Hiura, Ray next in line for Brew Crew

Heavy hitters hoping to make Milwaukee perennial contenders

Outfielder Corey Ray and second baseman Keston Hiura both thrived in their first tastes of Double-A in 2018. (Danny Parker/MiLB.com)

By Vincent Lara-Cinisomo / MiLB.com | November 16, 2018 10:00 AM

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

The Brewers are trending up.

Not only did the big club get within one win of just its second World Series appearance -- it also has a fertile farm system to potentially tap into down the road. Milwaukee's Minor League affiliates finished with an aggregate record above .500 (345-342), and its Double-A affiliate in Biloxi was runner-up in the Southern League, falling to Jackson for the championship.

Milwaukee's 25-man roster at the end of the season included just three homegrown players, but that could change in 2019. Its top prospect list is heavy on offense, including No. 1 Keston Hiura, whose advanced bat could force its way into Miller Park as soon as next season. In terms of arms, the success of Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes could bode well for Zack Brown, who dominated at Double-A, and fellow righty Trey Supak, who could be next to get the call.

"We've been pretty fortunate, we've got Woodruff, Burnes, [Freddy] Peralta -- and Zack Brown kind of fits in and all of a sudden is knocking on the door [of the Majors]," a Brewers front-office executive recently told MiLB.com.

Brewers Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Christian Bethancourt, Colorado Springs (104 games): Once hailed as the Braves' catcher of the future, Bethancourt has underperformed in his Major League stints, but the 27-year-old had his most consistent Minor League season in 2018, putting up a .297/.328/.506 slash line at Triple-A.

"There's something with him that's intriguing," the Brewers exec said. "He's physically gifted, and there's some history of catchers developing late. Not that we'd be opposed to a young catcher -- we like Jacob Nottingham, after all -- but [Bethancourt ] is making the most of the opportunity he got."

Video: Colorado Springs' Bethancourt homers

Honorable mention -- David Fry, Helena (61 games), Wisconsin (two games): A seventh-round pick in June from Northwestern State, Fry may have seen his Draft status damaged by a return from Tommy John surgery. But the Brewers were thrilled he was available, and he justified their selection, batting .312/.400/.550 and showing solid skills behind the plate.

"You never expected that kind of performance in a pro debut, but he has a good approach," the Brewers executive said. "He does not get cheated and finds the barrel."

Fry caught 23 games, but also played first and third and seems likely to continue that split.

"It probably depends who you ask," the executive said of moving Fry off catcher. "We like guys who are versatile, but he won't move off the position. That doesn't mean he won't play other positions."

First baseman -- Jake Gatewood, Biloxi (94 games): The 41st overall pick in 2014 was on pace for his best power season when he tore his left ACL at the end of July. Gatewood still ended up with a career-best 19 homers. At the time of his injury, he ranked among the Southern League leaders in RBIs, total bases and slugging.

"We definitely think he has that type of ability," the Brewers executive said. "His raw power is impressive, especially to the opposite field. He's still young and getting better. He's a quality kid, quality worker. There's a lot of things to like, and going forward he's continuing to improve. He's still tapping into getting the feel for the skill part, but the raw physical skill is there."

Gatewood spread around the credit.

"It was our hitting coach, Dave Joppie, our new hitting coordinator Kenny [Graham] just holding me accountable as well and helping me keep all the good work I did this offseason and stay consistent with it," Gatewood told MiLB.com.

Video: Biloxi's Hiura blasts three-run homer

Second baseman -- Keston Hiura, Carolina (50 games), Biloxi (73 games): Hiura was considered the best college hitter in the 2017 Draft and has done nothing to change that perception as he continues to rake in the Arizona Fall League.

"I can't say enough about his bat," the Brewers executive said. "It's a combination of hit and power. He's got a good idea of what to do at the plate, he's an intelligent kid. We couldn't be more pleased with the progress. The next step is making him a complete player, which involves more and more reps at second base. That means handling the throws with all the aggressive shifts we make, handling throws from different parts of the field.

"But when it comes to the bat, it's a short, powerful swing. Our guys love his future ability to be a long-term part of the organization. He will do some special things in Milwaukee. He went a couple of years in college not being able to play the field because of his shoulder. Players tell us when they're ready, and in most cases they make it easy for you. Keston's always going to hit."


Organization All-Stars by MLB affiliate »


Third baseman -- Dylan Moore Biloxi (24 games), Colorado Springs (97 games): Moore, a 2015 seventh-round pick of the Rangers, fell into the Brewers' lap when he was released late in Spring Training by the Braves. He went on to have a sterling season between Double-A and Triple-A, slashing an aggregate .299/.363/.522.

"He was released in Spring Training and I mentioned, 'If you need a body, this guy's not bad,' the Brewers executive said. "But he gets all the credit in the world. He's a heady player, and he seems to take to every position he plays. He's a good teammate, plays the game hard. He has taken the opportunity and run with it."

Moore was granted free agency earlier this month and secured a Major League deal with the Mariners on Nov. 9.

Shortstop: Jake Hager (Biloxi, 64 games, Colorado Springs 33 games): The 32nd overall pick in the 2011 Draft had a breakout year in 2018, putting together a .284/.348/.472 line between Double-A and Triple-A. He's always been considered a solid gloveman at multiple infield spots.

