The Brewers’ minor league system has never been thought of as a pitching goldmine. Players like Jeremey Jeffress, Mark Rodgers, and Eric Arnett had high expectations, but all struggled to make the big leagues due to injuries and ineffectiveness. But, the arms of the farm system have a much higher ceiling than outlets like Baseball America believe. General Manager Doug Melvin recently raved to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the young pitching potential. Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg have already made it through to the big club, and had great success during the final months of 2013. While they have plenty of major league arms heading into 2014, there are tons of minor league arms ready to step in and win a job in the near future.
Jimmy Nelson has been impressive where ever he has pitched. The Brewers’ 2010 second round draft choice racked up a 3.52 ERA in four minor league seasons. He is a strikeout pitcher, who started in a combined no-hitter while pitching for Huntsville. Last year, he moved from AA Huntsville to AAA Nashville, posting a combined 3.25 ERA and striking out over a hitter per inning.
In his September call-up to Milwaukee, Nelson pitched well enough to earn a start in the final series of the season. Pitching ten big league innings, Nelson allowed only one earned run and struck out eight. The Matt Garza signing has hurt his chances to win a big league rotation spot this spring, but if he continues to pitch well this summer it won’t be long until he earns a spot in the rotation for good.
Johnny Hellweg’s major league numbers are horrific. In eight appearances (including seven starts) he has earned a 6.75 ERA. During these 30 innings pitched, Hellweg allowed 40 hits and 34 batters to get on base by either a walk or hit by pitch. His command was nowhere to be found.
But, his total arsenal of pitches and his minor league track record gives plenty of reasons for hope for the 25 year old right hander. At 6’7 his mid-90s fastball gets on hitters even quicker and he has even at times touched the upper 90s. The ball just seems to explode out of his hand. He pitched well enough last season in AAA Nashville to not only earn himself the Brewers Organizational Pitcher of the Year, but also to be the Pacific Coast Pitcher of the Year, too. From May to July, Hellweg went 9-1 and didn’t allow a single earned run during three July starts.
Adam McCalvy of MLB.com reported, that a bulked up Hellweg came to camp looking to stay stronger throughout the season. With little room in the big league rotation, he is again projected to start the season in AAA Nashville.
Taylor Jungmann was selected with the 12th pick of the 2011 draft after a dominating junior year at Texas. During his junior season, Jungmann won the Dick Houser award after going 13-3 with a 1.60 ERA. He was expected to quickly climb up the ladder to Milwaukee.
That quick climb has yet to happen. Just like Hellweg, Jungmann has focused on improving his shaky command. His AA debut in 2013 got off to a woeful 1-4 start with a 7.89 ERA. Then Jungmann caught fire. He won six of seven starts, and only allowed 27 hits in 45 innings. Even more impressive was his 1.80 ERA during those starts.
While his end of season ERA of 4.33 is nothing to write home about, Jungmann’s impressive streak during the season shows that he can be a special pitcher. He should see time in AAA Nashville this season and if he can locate on a more consistent basis he should certainly be a part of the club’s future.
Although he was selected in the second round many in the Brewers organization feel like they got a pitcher with big-time potential in Devin Williams. Though he is only 19 years old, Williams finished the season as the 9th best Brewers prospect according to MLB.com. His mid-90s fastball should get even better as he gains size and strength.
In his first professional season, Williams struckout over a batter per inning and batters hit just .215 against him. His build and potential has even draw comparisons to Taijuan Walker, the superstar Mariners prospect. Being only 19 years old the Brewers will bring him along slowly, but his repertoire brings the possibility of an ace down the road.
Hiram Burgos and Mike Fiers should start the season in the AAA Nashville rotation. Both have been former Organizational Players of the Year, and have had successes in the major leagues. Jed Bradley, a former first round pick along with Taylor Jungmann, has plenty of talent but he has had command issues along with the injury bug. Ariel Pena is another hard thrower who (acquired along with Johnny Hellweg) put together a solid AA season in which he posted a 3.73 ERA and struck out 131 hitters. Finally, David Goforth was inserted into a closer role at the end of the season and he had great success. He was able to post a 3.38 ERA in relief. He has all the makings of a future big league closer.
Reference: Prospect Pipeline
Statistics provided by Baseball Reference and MILB.com