Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – Kickoff Article

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AND WE’RE BAAAAACK!!! AndWereBack

It’s time, once again, for everybody to come aboard the BBtJN train!

All kitsch aside, I am happy to once again be able to bring to you my way of counting down to Opening Day for the Milwaukee Brewers. I call it “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” and the premise is a relatively simple one. When there are as many days remaining until Brewers Opening Day — this year on April 4th at Miller Park — as the jersey number a player wears on the big league side of Spring Training, I will profile that same player.

If that reads as oddly to you as it felt when I was writing it, allow a couple of examples to illuminate your mind. On February 19th, the day Pitchers & Catchers officially report to big league camp, it will be 45 days away from Opening Day. On that day I will profile Tyler Cravy since his jersey number is 45. Got it? One more just in case. March 30 is five days until Opening Day. Jonathan Villar was assigned jersey number 5. I’ll profile Villar on March 30.

I don’t do every single player as some don’t warrant the work for one subjective reason or another, but I hit the high points to be sure and most of everyone else.

As has now happened for a few years in a row, the Milwaukee Brewers only recently announced their jersey number updates for 2016. There are 10 players this year who have seen their individual dates comes and go. (Yeah, I know they’re not actually waiting for me to write something about them. It’s a turn of phrase.)

As with each of the last two years, this kick-off piece will catch us all up on the ones previously missed. As you can see, the blurbs are not full-length pieces but they deserve mention as we trudge bravely toward Opening Day.

That’s a true shame for some of these gentlemen who I’d love to go on at length about. I suspect I’ll have more years in the future with which to fulfill that desire.

With that…we ride!

#78 – Damien Magnifico

Throwing a baseball at 100 MPH tends to get you noticed around baseball circles. Notice tends to get you drafted. Damien Jack Magnifico could do that while he pitched collegiately for Oklahoma State. It was certainly part of why he was taken by the Brewers in the 5th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. After some consideration of a fast track because of that big fastball, the Brewers instead opted to have Magnifico start games (sometimes also working the second half of starter tandems early on) so he could have more time to develop his secondary pitches and harness his velocity. His results were okay as he moved up the organizational ladder, but with only one season remaining before a roster decision would have to be made on him, the Brewers decided to switch Magnifico back to the bullpen full-time.

The development plan proved to be a success at the very least for 2015 as Magnifico dominated working exclusively in relief for the playoff-bound Double-A affiliate Biloxi Shuckers. Magnifico finished 33 games in his 42 appearances, racking up 20 saves in the process. Magnifico also was generating a strong ground ball rate. Couple that with the Shuckers quality defense and you can an idea of why he was able to post a 1.17 ERA across his 53.2 innings pitched.

The Brewers did reward Magnifico’s fine season with both a trip to the Arizona Fall League as well as a coveted spot on the 40-man roster. That he’ll be wearing number 78 this spring may very well be indicative of the likelihood he’ll begin the regular season in the minors, this is a guy who both the previous and current front office folks seem to like just fine.

#77 – Brett Phillips

Another player on the “don’t let the number fool you” team is the consensus headliner of last July’s trade between the Brewers and the Houston Astros in which both Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers were sent to help the ‘Stros reach the playoffs for the first time in a while. Brett Maverick Phillips was a 6th round pick (by Houston) in the 2012 draft out of Seminole High School in Florida. All he’s done since is continually outpace his projections by working hard to develop his tool set. Phillips ranks highly on most, if not all, industry rankings of Brewers top prospects and as of publishing date he had already been revealed as the #61 prospect in the game according to Baseball Prospectus and is expected to be there or higher on MLB Pipeline’s rankings which are due out on January 29.

Phillips slashed .321/.372/.463 prior to the trade bringing him to the Biloxi Shuckers and while his numbers slumped a bit thereafter, part of that is attributable to an injury which cost him some time. He was able to return for the playoffs and make a short trip to the Arizona Fall League where he shined before leaving to represent his country by playing for Team USA in the Premier 12 Tournament over in east Asia.

A player often considered as “almost ready” to ascend to the big leagues, he has a job in center field more or less waiting for him when that time comes.

