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Thornburg, Heckathorn About to be Tested

With minor league teams entering the second half of their schedules, we’re starting to see some promotions in the Brewers’ minor league system. While the system as a whole got poor marks in the preseason rankings, there are a few players putting together seasons that are worth noticing. As a result, they’re getting bumped up.

Tyler Thornburg was one of the first prospects to get promoted, moving from Class A Wisconsin to Advanced-A Brevard County on June 23. As a 22-year old in the Midwest League, good numbers were to be expected, but Thornburg was flat-out dominant. In 12 starts, he put up a 1.57 ERA, struck out 76 in 68.2 innings, and put up a 3.04 K/BB ratio. Those numbers were good enough to make him the only Brewers farmhand selected for this weekend’s MLB Futures Game in Arizona.

Since getting bumped up to Brevard County, Thornburg has continued his hot streak, although he did struggle for the first time all year on Wednesday night. Through three starts in High-A, Thornburg’s numbers still look good: 2.81 ERA, 20 strikeouts, and just 7 walks in 16 innings.

Thornburg was momentarily teammates with Kyle Heckathorn at Brevard County, but Heckathorn is also moving on — the big right-hander was promoted to Double-A Huntsville on Wednesday night. Like Thornburg, Heckathorn put up some nice numbers for the T-Rats as a 22-year old last year, but doesn’t have the stuff to strike a ton of batters out. Heckathorn’s ERA was about a full run higher with the Manatees than it was for the T-Rats (3.95 through 15 starts this year, 2.96 in 17 outings last year), but the peripheral numbers were roughly the same.

Huntsville should be a good test for Heckathorn. It’s hard to tell what you really have in a prospect until they do well at Double-A, and Heckathorn is finally going to be challenged by some age-appropriate competition. He’ll never be a big strikeout pitcher, but if he can do well in a half-season with the stars, he could position himself to move up to Triple-A sometime next year. He’s likely a 4/5 starter in the big leagues, but by the end of next season he should be capable of throwing 175 to 200 innings in a season and could provide some nice depth.

It appears Thornburg and Heckathorn are being brought along at a similar pace, which can be frustrating when you see Thornburg especially dominant at the lower levels. The next year should provide both with a challenge, though, and if they respond well, we can start to get excited about the Brewers having some real-life pitching prospects again.