By Tom Haudricourt
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. Prince Fielder, 1b
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 240.
Background: The son of former big league slugger Cecil Fielder is a completely different hitter than his dad. He bats lefthanded, hits for average, covers the plate well and goes the other way with pitches. His signature tool, however, is the same as his father’s: power. One of the Midwest League’s youngest players, he won the league MVP award at age 19.
Strengths: All of the aforementioned offensive skills make Fielder a prodigy at the plate. Few hitters with his youth or power are as accomplished and as knowledgeable. He takes walks when pitchers decide to work around him. His pitch recognition and quick bat make him a tough out at the plate.
Weaknesses: Fielder admittedly worked little on his fielding in high school, and it shows. He made strides last year under Beloit manager Don Money, who made him work long hours on his moves around the bag. Through discipline and use of a personal trainer, he has his weight under control but must continue to be diligent.
The Future: Fielder’s bat should get him to the big leagues in relatively short order, though the Brewers don’t want to rush him. He should be ready for Double-A in 2004, when he’ll again be young for his league.
3. J.J. Hardy, ss
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180.
Background: The Brewers haven’t been afraid to push Hardy, whom they consider a special player. He spent 2003 in Double-A at age 20, making the Futures Game and Southern League all-star team. He also served as the backup shortstop on the U.S. Olympic qualifying team. Not a bad resume at this point of his career.
Strengths: Hardy has a strong arm and good range at shortstop. Scouts were uncertain about his hitting ability when he was an amateur, but he has surprising pop and rarely strikes out because of his plate discipline. What the Brewers really like about Hardy, however, is his competitive nature. His makeup is off the charts.
Weaknesses: Hardy sometimes gets long with his swing and goes into funks at the plate. He doesn’t run particularly well and isn’t exceptionally quick, but he makes up for those shortcomings with keen baseball instincts. His intense nature causes him to wear down at times.
The Future: It wouldn’t be a shock to see Hardy in the Brewers’ Opening Day lineup. If not, many in the organization believe he’ll arrive in the majors later in 2004. He’s expected to be Milwaukee’s starting shortstop for a long time.
4. Manny Parra, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: Parra is a poster boy for the draft-and-follow system. After he went back to junior college for the 2002 season, he improved so much that the Brewers gave him first-round money ($1.55 million). He blossomed in 2003, when he was considered one of the top pitchers in the Midwest League.
Strengths: Parra features a rare combination of stuff and control, especially for a lefthander. He throws his fastball consistently in the 90-93 mph range, and he has a good curveball and an improving changeup. Parra keeps hitters off balance with two-seamers, four-seamers and cutters. He attacks the strike zone, usually working in good pitcher’s counts. He’s also a competitor who drives himself to be better.
Weaknesses: Parra needs to improve command of his curve and changeup. He strained a pectoral muscle near the end of the season and must stay on top of his mechanics to avoid future breakdowns.
The Future: Parra has all the ingredients to move steadily through the system, perhaps skipping a step or two along the way. He likely will open 2004 at high Class A High Desert and could reach Double-A by the end of the year.
5. Brad Nelson, of/1b
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 225.
Background: Nelson was the Brewers’ 2002 minor league player of the year after leading the minors with 49 doubles and 116 RBIs at age 19. He broke the hamate bone in his right wrist early in 2003, however, and never recovered. He went to the Arizona Fall League to try to make up for lost time, but struggled there as well.
Strengths: When healthy, Nelson has a solid approach at the plate. He uses the entire field and can hit with power the other way. Switched to left field in an effort to clear the way at first base for Prince Fielder, Nelson made the adjustment. His arm remains strong, thanks to his amateur days as a pitcher. He has good makeup and work ethic.
Weaknesses: The broken hamate bone robbed Nelson of his power, and he’ll have to work to get his quick power stroke back. Like most young hitters, Nelson needs better plate discipline. Though a better athlete than he’s given credit for, he has limited speed and range.
The Future: The Brewers say Nelson will get back on track in 2004. They moved him to Double-A in the second half despite his injury, and he’ll probably return there to open the season.
6. Mike Jones, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200.
Background: Jones was pushed to Double-A despite not turning 20 until a month into the season. He was performing up to expectations, making the midseason Southern League all-star team, until a lingering elbow problem prompted the Brewers to shut him down and monitor his health closely.
Strengths: When healthy, Jones throws a fastball in the low to mid-90s. He also has a tough curveball that he delivers from a three-quarters angle. Beyond his fluid delivery and athletic ability, Jones has impressed Brewers officials with his work ethic and poise.
