This week I'm concentrating my column on four top Milwaukee Brewers pitching prospects. None of them will be at the Futures Game on July 8 in Kansas City.
The Brewers have a very loyal fan base that has really stood by them as the team has hovered in the land of mediocrity. The loss of Prince Fielder has impacted the middle of the batting order, but Rickie Weeks hitting in the neighborhood of .185 and Mat Gamel missing most of the season hasn't helped.
The Brewers have some solid pitching in their minor league system that might be helpful to the club and to fantasy owners in the future. Among them are Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley. In this piece, I'll take a look at those four.
Right-handed starter Wily Peralta signed with the Brewers from the Dominican Republic when he was just 17 years old. At age 23, he probably feels like a veteran.
Peralta is a big, stocky guy at 6-feet-2, 240 pounds.
Peralta may well be the top Brewers pitching prospect. He has a chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter, but I don't see him in a classification as an "ace" or a perennial All-Star. Rather, I think he'll be well above average, but short of star status. It all depends upon improvement in his command. Without that improvement, he won't have much success.
Peralta has very good "stuff." His fastball is his best pitch, as it grades out at a 70 in the 20-80 scouting scale. He can hit 98 or 99 at times, but he sits in the 93-94 mph range. He throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer (sinking) fastball. The two-seamer is extremely effective and useful as it runs in on right-handed hitters' hands.
Whenever I have seen Peralta pitch he has been plagued by spurts of wildness. He loses command quickly and his game gets away from him. If he can control his pitches, he can succeed. If he can't, he'll just be another starting pitcher with a great arm and no idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hand. Like many high velocity pitchers, I think his control slips when he reaches his highest velocity. He becomes a "thrower" then and not a pitcher. If there is any concern, for me it is the fact Peralta has not moved beyond being a "thrower."
He also has a better than average slider and an average changeup. The three- pitch arsenal will be enough for him to navigate through a lineup if he changes location and velocity along the way.
So far this season, Peralta has a 4-8 record at Triple-A Nashville with an ERA of 5.44 and 1.636 WHIP. Although he won his last start and showed some improvement, those are not the type of numbers that will win him a promotion to the Brewers anytime soon.
A look further within the numbers reveals 48 walks and 73 strikeouts in 84.1 innings pitched. The strikeouts are fine – it means his stuff is moving and he's inducing swings and misses, but the walk rate is too high for a quality arm like Peralta's. Compiling his problems, Peralta has given up 90 hits in those 84.1 innings. All of those numbers exceed his 2011 season at Nashville when he threw 31 quality innings with a 2.03 ERA and a WHIP of 1.032. Statistically, he has regressed.
I've said many times that it's great to throw the ball hard. It's better to throw the ball to the proper location and throw strikes in the process.
Because of the team's need for starting pitchers, Peralta is still being groomed for a role in the rotation. However, there will likely be some in the organization who feel he is best suited at the back end of the bullpen.
At the beginning of this season, Peralta pitched in one game out of the bullpen for the Brewers. He threw one inning, gave up three hits and one earned run without walking a batter and striking out one. When he returned to Triple-A, he resumed his normal role in the rotation.
In the even the Brewers lose Zack Greinke via trade or free agency or if any of their other starters are unavailable moving forward, it is likely Peralta will be a candidate to assume a No. 3 or No. 4 role in the rotation. As a fantasy player I would stay away from Peralta unless and until he shows he can command both of his fastballs and his secondary pitches.
His expected permanent arrival time is probably 2013. However, if the Brewers are totally out of the race in September, Peralta may see some time on the Brewers roster after the trade deadline or at the end of this season. Again, it's important to emphasize his last start was very strong and his stock increased.
Right-handed starting pitcher Tyler Thornburg made his major league debut with the Brewers on June 19 against the Blue Jays. He started and pitched 5.1 innings, giving up seven hits and five earned runs while striking out two and going without a walk. The Blue Jays hit .333 against him in that outing.
It is interesting that Thornburg got that start instead of Peralta.
Thornburg, 23, was selected by the Brewers in the third round of the 2010 first-year player draft out of Charleston Southern University. He's 6 feet tall and weighs 190 pounds. Thornburg isn't big compared to many of today's pitchers, but he's athletic and nimble.
Thornburg has a mix of fastball, changeup and curve in his repertoire. His fastball usually sits in the low-90s, but he can rev it up to 98 if needed. There are those who say he has more velocity out of the bullpen in a short stint as opposed to when he paces himself as a starter.
When I saw him, I was really impressed with the movement and deception of his changeup. I think it's his out pitch.
Thornburg has a bit of an unorthodox delivery that may cost him command. His arm slot is extremely high and he puts a lot of energy into each pitch. Scouts compare his build, delivery and body rotation to that of Tim Lincecum.
Thornburg has called attention to himself because of his very efficient work in the Brewers' minor league system. Over parts of three seasons to date, Thornburg has a composite 2.64 ERA with a 19-7 overall record. His WHIP is a stellar 1.102. He has walked 93 and struck out 269.
This season, Thornburg is pitching at Double-A Huntsville in the Southern League. He is currently disabled with a sore wrist that is not being deemed as serious by Brewers brass.
Of the Brewers prospect pitchers, I believe Thornburg may have the most immediate upside for the club and for fantasy owners. I see him as a mid-rotation starter that can work himself deep into games by mixing up his pitches and deceiving hitters with a strange type delivery.
