Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.
If you were perusing this series back in 2015 you would have read this:
The Tumbler: Taylor Williams, RHP: Williams, not 24, has pitched just 174.2 innings in his three-year professional career, thanks to injuries. He missed all of 2015 due to an elbow injury and the concern is that he may eventually require Tommy John surgery, thus costing him even more development time. With a strong focus on obtaining pitching through the draft and via trade, Williams has slide down the Brewers’ pitching depth chart. The right-hander has good stuff — and with the durability concerns — he may be better suited for the ‘pen.
Now on to the new stuff:
First Taste of The Show: Corbin Burnes, RHP: The Brewers received some key innings from a number of young arms in 2018. Freddy Peralta pitched the most innings but Burnes arguably has the higher ceiling. The latter pitcher worked his way through the minors as a starter but pitched 30 games out of the bullpen for the Brewers in 2018. He has an excellent fastball-slider combo and does a nice job inducing ground-ball outs. His stuff may not be quite as crisp if he moves back to the starting rotation and he’ll have to continue to work on the changeup, which was mostly forgotten while he worked out of the ‘pen. If he sticks as a reliever, he has high-leverage potential.
The Draft Pick: Brice Turang, SS: I liked Turang’s amateur hitting mechanics more than I do from what I’ve seen as a pro. Turang has spread out more as a pro with a wider base and less of a leg kick. But his swing spends less time in the strike zone and, at times, gets under the ball too much. He has athleticism, good speed, and the necessary defensive skills to stick at shortstop so there is value here. I’m just not sure he’s shown enough consistency with his hit tool (as an amateur or pro) to grade as an impact regular. But he’s just 19 so there is time for improvement.
The Riser: Zack Brown, RHP: I’m not as concerned about Brown’s delivery as some, but I think he’ll find his niche as a reliever in the Majors. And I’m fairly confident he’s a big league pitcher. He has a max-effort, high-energy approach on the mound and may pick up a couple more ticks on the heater with a role change. He has the athleticism and the potential in the three-pitch mix to start. His intensity could really help him blossom as a high-leverage bullpen arm, while it could hurt him as a starter where he might gas out too often in the fifth or sixth inning.
The Fallen: Jake Gatewood, OF: Drafted 41st overall in 2014, Gatewood has lost significant value in the field by moving from shortstop to third base to first base. He’s loaded with raw power but he doesn’t tap into it consistently. He also has big swing-and-miss tendencies. I’d like to see him stand more upright in his stance — he leans over the plate too much, which throws his balance off when he swings. Gatewood started to show signs of improvement in 2017 but took another step back in ’18 when he reached double-A.
The 2019 Contributor: Keston Hiura, 2B: The club will seemingly enter the 2019 season with limited depth at second base, which could open the door for Mauricio Dubon or Hiura to work their way into the picture by mid-year. Dubon has some skill and great makeup to make the most of his potential, but Hiura has the skill to be an impact player for the Brewers. His tools are fairly average across the board except for hit tool which has a chance to be special. Hiura, 22, struck out more than expected in 2018 but he should begin to make more consistent contact as he acclimatizes to pro ball.
The 2019 Sleeper: Aaron Ashby, LHP: Ashby has the potential to be a back-end starter but there is work to be done. He has an outstanding curveball and deception to fool hitters but he needs to improve his fastball command, prove that his 90-94 mph heat can sustain the every-five-day schedule, and also find better balance on the mound (which will improve the fastball command). I expect him to breeze through the lower minors thanks to his breaking ball and the real test will come when he hits the double-A and triple-A levels. If all goes well, he could be a No. 4 starter. If not, he might end up as a situational lefty.
The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Je’Von Ward, OF: If Ward can find a way to limit the ground balls, he could be something special. Extremely raw when he entered pro ball, he’s now entering his third season and he’s still just 19. I feel like the light bulb is about to click on for him. He has a large — albeit athletic — frame so it often takes these players longer to get their swing under control. He showed a good eye in 2018 while trimming his strikeout rate significantly. Now, he needs to tap into the raw power (again, by hitting a lot more balls in the air).
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.