#75 – Zack Jones

Well what do we have here? A Rule 5 draft choice (the first of two in this post) who comes to the Brewers from the Minnesota Twins system, Zachary Jones is a 6’1″, 185 lb right-handed pitcher who was born and raised (and even attended college) in San Diego, California. Jones was first drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 24th round of the 2009 draft before ultimately going to college to pitch at San Jose State. His development there netted him a 4th round nod by the Twins in 2012.

Jones split time between the Class-A Advanced and Class-AA affiliates of the Twins in 2015, combining to post a 4.18 ERA. It was his very first taste of Double-A and he got 27.0 innings in which he allowed 18 earned runs while walking 18 batters and striking out 30. Most pitchers take time to adjust to new levels in the minors and hopefully Jones is no exception so he’ll fare better in 2016. However…

He won’t exactly be repeating Double-A if everything goes as the Brewers hope. As a Rule 5 pick, Jones has to remain on Milwaukee’s active big league 25-man roster all season or be offered back to Minnesota. Brewers fans will recall, probably not very fondly, the similar situation that Wei-Chung Wang went through in 2014. You can only hide the Rule 5 guy for so long, though the differences in the situations are enough to call out. The Brewers have no designs of contention in 2016 which means that it’s a perfect year to let a pitcher potentially get blown up from time to time so that you can add another talented asset to your system. Also, unlike Wang, Jones has pitched above A-ball including a very successful turn in the Arizona Fall League in 2014. Time will tell whether the Brewers get to send him to Triple-A for 2017, but for now there’s no harm at all in seeing what the 25-year-old can handle.

#74 – Daniel Tillman

Daniel Brett Tillman is a former 2nd round draft pick (2010 – LAA) who has struggled to find consistency in the minor leagues to this point in his professional career. After spending his first four years bouncing up and down the Angels system, Tillman joined the Dodgers organization where he’s pitched for the last two years. Tillman signed with the Brewers as a six-year Minor League free agent no doubt seeing an opportunity with a rebuilding club.

Tillman’s consistency issues have been tied back to his control but he really showed some improvement overall in 2015, enough that he became an intriguing option for David Stearns’ front office. Tillman’s full-season ERA (combined between High-A and Double-A) was a solid 2.76 in 58.2 innings pitched. He lowered his BB/9 to a career-best 2.6 and rebounding his K/9 to 10.4 after 2014’s disappointing 7.0 mark.

The 6’1″ right-hander will be 27 before Opening Day this year and now with his third organization, hopefully everything clicks as Tillman can earn himself a spot with Class-AAA Colorado Springs en route to hopefully a long-time-coming Major League debut one day.

#73 – Colin Walsh

The second of two MLB-portion Rule 5 draft picks by the Brewers back in December at the Winter Meetings, Colin P. Walsh is a second baseman who comes to Milwaukee by way of the Oakland Athletics. Originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round back in 2010, Walsh wound up with the A’s after being straight up released by the Cardinals during Spring Training in 2014. He caught on right away with Oakland and worked his way all the way up to Class-AAA Sacramento in 2014 before spending all of 2015 back in Class-AA Midland where he helped lead the Midland RockHounds to a Texas League championship.

Walsh’s major tool on display throughout 2015 was his keen batting eye and patience at the plate. He is on record as saying he’d rather take a borderline call and have the umpire call a third strike he doesn’t agree with than put himself at a disadvantage by swinging at the same. The patience paid off in a big way as evidenced by Walsh’s mammoth .447 on-base percentage (.302 batting average) in 619 plate appearances. Walsh walked 124 times in 2015. For an at times OBP-starved team like Milwaukee, Walsh could be just what the doctor ordered. He does have to stick on the 25-man roster all season, but with the versatility he demonstrated in the minors (he’s played both corner outfield spots as well as a sub-par third base during his minor league career) and his likely affinity for pinch-hitting should allow him to make an impact. Furthermore, Walsh is a switch-hitter (who compiled a .494 OBP vs. LHP through June 18th last year) so if Scooter Gennett once again ends up benefiting from a platoon partner, Walsh could potentially fill that role.

#72 – Orlando Arcia

What can I say about Orlando Arcia in a shortened format like this? To be honest, I could potentially fill two full columns with references and quotes and lauds and accolades for the consensus #1 prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system. He’s a shortstop who was once thought of as defensive-only (though with excellent defense) who would make the majors based on his glove work and probably hit 8th and do his best to clear the pitcher from time to time. He has blossomed into a solid hitter with line drive power from gap to gap. His bat control is getting better and better and with a little bit of time to ply his hitting wares against Triple-A level competition to begin the season, Arcia could debut in Brewers blue pretty soon.

