Throughout spring training we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at the state of the Milwaukee Brewers farm system, examining where their strengths and weaknesses lie throughout their organization and what the future may hold for the Crew.
The Brewers were pretty well set at the first base position last season with a left-handed hitting option in Adam Lind and a right-handed hitting option in Jason Rogers, but after trading both players this past offseason – Lind to Seattle and Rogers to Pittsburgh – the team was left with a hole to fill on their ballclub.
They attempted to do so by signing Chris Carter who hit just .199 last season for the Houston Astros, but slugged 24 home runs. A year earlier, he belted a career high 37 homers in 148 games for the Astros, so the power is certainly intriguing, but Carter’s strikeouts are a definite cause for concern. The 6’4″ 29-year old led the American League in strikeouts in 2013, punching out 212 times and has a career average of just .217 in six big league seasons.
The Brewers also added journeyman Andy Wilkins to the mix, claiming him off waivers from the Texas Rangers in December. Wilkins made his major league debut in 2014 with the Chicago White Sox but spent all of last season at Triple-A with the Loos Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays affiliates.
In the minor leagues, the player who is closest to “The Show” is former Cal State Fullerton standout Nick Ramirez. Ramirez, 26, spent last season at Double-A Biloxi, where he hit .243 with 14 home runs for the Shuckers. Like Carter, strikeouts have been an issue for Ramirez, but he did manage to cut down some last season and he should be in the mix for the job at Colorado Springs in 2016.
25-year-old Garrett Cooper also threw his hat back in the mix with a revival in 2015 that saw him hit .294/.356/.436 with eight home runs at High-A Brevard County. He earned a late-season call to Double-A Biloxi and it would seem like a pretty safe bet that he will be the Shuckers starting first baseman this upcoming season.
Elsewhere, Alan Sharkey is a bit undersized but can pick it around the bag and hit .247 in 88 games with Wisconsin last season. He doesn’t offer much in the way of power, but the Brewers 13th round pick in 2012 shouldn’t be counted out just yet. He could move up to Brevard County this season where there’s no real clear-cut first base option for the Manatees at this point.
Some of the shine has fallen off the star of 21-year-old David Denson as he’s yet to enjoy the breakout season that many have been waiting for. He hit just .235 in 90 games between Helena and Wisconsin last season and may wind up returning to the Timber Rattlers for a third consecutive season in 2016. Of all the first basemen currently in the Brewers system, Denson offers some of the best raw power and a strong 2016 campaign would go a long way towards re-establishing the left-handed hitter as a legit prospect.
The Brewers selected Tyrone Perry in the 14th round last season and lured him away from Florida State. He hit a respectable .278 with three home runs in 32 AZL contests after signing with Milwaukee but missed some time due to injury and his weight has been a concern for those who have seen him play. He should get the starting nod at Helena, though a strong and healthy spring could also put him in line for a jump straight to Wisconsin.
19-year-old Venezuelan Nicol Valderrey is a long way off, but put together a fine 2015 campaign that saw him hit an even .300 in the Dominican Summer League and earn a spot on the DSL’s All-Star team. He should get a chance to make his U.S. debut this season with the Brewers AZL club in Maryvale.
OVERALL: When you look at the Brewers organization from top-to-bottom, first base looks like one of the teams’ biggest weakness with no dominant prospect in sight. Several players mentioned could put things together in 2016 and make the future look brighter, but for now there are more questions than answers surrounding the position throughout the entire system. Of course, the Brewers could always attempt to move sluggers like Clint Coulter or Victor Roache to avoid a logjam in the outfield at some point in their careers, making the organization’s depth look a little bit better.