Down on the Farm…

By: Ryan Smith

Prince Fielder. Ryan Braun. Rickie Weeks. Yovani Gallardo.

These four guys all played major roles in turning the Brewers from a cellar-dweller to a playoff contender over the last few seasons.

These four are also prime examples of the importance of a strong farm system. Thanks to good drafts and impressive player development, the Brewers were able to outgrow the role of laughingstock and now have two playoff appearances in the last four years.

GM Doug Melvin gambled last year by gutting the farm system, but his gamble paid off in the form of a National League Central Division Title.

Of course, the strength of a farm system can help elevate a team to new heights in other ways. For example, going into last season, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Prince Fielder would be calling some other city “home” in 2012. With that in mind, and with some desirable prospects within our organization, GM Doug Melvin decided to gut the farm system in order to add the pitching that we would need to make one last push with the big slugger manning first base.

Out went Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jeremy Jeffress.

In came Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

The rest is history. Melvin’s gamble worked, as the Brewers were able to claim their first-ever National League Central Division Championship, as well as making it to the NLCS.

Those deals, while immensely successful on the field, left the Brewers with the worst farm system in the majors according to Keith Law, ESPN’s lead baseball analyst for Scout’s Inc.

Fast-forward one year and the recovery process has begun. This past week, Law released his Organizational Rankings as well as his Top 100, ranking the best prospects in all of baseball. In 2011, on top of being ranked as the worst system, the Brewers became the first organization to not have a player make it in the top 100.

This season, the Brewers check in at #23 on the Org Rankings. They also have two guys who crack the prestigious Top 100. Today, I’m going to introduce you to those two players: Wily Peralta and Taylor Jungmann.

Wily Peralta, RHP, 6’2”, 240 lbs – Ranked #39 on Law’s Top 100

After acquiring Greinke and Marcum, Peralta quickly rose to the top of the Brewers’ system. Up until 2011, there was some patience within the organization with Peralta, considering he lost all of his 2007 season to Tommy John surgery. Since then, he had steadily improved his numbers every year until 2010, when his K/9 dropped to 6.17 and his BB/9 rose to 5.10.

Even with those less than impressive numbers, people within the Brewers organization continued to have faith in the young pitcher. He seemed to have the work ethic, build, and stuff to become a strikeout pitcher.

Peralta started to really put it all together in 2011, raising his K/9 to over 9.00 and lowering his BB/9 to the mid-3.00’s.

In all honesty, Peralta could quite possibly challenge for the fifth spot in the Brewers’ rotation, though he’ll probably start the year in AAA Nashville.

Peralta is definitely a guy to keep an eye on this year. Without Prince Fielder’s bat in the lineup and with the possibility of the first 50 games with Braun, Milwaukee is going to have to change its reputation as a bat-first team. Milwaukee is going to have to rely on its pitchers now more than ever, and that means that Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada will both be on relatively short leashes, especially since both pitchers have experience coming out of the bullpen.

If either of those guys stumbles out of the blocks, Peralta could get called up to the show. Law views Peralta as a No. 2 or No. 3 in a good rotation (which I think we have with Gallardo, Greinke, and Marcum), but his fastball, which sits consistently in the mid-90’s, will allow him to have a positive impact right away. Peralta also has an above-average slider that sits in the low-80’s and drives hard to the plate. His changeup has a little sink, but he maintains the same arm action as with his fastball, which allows the pitch to work when he’s able to locate it.

Perhaps the biggest reason that Peralta could help the Brewers this year is not just his stuff, but his understanding of the game. While his secondary pitches lack the command that one would like to see, he recognizes the importance of using them to set up his fastball. Also, while he has the ability to rack up strikeouts, he doesn’t feel the need to rely solely on the strikeout. He’s shown the know-how in the past to lure the batter into making weak contact, thus saving his arm and allowing him to pitch deeper into games, a skill that Gallardo still struggles with at times.

Overall, I expect Peralta to have another dominant season in AAA. Don’t be surprised if his numbers drop a little from last year; his understanding of the game leads me to believe he might spend part of this season trying to improve his secondary pitches. Whether it’s in September when rosters expand or earlier than that if Narveson and Estrada struggle, Peralta will get a chance to take the mound at Miller Park some time this season. With Randy Wolf, Zack Greinke, and Shaun Marcum all becoming free agents after this season, there’s bound to be a spot in the rotation opening up for Peralta in 2013.

Predicted Miller Park Arrival – September ’12 (at the latest)

Taylor Jungmann, RHP, 6’6”. 220 lbs – Ranked #58 on Law’s Top 100

Jungmann is one of the main reasons that the Brewers’ farm system jumped in Law’s overall org rankings. The Brewers made the Texas righty the 12th overall pick in last June’s draft.

During his final year at Texas, Jungmann didn’t fail to impress the scouts, posting a 1.60 ERA while recording 126 strikeouts in 141 innings, becoming a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award which is given annually to the nation’s best amateur baseball player.

Jungmann has a tall, lean frame and he shows great control of his long arms, allowing him to have more command on his pitches than one would expect. Most scouting reports also rave about his surprising athletic ability considering his frame. His fastball sits consistently in the low-90’s, and he has shown the ability to ramp it up to 95 if needed. If he fills out his frame a little bit more, that pitch could become a pretty dangerous weapon. To go along with that fastball, Jungmann has a hammer curveball that rests in the upper-70’s. His third pitch is a hard changeup, though he didn’t use it much in college because, well, he didn’t have to.

Jungmann impressed scouts with his ability to get batters out without having to rely on the strikeout. His 8.51 K/9 was down from previous years, yet he posted better numbers all across the board. Last season, Jungmann posted a career-low 1.98 BB/9, which is further evidence of his impressive control on the mound.

It sounds like Jungmann will start out this season in High-A, but considering he was viewed as one of the most polished and major league-ready arms in last season’s draft, I could see him making his way to AA-ball pretty quickly. A few reports claim that Jungmann could help out the big league club in 2012, but with the depth in our rotation, I just don’t see that. Unless the Brewers face a rash of injuries like never before, I don’t see any point in rushing one of our top prospects through the system. Let’s just let things progress naturally. I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long to see Jungmann in Milwaukee.

Predicted Miller Park Arrival – September ‘13

Well, that does it for now. I plan on introducing you all to different players within our system throughout the upcoming season, so stay tuned. After all, these could be the guys who we’re cheering for in Milwaukee before we know it.

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