MiLB.com is spending the month of March visiting each Spring Training site in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues to report on the most significant stories involving each club's Minor League system as players get ready for the 2007 season. We'll find out who's impressing the organization, who's hot, who's not and sit down for an exclusive Q&A with a top prospect.
Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Location: Maryvale, Ariz.
Date: February 28, 2007
Is there any chance that Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo will break camp with the big-league club?
There is no question that both top-notch prospects will see Milwaukee soon. The only question is when and if they could sneak onto the 25-man roster with a strong spring.
Braun probably has the better chance. The 2005 first-round pick is being given an opportunity to win the third base job with Corey Koskie's status still very much up in the air. The key will be if he can show everyone this spring that his defense has improved enough to be trusted once the bell rings in April. Starting off the Cactus League schedule 6-for-10 with three homers and eight RBIs certainly hasn't hurt his chances.
"He's got a confidence and air about him," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "His first half was not the greatest, but he got better [when he got promoted] to Double-A. He rises to the level of play. The ball just jumps off his bat."
Gallardo's no less talented. The 2004 second-round pick is the organization's top pitching prospect and is coming off a year in which no hitter -- at two levels -- came close to feeling comfortable against the right-hander, who turned 21 the day before MiLB.com's visit.
"He dominated all last year," Nichols said. "He just needs experience at the upper level. But he could probably handle being in the big leagues."
Those are the qualities both Braun and Gallardo share -- maturity and confidence at a young age. If they were thrown into the fire, they'd likely be fine, even if they faced adversity. There's no real opening for Gallardo like there is for Braun right now, but as Nichols points out, stranger things have happened.
"Any time you put the uniform on and a player is on the [big league] side, he's got a chance," Nichols said. "They're both talents. You know they're special just in the way they go about their business. It wouldn't bother me if they were both in Triple-A a little, but I think they can help the club at some point."
Other News of the Day
He's facing a crowded situation, but Laynce Nix showed up for camp clearly planning to make the most of it. Coming from the Rangers last July in the Carlos Lee trade, Nix has seen his stock fall because of a pair of shoulder injuries and foot surgery last September. He spent most of 2006 in Triple-A -- 354 at-bats between Oklahoma City and Nashville -- though he did get in 10 games with Milwaukee at the end of the year (nine with the Rangers earlier in the season). He's healthy and has been flying under the radar for a while. He's vying for a backup outfield spot, but remember this is a guy who has shown the ability to drive the ball in the big leagues in the past. ... Chris Errecart came into the system as an outfielder, a fifth-round pick from last year's draft out of California. He showed a lot with his bat, leading the Pioneer League in RBIs and finishing second in home runs. While he mostly played the outfield (39 games), he saw some time at first base (26). Now he's going to make first his full-time home and he's come to camp with his primary objective being to learn the position. "He did a good job getting ready to make the conversion," Nichols noted.
Five Questions with Ryan Braun
MiLB.com: What is your greatest accomplishment on or off the field?
RB: Probably being drafted in the first round. It was a culmination of everything I'd done. All the work I'd put in culminated that day.
MiLB.com: Who is the most unusual character you've come across and why?
RB: It would have to be Toastman in West Virginia. He's pretty rowdy and gets into the other team's heads.
MiLB.com: People would be surprised to know that I ...
RB: That I was a better soccer player than basketball player growing up. I played soccer until my freshman year of high school. I played [Olympic Development Program] soccer, all of that. I needed to choose one sport and decided the future would be more exciting in baseball.
MiLB.com: What is your favorite aspect of playing in the Brewers organization?
RB: I'm extremely impressed with all aspects of the organization. They really give homegrown players an opportunity. Look at Weeks, Fielder, Hardy and Hart -- you see our young guys having success at the big-league level at an early age.
MiLB.com: Recently, it was announced that some top prospects -- the Angels' Brandon Wood and the Pirates' Neil Walker -- were making the move to third base. You were originally a shortstop and made the same move, starting back in college. What advice would you have to someone sliding over to the hot corner?
RB: Work extremely hard and be patient. It takes time to make the transition. It's not an easy one. Even with someone like A-Rod, you can see it's not the easiest or smoothest transition. It's extremely difficult. You need a great work ethic. It's hard to duplicate game-action balls hit at you during practice. But if you work hard, you can figure it out.
It's hard not to go with Braun. Not that anyone should be surprised he can hit, but the fact that he went off like that in his first two games, with all eyes on him as he competes for a big-league job, is extremely impressive.
In his first Cactus League game, he showed the highs and lows of his game. He hit two homers -- a three-run shot and a grand slam -- and finished the game with four hits, seven RBIs and a stolen base. He also committed an error that led to a run, hinting at the one thing that could hold him back from a big-league job right out of Spring Training.
He followed up that game by going 2-for-5 with a third homer the next day. He missed a couple of days with a sore elbow, but it's not expected to be anything too worrisome. Corey Koskie hasn't been able to resume baseball activities yet. The longer he's out and the more gaudy numbers Braun puts up this spring, the closer he gets to making the team in just his second full professional season.
Off the Beaten Path
On the day of MiLB.com's visit to Maryvale, all the buzz in the clubhouse was about the races taking place that day. Not the ponies or greyhounds, and not NASCAR. No, everyone was talking about the 60-yard dash contest to be held in big league camp.
It's not something the Brewers have done regularly in the past, but it might become an annual tradition. There were odds posted in the clubhouse -- Rickie Weeks went in as the favorite -- and, as you can imagine, the competitive nature of the Brewers took over.
"It's the highlight of the week," Braun said. "There's been a lot of trash talking."
In the end, it was Corey Hart who let his feet do the talking. The tall, deceptively fast outfielder (he stole 31 bases in 2005 to lead the Pacific Coast League) had the best time, clocking in at 6.59 seconds. That narrowly edged Hernan Iribarren, the second baseman who played in the Florida State League last year. Clearly he needs to work on using his speed to better effect, since he stole 19 bases in 2006, but was caught 15 times. Other Minor Leaguers who competed were outfielder Drew Anderson (6.69) and Braun, who finished at 6.90 even though he went 26-for-30 in stolen base attempts in 2006.
It's hard not to get excited about the Milwaukee Brewers, especially from a Minor League perspective. If Braun can win the job at third, the Brewers would have an entirely homegrown infield with Fielder, Weeks and Hardy joining the 2005 first-round pick. Go ahead, find another team that can make that boast (the Rockies have a chance if Troy Tulowitzki wins the shortstop job and Clint Barmes grabs the reins at second, but we digress).
Throw in a possible starting outfield of Geoff Jenkins, Bill Hall and Corey Hart -- all homegrown -- and put Ben Sheets on the mound and you've got eight out of nine position players coming from the farm system.
The pitching has been behind, but Yovani Gallardo can single-handedly make up for a lack of depth. There are some intriguing arms behind Gallardo as the Brewers have tried to catch up on the pitching front, and there are still a slew of position players a couple of years away. All they need is a catcher -- and if you're patient, that will be Angel Salome in a few years -- and the Brewers could be a rarity in today's professional sports scene. For those hoping the buzz surrounding the Brew Crew's chances isn't just a passing fad, that kind of depth has to get the blood pumping.