - The first concern with Manzanillo is that he get healthy, after being in a car accident in the offseason.  Depending on when Manzanillo can start pitching again the hope will be that he can pick up where he left off in 2011.  Sporting a high velocity fastball (upper 90s), Manzanillo 62 batters in 61.2 innings pitched.  He had a WHIP of 1.14.  His numbers were dominant with Brevard County, to the tune of a 1.52 ERA.  Getting back and healthy is most important.

2. Daniel Meadows - I am rooting for Meadows, if only because he was drafted in the 49th round of the draft.  Splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, Meadows pitched 77.1 innings and had a 2.68 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.  He struck out 74 batters and only walked 23.  It's likely he starts the year with Nashville but he will be high on the list when injuries or ineffectiveness open up spots on the major league roster.

3. Robert Hinton - This is where ranking relievers really gets difficult.  Getting the nod at the third spot is Hinton, based on a strong 2011 year at double-A.  In 54 innings with Huntsville he struck out 58 batters and walked only 19 with a sparkling 1.67 ERA.  Hinton has yet to see that success translate to Triple-A however, in 29.1 career innings at the minor's highest level he has an ERA close to six (5.83).

UPDATE: I knew I was going to get burned by one of these rankings and Hinton it is.  Hinton was a minor league free agent this offseason and elected to sign with Baltimore.  Not overly surprising that the organization would pass on a 27-year-old reliever that had been unable to make the transition from Double-A to Triple-A (so far).

In his place I offer up Casey Medlen, a 37th round draft pick a year ago.  Medlen saw time with rookie Helena and Wisconsin, striking out 44 in 34.2 innings and sporting a 1.07 WHIP.  His impressive 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched ratio catches the eye, as does the fact that he walked only 11 batters in his first professional season.

4. Rob Wooten - After missing 2010 with an arm injury, Wooten bounced back with a solid year split between High-A Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville.  For the season he had a 1.16 WHIP and 3.09 ERA.  Wooten doesn't throw overly hard but he has been a closer for most of his minor league career.  He'll be 26 at the start of 2012 and should begin the season at Nashville.

5. Eric Marzec - On the strength of his strikeout numbers and a sharp ERA I'm going with Marzec at the number five spot.  Marzec has pitched 103 innings and struck out 111 batters.  His WHIP that same amount of time is 1.12. I suppose that's not such a bad number either. The Brewers saw fit to give him a brief look with Triple-A Nashville last season and there's no reason to think he'll start any lower than Double-A in 2012.

Final Thoughts - The main purpose of making a relief pitchers list was to have a group for Manzanillo.  After him, there are a whole bunch of guys that could be considered relief prospects.  Names like Casey Medlen, Maverick Lasker, Jonathan Pokorny or Donovan Hand all come to hand.  Basically, there is no John Axford coming up in the wings but there are a bunch of guys with a chance at helping the major league roster.