BILOXI - The Milwaukee Brewers' reputation of a mediocre farm system is changing fast and that shift in fortunes was apparent in Saturday's exhibition contest with their Double-A farm team, the Biloxi Shuckers.
The Brewers faced some of their better prospects Saturday afternoon at MGM Park before the team opens the season at 1:10 p.m. on Monday with a home game against the San Francisco Giants.
Center fielder Brett Phillips, who is ranked the 57th best prospect in the minors by Baseball America, and catcher Jacob Nottingham were the two players in the Biloxi lineup carrying the biggest expectations.
Neither player disappointed.
Nottingham lifted an impressive shot to left center for a solo homer in the fourth inning and the left-handed hitting Phillips ripped a two-run home run to right center in the sixth.
Phillips and Nottingham are joined by several other solid prospects throughout the system.
"We put ourselves in a really good spot," Brewers second-year manager Craig Counsell said Saturday in the visitor's dugout at MGM Park. "This year and in the coming years, last year, there's going to be a lot of really good players coming through Biloxi. Top prospects, not just in our organization but in all of baseball. You saw it last year with Orlando Arcia. Jorge Lopez was here. It was a really good team. Six or seven guys finished the year in the big leagues. We hope that's the same every year. There's going to be talented players coming though Biloxi for quite a few years to come."
Arcia, who is ranked the No. 8 prospect in the minors by Baseball America, and right-hander Jorge Lopez spent the 2015 campaigns in Biloxi before moving up to Triple-A to start the 2016 season.
Yadiel Rivera is the lone player on the Milwaukee Brewers' roster who saw significant time in Biloxi last year, but he will likely be joined soon by some of his former Shucker teammates.
"It's going to be fun watch the Brewers in a few years," Rivera said Saturday. "There are pretty good players in the minors. When the other guys come to up to the big leagues, it's going to be fun. We're going to have a pretty good team in a couple of years."
Rivera made the jump to Milwaukee this season thanks to showing significant improvement at the plate during the spring. He batted .292 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 48 at-bats during the spring.
"Yadiel is going to be an extra infielder," Counsell said. "I told Yadiel when he made the team, 'You probably had the best spring training of anybody here.' He had a tremendous camp playing shortstop at an elite level really, for the last six weeks of spring. He should be proud of himself. He has done a nice job and we're excited to have him begin his career as a big league player."
Milwaukee has one of the better hitting catchers in the big leagues in Jonathan Lucroy, but he faces the potential of being traded this year.
Nottingham is only 20 years of age so he still needs time in the minors before he makes the leap to the majors.
"Jacob is at or near the top of that list as far as prospects in the game," Counsell said. "He made a really good impression in Major League camp. He performed really well. He's like a lot of these guys - he's a talented young player. Double-A is the level he should be at right now and he should succeed at it."
Coming off a 68-94 season, not much is expected out of the Brewers this season.
The slower Milwaukee is out of the gate this season, the more likely that some of the team's top prospects make their way to the big league roster this season.
"You can tell we're focusing on the future and it looks pretty bright," Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett said. "The guys in the big league camp handled themselves well and played good. There's a lot of talent that you can see. I'm just looking forward for guys to get up so we can see what they've got in the big leagues."