Weaknesses: Scouts loved the ease with which Jones threw the ball in high school, but he fought his mechanics at times in 2003 as his strikeout-walk ratio declined. His changeup is decent but not completely deceptive. He sometimes gets too cute and gives hitters too much credit instead of just trusting his stuff, which is plenty good.
The Future: There has been disagreement regarding the severity of Jones’ elbow injury, and some feared he was headed for Tommy John surgery. The Brewers say he’ll be OK with rest and rehabilitation. Jones will be closely watched when he reports to spring training.
7. Corey Hart, 3b
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 200.
Background: Just as they did with Nelson, the Brewers moved Hart to a new position in an effort to break up their logjam of first basemen. He had a difficult adjustment to third base, though the switch didn’t harm his offensive production. He was named the Southern League MVP at age 21.
Strengths: With a body that draws comparisons to Richie Sexson, Hart would make a nice big league first baseman. Like Sexson, he makes up for his lanky build with a short, compact stroke that generates good power, particularly in the gaps. Hart has a good arm and runs well for a big guy.
Weaknesses: Scouts say Hart is no third baseman. Though he continues to work hard on his footwork and overall defense, he committed 32 errors in 119 starts, most on throws because of poor fundamentals. The Brewers are considering shifting him to the outfield. Hart also is a free swinger who doesn’t take many walks.
The Future: Once the Brewers get Hart settled into the proper position, probably left field, his future will become better known. The plan is to move him up to Triple-A Indianapolis in 2004.
8. Ben Hendrickson, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190.
Background: Hendrickson has some of the best stuff in the organization and has methodically moved up the ladder. He had elbow problems in 2003, however, and was shut down for a couple of months. Hendrickson pitched well after returning, including a standout stint in the Arizona Fall League, so club officials believe the tender elbow isn’t a long-term problem.
Strengths: Hendrickson has a solid 89-93 mph fastball, but what sets him apart is his outstanding curveball. He throws it over the top and it has a sharp 12-to-6 break, freezing hitters even when they’re expecting it. Hendrickson has nice arm action, good command, poise and knowledge of how to set up hitters.
Weaknesses: Hendrickson relies on his curveball too much, which may have contributed to his elbow soreness. He took a regular turn throughout 2002 but must prove his durability again after making just 16 starts at Huntsville. He continues to work on his changeup.
The Future: Because Hendrickson looked so sharp in the AFL, the Brewers won’t hesitate to promote him to Triple-A in 2004. With his curveball and history of success, he could join Milwaukee’s rotation in the near future.
9. David Krynzel, of
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180.
Background: Much to the Brewers’ delight, Krynzel got off to a fast start in Double-A, earning selections to the Southern League midseason all-star team and the Futures Game. He went into a swoon in the second half, batting .137 in August and losing nearly 50 points off his average by season’s end. His bat continued to run hot and cold in the AFL.
Strengths: Speed is Krynzel’s calling card, and he uses it to create havoc on the bases as well as to chase down balls from gap to gap in center field. Augmenting his range in the outfield, Krynzel has good arm strength. He has prototypical leadoff tools. Despite his slump, he’s mentally tough.
Weaknesses: The Brewers would like to see Krynzel bunt more, take more pitches and continue to slap the ball around. He needs to stop striking out more than 100 times a year, which is unacceptable in the leadoff role. He doesn’t possess great instincts on the bases and must improve his ability to read pitchers.
The Future: Despite the emergence of Scott Podsednik, Krynzel still is seen as Milwaukee’s center fielder of the future. He’ll start the 2004 season in Triple-A.
10. Lou Palmisano, c
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205.
Background: Palmisano hurt his shoulder in 2002 and required surgery, but bounced back with a solid year in junior college that had some scouts calling him the best catcher in the draft. In desperate need of help behind the plate, the Brewers happily snapped him up in the third round. He earned MVP honors in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, leading the circuit in batting, on-base percentage and slugging. The only negative was that he broke his left ankle trying to bust up a double play.
Strengths: Palmisano is athletic behind the plate, with good quickness, soft hands and a strong arm. He also calls a good game and is a take-charge guy. At the plate, he has a quick bat and power to all fields. He runs well for a catcher.
Weaknesses: Palmisano arrived at the Brewers’ rookie camp with a definite hitch in his swing, and pitchers were able to exploit it. He made adjustments and the glitch wasn’t as noticeable. Sometimes he’s too aggressive for his own good, chasing high fastballs.
The Future: Palmisano will be put on a fast track. His aggressive nature and leadership skills should serve him well as he moves toward the big leagues. He should see high Class A at some point in 2004.