Six key developments in the brewers farming system over the past month
It’s been a month since our last minor league notebook. The major league team has been struggling to score and win games lately. So, yeah, now is a great time to update what’s going on with the Brewers’ farming system.
Below are six key developments, including thoughts on a fun-to-know prospect, injury concerns and some context behind the promotions.
1. Prior to the season, a few industry sources were ringing high on a new name to place near the top of Brewers prospect lists: Jackson Chourio.
The takes came with caveats, like this one from a reviewer at another organization: “It would be bold to go too high, but only because he’s so young.”
Chourio, a famous 2021 international signing from Venezuela, turned 18 in March. A center fielder at Low-A Carolina, he’s the only Class A player born in 2004. That’s not something many would think considering he leads the Carolina League with a .367 batting average among players. with at least 100 plate appearances.
Chourio has a 1.047 OPS with five home runs, 13 doubles and two triples in 138 plate appearances.
“It’s been all of that and more,” Brewers vice president of minor league operations Tom Flanagan said.
The underlying numbers, including a hard hit rate of almost 50%, indicate that there is nothing fragile about Chourio’s production. He is also impressed with balance and swing selection; an evaluator recently noted how he fought back after falling 0-2 in the count to work a walk.
“Especially for a young player,” Flanagan said, “he makes really good decisions in the box.”
Here’s Jackson Chourio with his thoughts on earning the Carolina League Week 9 Player of the Week award and his (and Milwaukee’s) expectations going forward this season. pic.twitter.com/U0V6rZJUq4
— Caroline Mudcats (@CarolinaMudcats) June 10, 2022
When the Brewers signed Chourio in 2016, former vice president of international recruiting/player personnel Mike Groopman (now senior vice president and assistant general manager for the Red Sox) said: “He’s got really strong batting ability. at ball, handles bats well, controls the strike zone and also has the power, the power of the opposite field, which we think gives him a unique combination of athleticism and skill that drew us to him.
For now, everything is verified. It’s early days, but Chourio represents a source of optimism for the Brewers’ international efforts. Although Milwaukee hasn’t been great at sending positional players to the pros in recent years, even rival scouts agree that Carolina’s young squad seeing consistent affiliate ball action for the first time deserves attention. Venezuelan wide receiver Jeferson Quero is another one to watch. Don’t take your eyes off Chourio.
2. Shortstop prospect Freddy Zamora is set to be sidelined for the remainder of 2022 after undergoing surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. For Zamora, it’s a subluxation problem in which his shoulder moves in and out of the socket. It’s something he dealt with in college and repeated at Double-A Biloxi. The timing is never good for a season-ending injury, but it’s especially tough for Zamora, who many believed was primed for a breakout after cutting .300/.404/.421 at both levels of Class A.
Zamora felt the injury during a swing. The doctors decided it was best to fix it now. Since it’s his non-throwing shoulder, the Brewers don’t anticipate any further issues and expect him to make a full recovery.
The Brewers drafted Zamora in the second round in 2020. Zamora, 23, has had just 100 board appearances this season with Biloxi and posted a .556 OPS.
3. Another injury to another Biloxi player turned out to be much less serious. Outfielder Joey Wiemer, one of the Brewers’ top prospects, returned this week after missing several games with a left hand problem. He didn’t play June 1-7, but returned Wednesday and quickly hit a home run. In 206 plate appearances in his freshman year in Double A, Wiemer — the organization’s 2021 Player of the Year — has 13 homers, 15 stolen bases and a .953 OPS.
It will be exciting to see what Wiemer does next level sometime soon. It’s been a long time since the Brewers had a positional player excelling at the upper levels of the minors in such a dynamic way. For a team that has struggled to develop homegrown positional players, Wiemer, like Chourio, presents a lot of hope for changing that narrative.
4. In 22 innings with Biloxi, right-hander Lucas Erceg had a 6.55 ERA.
Typically, that kind of number doesn’t translate to a promotion.
Then again, little about the story of the infielder turned pitcher has been typical.
From the Brewers’ perspective, they think that number was skewed by a few bad outings. They love his stuff. Additionally, the 27-year-old Erceg hasn’t given up a run in his last five appearances for Biloxi (eight innings, 11 strikeouts, three walks) and has occasionally been used as a game opener.
This week, Milwaukee promoted Erceg to Triple-A Nashville.
“He’s really about to break through,” Flanagan said.
In his Sounds debut on Thursday, Erceg hit 100 mph and had three strikeouts and a walk in one inning. It’s possible that at some point this season Erceg will reach the majors, which would make quite a story considering his struggles on and off the field during his tenure as a highly touted former third base prospect who has never failed at home plate.
“You have to remember that, yeah, he threw a bit in college, but he’s really only in his second year of this ‘experiment,'” Flanagan said. “He’s done very well since he left and he’s not far from reaching the next level.”
5. A few years ago, there were internal discussions about whether right-hander Victor Castaneda would be a reliever or a starter. The Brewers allowed him to start in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 (Brewers bullpen coach Jim Henderson was actually one of the coaches there at that time- there), and the results were favorable. But then, after a lost 2020 season, Castaneda had a 5.20 ERA and 1.30 WHP at High-A Wisconsin despite going 114 out in 97 innings. This year, things are different. And right now, there’s not much debate: he’s thriving as a starter.
In 49 1/3 innings at Biloxi, the 23-year-old Castaneda has a 2.92 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 55 strikeouts. Much of its success can be attributed to an improved ability to locate its cursor. On the road, Castaneda could also have success in the bullpen; it doesn’t hurt to have options. The Brewers still seem to have depth in their farming system when it comes to pitching, and they haven’t been shy about trading from that strength recently. Castaneda was eligible for Rule 5 last year and is now certainly shaping up to be more attractive to teams. To be clear, the Brewers like him; it’s just that a few other scouts do it too.
6. He has yet to win a player of the month award for the organization, but if Milwaukee were to award top pitcher honors in April and May combined, the winner could be right-hander Brandon Knarr.
Earlier this week, Milwaukee promoted Knarr from Wisconsin to Biloxi. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020, Knarr had 65 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings with a 1.57 ERA with Wisconsin. In his first Double-A start, Knarr allowed one run, five hits and two walks in six innings with eight strikeouts.
The 24-year-old Knarr has a good fastball, curveball and good changeover, but what’s also worth pointing out is that he’s known throughout the organization as someone who’s on the move within its arsenal, its analyzes and its overall knowledge of pitch. Knarr pitched for Tampa Division II after a stint at Notre Dame, and in him the Brewers may have found another great under-the-radar find.
“The numbers are backed up by what you see,” Flanagan said, “and he’s somebody who throws the ball really well.”
(Photo by Freddy Zamora: Mike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP)