With the conclusion of the MiLB season, it’s time to shift over to hardware season. The Brewers announced today that OF Joey Wiemer, as well as LHP Ethan Small would be awarded MiLB player of the year awards. Wiemer split time this year between Low-A Carolina and High-A Wisconsin, while Small applied his trade in AA Biloxi and AAA Nashville. It is a good representation of the talent on the horizon for the Brewers, with players at different stages in their minor league careers winning. It showcases depth throughout the organization, an adjective that has been infrequently used to describe the Milwaukee farm system this year.
Small; the 2019 1st round pick of the Brewers, is doing nothing to dissuade the notion Milwaukee has established an absolute pitching factory in the minors in recent years. Time and time again Milwaukee has developed extremely promising arms, and expect Small to become the 2022 edition of what Aaron Ashby was this season. Small, the 5th rated prospect in the system, used his three pitch repertoire (fastball, curveball, changeup) to pitch to a 1.96 ERA/2.14 FIP. In nine starts down in Zebulon with the crown jewel of the bunch coming in a matchup against the Angels AA-affiliate in which he went seven innings with nine K’s and zero ER. Throughout the levels he posted a season line of 92 K’s to 42 BB. With that, his season K% is an enticing 29.1% as compared to a more worrisome BB% of 13.3%. His strikeouts are a driving factor of his winning of this award, especially at the AA level. Specifically in AA, Small posted a FORTY K%, effectively becoming a AA Jacob Degrom lite throughout his time there. Although Fangraphs projects Small as someone with 55 potential grade control on the 20-80 scale, his walk numbers have proven to be the one worrisome aspect of his game so far.
Beyond that, everything Small offers is extremely impressive. From a near double digit K/9, to a LOB% beyond 85%, to holding opposing batters to hitting essentially at the Mendoza line (.203 on the year) Small was electric in the minors in 2021. The 24-year old pitcher does not get outs in any specific pattern, not really a groundout guy nor a flyball pitcher, instead simply doing it all at an above average level, at least at AAA.
The concept of a rotation that includes Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta, Ashby, and Small should be enough to make Brewers fans a little weak in the knees. Expect Ethan Small to begin in AAA to begin the 2022 season just as Ashby did, but have no doubt in your mind that you will be granted the opportunity to see Small pitch in Milwaukee come the midseason mark.
What a pick Wiemer was. A fourth rounder in last year’s shortened draft, Wiemer had himself a year and then some in 2021 and was the odds-on favorite for this award by about halfway through the season. You can sum up how deserving he is for this award in a single statistic. In 34 games in A+ Wisconsin, Wiemer slugged .719. What? Wiemer was effectively prime Bonds for a 30+ game stretch. The 22-year old outfielder is currently slotted in as the #26 prospect in the Brewers system per Fangraphs, but his stock is on the rise and he will most assuredly be elevating his status within the organization, if not the league as a whole, come next year’s first installment of the prospect rankings. Wiemer projects as a serious right handed power bat, with potential values of 55 game power and 70 raw power packed in a lanky 6’5 215 lb frame.
When it comes to his performance this season, Wiemer proved that he is an effective four tool player, held back from five tool status only by his elevated strikeout rate as well as ridiculously powerful swing that lends itself more to three true outcome baseball as opposed to typical contact hitting. Weimer posted batting averages of .276 in Carolina, and .336 in Wisconsin. He reached base at a rate near or north of .400 in both leagues as well, making his presence a constant threat whenever he was at the plate. The power department is most certainly where Weimer establishes himself. Typically a pull side/center field home run hitter, he sent 27 of them into the stands this season, along with 18 doubles. Of his 117 hits on the season, 40% of them went for extra bases, truly elite power stuff. His eye isn’t half bad either, with walk percentages in the double digits at both levels he spent time at this year.
In the advanced numbers category, the case for anyone else winning this award gets closed after one look at some of the numbers. Starting with wRC+, where 100 is deemed as league average, Weimer sat squarely at 136 in A-ball, but elevated his game by a significant amount following his promotion to produce a 195 wRC+ in Wisconsin. For the sake of comparison, Bryce Harper led the MLB with a 170, meaning Weimer posed the comparative threat of Harper and then some to pitchers at his level.
Weimer isn’t heavy footed by any means either, stealing 30 bases on the year, doing most of his damage in Carolina with 22. He’s already out performed his future grade by Fangraphs projections, currently slotted at 55 speed when 50 was speculated as his ceiling. His arm is no slouch either, as Weimer has the defensive versatility to moonlight at all three outfield positions. Primarily in right field, watching his 80 grade howitzer of an arm is baseball in its most poetic form.
Weimer has some time to go before we ever see him at the Major League level, but it’s a name worth getting to know, and especially a name worth going to see if he spends more time in High-A Wisconsin next season.
Congratulations to both players on their fantastic seasons, and let’s all hope this is the beginning of something special with these two.