All that said, he’s ticketed to the begin the season in Colorado Springs (barring a confluence of as yet not happened circumstances) which will be a nice test for the still just 21-year-old Venezuelan. Oh, and did I mention he’s a 21-year-old who dominated Double-A after missing an entire year of development in 2012 due to a broken ankle? He obviously won’t debut as a teenager (who does these days anymore?), but if he fulfills his growing potential we might be talking about him as a franchise cornerstone for years.

That’s high praise but scouting and analytical people who are much smarter than I am are the ones heaping it upon him. It’s easier to temper enthusiasm and keep expectations low, but where’s the fun in not dreaming big once in a while?

#71 – Josh Hader

I don’t recall the last guy who raised his profile so much so quickly upon joining a new organization. When Josh Ronald Hader was included in the aforementioned Gomez/Fiers-to-Houston deal, he was routinely mentioned as the third-best player and even as fourth when some pointed to his high likelihood of ending up as a relief pitcher. Hader posted a 3.17 ERA before the trade (17 games, 10 starts) and a 2.79 ERA in seven appearances (all starts) after the trade. That’s well and good, but it was his stint in the Arizona Fall League that really had scouts buzzing. In 16.0 IP across seven games (only two starts to help keep his innings in check), Hader was consistently throwing his fastball in the high-90s and showed increased depth to his secondary offerings, especially his slider. Scouts began touting Hader’s chances to stick as a starting pitcher as better and better. This would be a wonderful thing for the Brewers who haven’t developed a left-handed starting pitcher in quite a little bit.

A season of Triple-A ball should tell Stearns and company plenty about whether or not Hader’s newly projected ceiling will ultimately be realizable. As many tend to mention, however, if Hader does end up as a high-leverage reliever he’s viewed as potentially being quite lethal. I can’t wait for this space next year.

#70 – Jacob Barnes

Speaking of cashing in on stellar Arizona Fall League performances, Jacob Andrew Barnes did just that when he was added to the 40-man roster in late November. Don’t misunderstand. There’s a reason Barnes was sent to the Arizona Fall League. After 75.2 innings pitched in 39 games (only six starts), Barnes finished the regular season in Biloxi with a 3.36 ERA and 10.1 K/9. His walk rate wasn’t ideal and he therefore allowed too many baserunners, but he did enough that the team wanted to see more. That’s where the switch got flipped for real on Barnes helium machine.

In the AFL, Barnes through 11.2 innings and allowed just nine total baserunners for a WHIP of 0.771. He also struck out 17 on his way to allowing exactly zero runs. It was exactly the kind of performance that the 6’2″ right-handed Floridian hurler could leverage into 40-man protection. The projections by experts seem to agree that Barnes doesn’t have a high ceiling but many of the ones I prefer to read agreed that his floor should be as a Major League contributor. Keep in mind how many innings this team has given to marginal relief pitchers over the years — even the contending ones — and realize that Barnes has a pretty good bet to do better than many of them. That would be a nice return on a 14th round draft choice five years ago.

#68 – Adam Weisenburger

Alas, poor Adam Robert Weisenburger. So close to his own column and yet… The now 27-year-old catcher who finished the 2014 season in Triple-A spent the entirety of 2015 with the road-warrior Biloxi Shuckers. Since they were a playoff team, Weisenburger was afforded a better opportunity for continued play by simply remaining in Double-A for the whole year. His defense continues to be his best tool and will be on display again in mid-February as he often is among the final catchers to return to the minor league side of camp.

Weisenburger doesn’t hit all that much (.231/.356/.311) but has a decent set of on-base skills buoyed by his low strikeout total and coordinating K:BB ratio. The former 34th round draft choice could perhaps handle the defensive duties in an emergency situation at the big league level, but the Brewers once again brought in veteran free agents on minor-league contracts to likely handle the Triple-A work and be first in line for a potential call-up due to injury or, the reality is, a trade of Jonathan Lucroy.

You can follow most of the players profiled in this article on Twitter.

Now that we’re caught up, these will begin coming one at a time with more robust write-ups.

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