On homegrown talent

Oct. 21, 2007
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On homegrown talent October 22, 2007 | 06:08 PM Cultivating success Next round of Brewers talent is working its way up By RICK BRAUN rbraun@journalsentinel.com Posted:>href="mailto:rbraun@journalsentinel.com">rbraun@journalsentinel.com Posted: Oct. 9, 2007 The entire infield, their beThe entire infield, their best outfielder and two of their best starting pitchers down the stretch. Advertisement Yes, the Milwaukee Brewers spent the 2007 season reaping the fruits of their farm system. Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo and Carlos Villanueva all made huge contributions to the Brewers' first winning season in 15 years. And all will be counted on heavily in 2008 to push the Brewers into the playoffs. Of those seven, six were drafted by the Brewers under the direction of Jack Zduriencik, the director of amateur scouting. Villanueva was acquired in a 2004 trade when he was in Class A ball and came through the Brewers' system. And now the question remains: Who will be the next gems? "I think we're pretty happy with our minor-league system right now," said Zduriencik. "Any time you take as many players as we have in the last year or two and bring them to the big leagues, there's going to be a little void. "But some of the kids like the shortstop (Alcides) Escobar we're quite high on. Manny Parra got his feet wet in the big leagues and he's a guy I think we're going to see a lot of in Milwaukee. And we're counting on Matt LaPorta to be somewhat of a fast-track type guy and we've been real happy with some of the reviews on him. "You look at our minor-league system and there were some terrific things. Mat Gamel in A ball had a 33-game hitting streak. I think there are kids there that you're going to see in a relatively short period of time and they're going to add to what we have here already." Five Brewers farm teams reached post-season play, with only the Arizona rookie team not posting a winning record. Entering the season, the Brewers had four players on the Top 100 Prospects list produced by Baseball Prospectus. Braun was No. 12 and Gallardo was No. 14. Pitcher Will Inman, who was traded to the San Diego Padres in July as part of a three-prospect package for setup man Scott Linebrink, was at No. 75. And at No. 87 was the Brewers' top pick in the 2006 draft, pitcher Jeremy Jeffress. Just 20, Jeffress was coming along very well and putting up solid numbers at Class A West Virginia. But at the end of August, the Brewers learned that Jeffress was given a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a "drug of abuse," reported to be marijuana. How Jeffress handles his suspension is likely to determine which direction his career takes. LaPorta was the Brewers' first-round pick this June out of Florida. A first baseman in college, LaPorta was moved to left field and started out with the Helena Brewers rookie team in the Pioneer League. He homered in his first at-bat and played just seven games there, hitting two homers, before being moved up to the Class A West Virginia Power. LaPorta played 23 games for the Power, hitting .318 with 10 homers and 27 RBI in just 88 at-bats. The Brewers won't rush him, but, as Zduriencik said, they hope LaPorta can make his way to the majors quickly. He will be 23 by the time spring training opens, only about two months younger than Braun was when he went to spring training this past year. Escobar started the season at Class A Brevard County and hit .325 in 63 games. That earned him a promotion to Class AA Huntsville, where he hit .283 in 62 games. Escobar also was rated as the Brewers' Best Defensive Infielding Prospect by Baseball America. Parra, a left-handed pitcher, was named the Brewers' minor league pitcher of the year, even though he was with the Brewers from July 16 on, posting a 0-1 record with a 3.76 ERA in nine outings covering 26 1/3 innings. While Parra was the pitcher of the year, third baseman Taylor Green was the Brewers' minor league player of the year. Drafted in the 25th round in 2005, Green didn't sign until May of 2006. Playing for West Virginia, Green hit .327 with 14 homers and 86 RBI in 111 games. That was a major step forward, after Green hit just .231 for Helena in rookie ball in 2006. Better yet, he's a left-handed bat. That 2005 draft appears to have been a very good one for the Brewers, as far as third basemen go. Along with Braun and Green, third baseman Mat Gamel also was taken in that draft in the fourth round. Gamel, 22, hit .300 at Class A Brevard County. There is, however, one area that Gamel obviously needs to work on. He made a whopping 55 errors in 128 games. The 2007 Brewers were built mainly through the draft and the minor league system. For the Brewers to take their 2007 success to the next level, they'll have to continue to get key players from their system. "The plan we laid out was a pretty good plan," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "I said to Jack a few years ago when Hardy and Prince Fielder were high school drafts, I said, 'Jack, we need to focus on some college guys so they can catch up and play with Hardy and Fielder.' Those guys were Braun and Weeks. "If we'd have gone two high school guys they wouldn't be here with those guys. So we put a plan in place, we stayed with it, we were patient with it, and it all came to fruition here at this point." The next step is to keep the waves coming. They may not be as big as the most recent one, but they probably won't have to be. Nicole


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