Pitchers and catchers. That was the theme of the Milwaukee Brewers first five draft picks in the 2019 MLB first year player draft, which concluded in early June.
More specifically, the Brewers targeted left-handed pitchers and catchers – all from the college ranks – a sign that they are trying to beef up their farm system for the short-term, while also trying to save money and sign more affordable players.
Here is a quick recap of Milwaukee’s first five picks, and what they could profile like in the big leagues down the line.
Round 1, Pick 28: Ethan Small, LHP, Mississippi State
The Brewers reached for 22-year-old left-hander Ethan Small out of Mississippi State with their first pick at No. 28 overall. Small was ranked in the 50-60 range by most draft outlets, which at first glance makes Milwaukee’s decision a puzzling one.
However, the team was almost certainly hoping to draft someone they could sign at under-slot value, giving them the flexibility to use that money elsewhere in the draft.
Besides, there is still plenty to like about Small for the Brewers, who really lack high-upside pitching in their farm system.
Small stands six-foot-three and comes in at 190 pounds. While he does not have an overpowering fastball (88-92) he does possess a solid three-pitch mix, which led to him posting an elite 139/22 K/BB ratio in 83 innings his senior season, complete with a 1.84 ERA. Plus, he’s coming off Tommy John surgery, and it was reported that he sat closer to the mid-90’s prior to going under the knife.
There’s no guarantee that his velocity ever returns to that level, but the fact that he has gotten up that fast in the past is a good sign that he could gain some velocity while keeping his strong secondaries, giving him the potential of a No. 2 or 3 starter in the show.
At 22, Small should be a quick riser through the lower levels of the minors, although he may not pitch much this season to give his arm a break.
Round 2, Pick 65: Antoine Kelly, LHP, Wabash Valley College
They are both college left-handers, but that is where the similarities between Small and Milwaukee’s second round pick, Antoine Kelly, end. Kelly was originally drafted in the 13th round out of high school in 2018, but he decided to go to community college to try to up his draft stock.
He succeeded thanks to his absolutely blazing fastball, which ticked upward of 98 miles per hour and has many scouts projecting an easy 100 mile per hour fastball in his near future, thanks to his monstrous six-foot-six frame.
However, Kelly’s secondaries leave a lot to be desired. He has a “non-existent” changeup according to MLB Pipeline, and a slider that flashes average at times.
If Kelly can get that slider to be more consistent and manages to develop a changeup, he could be an elite big league starter. More than likely, you’re looking at a back end of the bullpen piece who dominates with his heater and his slider – a la current Brewers stud Josh Hader.
Round 4, Pick 133: Nick Kahle, C, Washington
Milwaukee didn’t have a third round pick, but with their next pick at No. 133 overall they selected University of Washington catcher Nick Kahle. Kahle was MLB Pipeline’s 131st ranked prospect, so this certainly feels like the right spot for him to go.
I was a bit surprised to see Milwaukee go after two catchers in the first five rounds of the draft. I feel catcher is one of the Brewers strongest areas of depth in the minors. In fact, I had five catchers – Mario Feliciano (13) Jacob Nottingham (16) Payton Henry (19) David Fry (39) and Cooper Hummel (48) – ranked in the top 50 back in January.
Regardless, catcher is never a bad spot to have additional depth, especially since so many draftees end up moving off of catcher in the professional ranks.
Kahle is a hit-first prospect who has gap power that some scouts project will develop into more. He has the build to stick at catcher long-term, but his lack of arm strength and agility has some concerned he won’t be anything more than average behind the plate – if that.
However, the ceiling is there to be a solid big league regular, and even MLB Pipeline lists his floor as a good backup catcher, which is absolutely worth taking in the fourth round even for an organization loaded with catching prospects.
Round 5, Pick 163: Thomas Dillard, C, Ole Miss
Of course, Milwaukee wasn’t done piling on the catching prospects. Just 30 picks after they took Kahle the team loaded up at backstop yet again, this time drafting Ole Miss catcher Thomas Dillard.
However, Dillard is almost certainly not going to stick at catcher long-term. He played a lot of outfield while at Ole Miss, and could even be a factor at first base for Milwaukee as well.
Dillard is also a switch-hitter, and his raw power has seen him draw comparisons to Cubs C/OF Kyle Schwarber. His plate discipline continued to improve throughout college, and he blasted 13 home runs as a sophomore and again as a junior.
Dillard is a highly-projectable hitting prospect who will almost certainly end up in left field long term, which will work for the Brewers as long as he can continue to develop as a power hitter.
From a dynasty perspective, Dillard is a name I will have my eye on going forward.
Round 6, Pick 193: Nick Bennett, LHP, Louisville
After selecting two left-handed pitchers and two catchers, Milwaukee decided to go for the full house be selecting another college left-hander, Nick Bennett out of Louisville.
Bennett is coming off a poor 2018 season, which caused his draft stock to plummet. After missing some time with a forearm strain, Bennett didn’t look like himself during his junior year, pitching to a 4.86 ERA and surrendering eight home runs.
He was considerably better his freshman and sophomore years, and is still a very projectable big league starter. Like Small, Bennett sits 90-92 with plus control and a very solid curveball that some scouts already consider big league ready. He’ll need his changeup to develop if he wants to be a starter and not a reliever, but this is still a nice find for the Brewers down in the sixth round.