Monday, July 30, 2012

Evaluating some exciting talent

We are three days removed from the Zack Greinke trade, but I would still like to chip in my two cents regarding the deal and what the Brewers received in return for Greinke, who is now a Los Angeles Angel. On Friday, the Brewers ceased to delay the inevitable and shipped Greinke off to L.A. in return for a star shortstop prospect and two minor league pitchers, all three players from Double-A. The shortstop, Jean (zzz-John) Segura, is one of the most highly touted prospects in all of baseball and has instantly become the best prospect in the Brewers organization. The other two involved in the deal, pitchers Ariel Pena and John Hellweg should also be considered top 10 prospects in the system.

Let's begin with Segura, who is only 22 years of age. He had actually just been called up to the big leagues by the Angels on July 24 as a result of an injury to their regular shortstop Erick Aybar. Segura played in just one game, going 0-for-3, but that's not something you should pay any attention. He has produced every year in the minor leagues since beginning his career in 2007, with his best season coming in '10 at High-A Cedar Rapids where he hit .313 with 10 HR and 79 RBI to go along with a remarkable 50 stolen bases. Along with his plus speed comes his glove, as Segura is regarded as a plus defender. This season, Segura was hitting .294 with 7 HR and 40 RBI before his call-up to the Majors and made his debut on July 29 with the Huntsville (AA) Stars.

What should be music to Segura's ears is the fact that the Brewers' weakest position at the moment is shortstop (unless you want to include "bullpen" as an entire position). Without a doubt, Segura is now the organization's best shortstop and should receive a call-up at some point later on in the season. He should be the team's every day SS beginning next season assuming the team decides to part ways with this year's opening day SS Alex Gonzalez, who is out for the season with a knee injury and due $4 million in 2013. Milwaukee won't want to keep Gonzo around and stunt Segura's growth. This season, however, is a different story, and they'll want to see what Segura can do in the minors before promoting him to Milwaukee.

Next up is Johnny Hellweg, a 23-year old right handed pitcher who stands at a towering 6-foot-8 inches tall. Hellweg is regarded as the better prospect between himself and Pena, and his numbers on the season at AA Arkansas were a 5-10 record with a 3.38 ERA. However, his strikeout-to-walk ratio leaves something to be desired (1.47) and his strikeout-per-9 innings ratio isn't the greatest either (6.62). Still, Hellweg is also considered to be close-to-big league ready and should also be expected to see some time in Milwaukee this season. Word on the street is that Hellweg has a high-90s fastball, and with his big frame, that's a nice asset to have in his arsenal along with a decent change-up. But Hellweg lacks a good breaking ball (slider), so until he develops a good third pitch, he may spend most of his time in the minors over the next season or two.

Last we have Ariel Pena, another 23-year old righty arm (6'3" 190 lbs). The fact that all three players the Brewers received in the trade for Greinke are in their early 20s is very promising for the team's future, not to mention close to the Majors. Despite Hellweg being ranked ahead of Pena prospect-wise, Pena has actually put up better numbers this year (6-6, 2.99 ERA, 111 K, 2.64 K/BB, 8.74 K/9 IP). Damn. That stat line has me wiping the drool off my face a little bit. Apparently, Pena was dealing with some control problems a few years back, but judging from his strikeout-to-walk ratio this season, he's ironed out that issue. His fastball is also blazing, topping out at 98 MPH to go along with a low-90s sinker and a strike-out slider. If he can control these three pitches, Pena might be a mainstay in the Bigs for many years to come.

Wow. Three Major League caliber players in return for Greinke. It's hard to be disappointed in what GM Doug Melvin was able to get in return for the former Brewers ace. After losing five highly touted prospects two off-seasons ago when Melvin dealt for Greinke and Shaun Marcum, the Brewers system appears to be replenished and on the upswing. And there's always the chance the Brewers decide to bring back Marcum for at least another couple years with his dwindling value on the market due to his injury (Marcum was recently placed on the 60-day disabled list). It should also be noted that catcher George Kottaras, who was designated for assignment a few days ago, was traded to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for minor league pitcher Fautino de los Santos (1-3, 7.25 ERA at Triple-A Sacramento). The numbers aren't pretty, but de los Santos (26) began the year in the Majors and was sent down after beginning the season with a 3.00 ERA in six appearances out of the 'pen, so there's perhaps some upside there as well for a team with a...really, really pathetic bullpen. As for Kottaras, there simply wasn't room left for him with the Brewers and the team had no choice but to find a new home for him, but we wish George and the Zack Attack the best of luck moving forward.

With Greinke due to pitch on Sunday for the Brewers, guess who the Brewers called up to take his place? That's right. My main man Mark Rogers. As excited as I was to see Rogers pitch, I was more excited to go see The Dark Knight Rises and only caught the first few innings of his start (and with the way that game turned out, boy am I glad I made that decision). From what I can tell, Rogers was able to settle down nicely after surrendering a lead-off home run to the Washington Nationals' Stephen Lombardozzi (yes, that's a real name) and ended up with a line of 5.2 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 7 K, and 1 BB on 98 pitches. Not too shabby. Of course, the bullpen threw that beautiful start right out the window and blew their 19th lead of the season, but who cares (bullpen coach Stan Kyles was fired as a result). This season has not only been a joke, but is a lost cause. This blog post was meant to get us excited for what 2013 has in store for the Brewers, and I think it managed to do just that.

With the potential to see guys like Pena, Hellweg, Rogers, Tyler Thornburg (who was recently sent back down to AAA Nashville), Mike Fiers and Wily Peralta all in the starting rotation at some point next season (not to mention Segura starting at SS), it's hard not to already get excited for 2013. Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum are set to be free agents at year's end and Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson could help a struggling bullpen next season by becoming relief pitchers. I've always wanted to see Estrada in a bullpen role, and Narveson, who is arbitration eligible, simply won't be one of the top five starting pitchers in the Brewers organization when next season rolls around, at least in my opinion. However, I can see the Brewers trying to bring in a veteran starter to help anchor the rotation. They could also throw Narveson in anyway because he is a left-handed thrower, something none of the pitcher mentioned in the first sentence of this paragraph have to their name, but I'd really prefer that not happen.

So there you have it. Excitement is back in Milwaukee...kind of. And if that's not enough for you, Green Bay Packer preseason football is just days away. I promise you I'll be talking more about football than baseball moving forward. Stay optimistic about your Brewers, and get ready for foozball. It still feels good to be a fan of Wisconsin sports.

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