I do have some injury concerns because of that delivery and Thornburg's slight frame. But to date, he has been able to take the ball regularly, with the exception of the minor wrist issue. He has not had arm problems to this point in his career.
Taylor Jungmann, 22, is another right-hander with the capability of being a rotation starter at the major league level. He may eventually be a top of the rotation pitcher. First, he has to work on completing a repertoire of pitches beyond his fastball and slider. He is working on his changeup.
Jungmann got the highest bonus ever paid by the Brewers when he signed following his selection in the first round (12th overall) of the 2011 first-year player draft. The Brewers gave him $2.525 million, almost unheard of for that club. Follow the money and you'll see Jungmann pitching in Milwaukee or fetching several players if they ever wish to trade him.
Jungmann is a big guy at 6-foot-6, 212 pounds. His tall and relatively thin frame makes his long arms in motion a weapon against hitters. He has to repeat his downhill delivery to maximize his size. Jungmann's pitches move well, causing hitter deception and balance issues.
At the University of Texas, Jungmann was a star quality pitcher. His work in Austin earned him a ranking among the finest college pitchers available for the draft.
So far in this, his inaugural professional season, at High-A Bevard County in the Florida State League, Jungmann is 6-4 with an ERA of 3.51 in 95 innings pitched, covering 16 starts. He has a WHIP of 1.221. He has given up only 89 hits in those 95 innings. He's walked 27 while striking out 62. All things considered, his first year has been impressive.
Jungmann has the type of stuff and background that can earn him a quick trip through the Brewers' system. His fastball is above average in quality at 90-94 mph, but his slider might be a more useful out pitch. He has perfected that pitch and uses it with confidence. He is working on a changeup. With the Brewers' need for pitching, Jungmann qualifies as a candidate to get lots of attention from the front office in the next year. I look for him to surface no later that the 2014 season.
The Brewers had another first-round selection in the 2011 first-year player draft. With the 15th pick, the team took left-handed starter Jed Bradley, out of Georgia Tech. The Brewers paid Bradley a signing bonus of $2.0 million.
Bradley, 22, is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. He's a good athlete.
Bradley actually began his professional career with an assignment in the Arizona Fall League. He pitched in five games, starting two and throwing 8.1 innings. He gave up nine hits and had an ERA of 6.48. Opponents hit .257 off him in the fall. He had a WHIP of 1.56.
When I saw Bradley I wasn't very impressed with his stuff. He was far from over-powering, throwing his fastball in the high-80s to low-90s. He has the ability to increase the velocity, but that costs him command. His second best pitch is his slider. He usually throws that at near the velocity of his fastball.
Unlike the rather unorthodox delivery of Thornburg, Bradley's mechanics are very smooth and traditional. He repeats his delivery and finishes his pitches. His command is probably the best among the four starters noted in this article.
In this, his first full year of professional baseball, Bradley is pitching at High-A Brevard County. He has a 5-7 record in 15 starts so far with a 4.84 ERA and 1.525 WHIP. Bradley has given up 94 hits in his 80 innings pitched. He has walked 28 and struck out 51.
Of all the prospect pitchers, I feel Bradley has the least imposing stuff. He will be relying on pitching to contact and using his defense to get outs. He doesn't really have a solid third pitch beyond the fastball and slider. His changeup remains a work in progress and he will need to refine that pitch to be successful. In short, I think he is very hittable and at this point of his development, very marginal, at best.
As a left-handed starter, Bradley may have a leg up on getting to the Brewers' rotation rather quickly. He could be on the fast track, but his numbers at Brevard County indicate that lots of work is needed. That's what I saw in Arizona last fall. He has good mechanics, but he gets hit – and often time he's hit hard. He's a good athlete with lots of work ahead, but throwing left-handed will give Bradley an advantage going forward. As a fantasy owner, I would be very cautious with him. The other pitchers I have noted in this article have bigger upside in my opinion. I see Bradley coming to the big club at some point in 2014.
There is no mistaking the fact Milwaukee has stocked their system with some quality arms. Peralta may have the best arm. Thornburg may advance quickly and provide some quality starts. Jungmann and Bradley are the young one-two, righty-lefty combination that bolsters the future of the franchise.
*I was totally blown away by the energy and contact skill of the Padres' Alexi Amarista. Give the Padres credit for spotting a quality player when they made the Ernesto Frieri trade with the Angels. Now the Padres need some pitching.
*Yasmani Grandal's first three hits with San Diego were home runs.
*I think Aaron Hill should have made the All-Star team. He has to be seen to be appreciated.
*Hope you believed me when I was gushing about Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason. I know he started slowly, but the guy can rake.
*Is Bryan LaHair an All Star? I'm just asking.
*Do the Red Sox and Yankees now go after some pitching as the trade deadline approaches?
*I'm really happy for Pittsburgh Pirates fans. The team looks to be for real. Hope I don't jinx them. Did you write off Pedro Alvarez? Be honest.
*Clayton Richard threw a fantastic game against the Diamondbacks. He now looks like the "ace" of the Padres' staff.
Bust Of The Week: Ricky Romero. C'mon man, you're killing me. I think you're pitching like you're hurt. Are you?
I'll be tweeting from the Futures Game, the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game next week from Kansas City. Bring your friends and let's talk some baseball on Twitter.
Follow me @BerniePleskoff and on MLB.com in the Voices section. I always enjoy interacting with you.