After more than six years in the Rays system, Hager became a free agent following the 2017 season, and in February, he jumped on an opportunity to sign with Milwaukee. It worked out for both sides as Hager gave the Brewers some positional depth, while the 25-year-old once again recaptured some of his prospect shine. Hager told MiLB.com in July that he relished a new opportunity after hitting .229 at Triple-A Durham in 2017.

"I came into this spring with a chip on my shoulder," he said. "I think I've proven I can play at the big league level and I have the talent to be able to do that and be a guy for them. I want to do whatever I can to win."

Honorable mention: Brice Turang, AZL Brewers (13 games), Helena (29 games): The 21st overall pick performed admirably at the Rookie level at just 18 years old, posting a .283/.396/.352 slash line. The California prep star was talked about as a potential No. 1 overall pick, so the Brewers were thrilled he was available when their spot came up.

"We did not spend a lot of time on him, because we did not think he would be there," the Brewers executive said. "He was on our Area Code team [in previous years], but our guys were pleasantly surprised, and I know [scouting director] Tod Johnson was ecstatic."

Outfielders

Corey Ray, Biloxi (135 games): After a disappointing 2017, the fifth overall pick in 2016 flashed his power, leading Brewers Minor Leaguers with 27 homers while adding 37 steals.

"Getting better pitches to swing at," he told MiLB.com of the improvement. "I think I went up there with some type of plan, and I think if you go up with some type of plan and you stick to that plan no matter what it is, you'll be more successful than going up there and just trying to hit the ball."

The Brewers were thrilled with his development, saying Ray takes well to coaching.

"His batting practice in the Futures Game was a joke," the Milwaukee executive said. "A lot of our own players don't surprise me from a tools standpoint -- in fact, in scouting your own organization you usually overstate tools -- but to watch him hit, it's surprising he doesn't hit a homer a week by accident. That power realty came out, and our coaching staff raves about his work ethic and how he approaches the game."

Video: Ray mashes 26th homer of season for Shuckers

Je'Von Ward, Helena (64 games): Like Ray, Ward, a 12th-round pick in 2017, took a big step forward. The athletic left-handed hitter showed improvement in plate discipline, leading to a big jump in on-base percentage.

"It was a challenge for him to go to Helena and do what he did," the Brewers executive said. "He's projectable, has a good body, shows plate discipline and there's offensive upside there. We've challenged a lot of players to go to Helena, and he was part of a group of guys that more than held their own."

Troy Stokes, Biloxi (129 games): A teammate of Ray's with Biloxi, Stokes has similar traits with his power and speed combo (19 homers and 19 steals), but also his high strikeout totals (147). The Maryland native ranked in the top five in the Southern League in six categories, finishing third in extra-base hits (48), fifth in walks (65) and tied for fifth in triples and home runs. Additionally, he won a Gold Glove in left field, committing just one error in 220 chances.

Utility player -- Cooper Hummel, Carolina (102 games): Hummel has shown an ability to work at-bats and draw walks, but this season the University of Portland product was driving the ball more. The 2016 18th-round pick credited Mudcats hitting coach Dave Joppie.

"You just have to credit the kid with 'what do I have to do to make myself valuable,' the Brewers executive said. "He said, 'I'll catch, I'll move all over the field.' He just makes the most of his ability and boom, he goes out and has a really good year. Gives everything, the overachiever, that's who he is."

Right-handed starter -- Zack Brown, AZL Brewers (one start), Biloxi (22 games, 21 starts): The 2016 fifth-round pick has become perhaps the best arm in the Milwaukee system, jumping to No. 8 on the organization's prospect chart. He was the Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher, and his ERA and winning percentage led the league, while his WHIP and average against ranked second.

"Zack is a well-blended package of the physical and mental side of pitching," said Shuckers pitching coach Dave Chavarria. "Physically, he can throw anything at you and make quick adjustments. Mentally, he's not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. He's a great teammate, eager to get better every day that he's out there, and just loves to compete."

Video: Zack Brown strikes out sixth

Left-handed starter -- Cam Roegner, Carolina (19 starts), Colorado Springs (two games, one start), Biloxi (five starts): The 6-foot-6 Bradley University product is not overpowering, sporting a fastball that ranges 88-91 mph, but he's fearless and ultra-competitive, scouts say. He was 9-7 with a 2.83 ERA at Class A Advanced, Double-A and Triple-A.

"He's a left-hander who doesn't cheat himself," the Brewers executive said. "He has a very deceptive fastball, he throws strikes, can cut the ball, throws a rising fastball. Just one of those guys you continue to challenge. He's a little different than Brent Suter, but he's more than a finesse lefty, and everyone sort of doubts when they're pitching well. We're very happy with how he's performed."

Relief pitcher -- Luke Barker, Carolina (46 games): An undrafted free agent, Barker played in the independent Frontier League before the Brewers signed him in 2016. Not overpowering, the Chico State product was one of the Carolina League's top relief pitchers. Barker went 6-4 and pitched to a 2.21 ERA while leading the circuit with 20 saves. He also totaled 63 strikeouts against 16 walks in 61 innings and held opponents to a .213 average in 46 appearances (second-most in the league).

"He's a physical guy with some deception there," the executive said. "He shows some velocity, but he's another guy you keep challenging. We've had some success with indy league guys like Brandon Kintzler, Jon Axford, so we're pretty open-minded to give that guy an opportunity."

Vince Lara-Cinisomo is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @vincelara. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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