Looking at Brewers in the AFL: Pitchers

Heckathorn

Even if no Brewers (with the possible exceptions of Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum) will be playing in October this year, some of the club’s top prospects will have their seasons go on for another couple months yet. Rosters for this year’s Arizona Fall League were announced today, and eight Brewers will be on them.

Per their twitter account, the AFL was founded as a sort of ‘graduate school’ for high-level prospects or guys who missed time due to injury. It gives teams the opportunity to see their prospects face top competition, and many players see their stock rise thanks to good AFL stints. (However, AFL numbers really need to be taken with a grain of salt, as the Arizona air is crazy thin and the quality of hitting often exceeds the quality of pitching – last year, teams averaged about six runs per game.) We’re going to take a quick look at each of the Brewers pitchers
involved:

Nick Bucci

Bucci will be getting some work in this fall after being limited to less than 35 innings this year due to injury. When healthy, he has a low-90s fastball, curve, change, and cutter, and was ranked by Baseball America as the Brewers’ #20 prospect going into the year. Bucci is still relatively young at 22, but his development has largely been put on hold this year (he figured to start the season at Huntsville before getting hurt, but never got above Brevard County in a pair of rehab-type stints), so this will be a good opportunity to make up for lost time.

Kyle Heckathorn

A 2009 first-rounder who hasn’t really developed as planned, Heckathorn will be working out of the bullpen, which is expected to be his role going forward after working as a starter for most of his professional career. Heckathorn has lost some velocity from his college days, and was hit hard at AA this year, so it was probably time for a change. It will be interesting to see if his stuff bounces back if he switches to working one inning at a time.

Johnny Hellweg

Acquired in the Zack Greinke trade, Hellweg was a bit of a surprise selection – he was recently moved to the bullpen in Huntsville to keep his innings total down, and is apparently going to work in relief in Arizona, too, even though the Brewers see him as a starter long-term. Hellweg is big (6’9) and has good stuff (fastball that reaches the upper 90s and an occasionally plus curve), but has major command issues (4.8 walks per nine this year) and a below-average changeup. Hellweg is the kind of guy that could use all the development time he can get, but the decision to put him in the AFL is still an interesting one, considering the concerns about his workload.

Santo Manzanillo

Another guy who battled injuries this year, Manzanillo is a member of the “taxi squad” that is limited to playing on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The righty looked like a candidate to start 2012 in the big-league bullpen, but he sprained his shoulder in an offseason car accident and has been limited to 20 innings this year. Manzanillo’s fastball has touched triple digits, but he’s never been able to consistently throw it for strikes, and his command has been worse than usual on his rehab stints this year.

Jimmy Nelson

A 2010 draftee (second round), Nelson entered the year as the Brewers #10 prospect, but has gone on to have a season that is strange to say the least. The 23-year old righty, showcasing some increased velocity, was dominant in high-A to start the season, holding batters to .3 HR/9 and striking out nearly a batter per inning. After being promoted to AA, Nelson continued to make hitters look silly, but has seen his walk rate more than double (from 2.8 per nine in Brevard County to more than seven in Huntsville). It’s hard to know what exactly is going on here, but 
Nelson’s stock is already higher than it was at this time last year.

I’ll look at the position players tomorrow.

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