The Milwaukee Brewers added 29 new players into the organization as part of the 2017 MLB draft and it didn't take long for the first one to reach the Midwest League: Shortstop and sixth round pick Devin Hairston was assigned to the Timber Rattlers immediately after signing his first professional contract and made his pro debut with Wisconsin on July 3.
"I really didn't have any expectations coming into it," Hairston said of his first week in professional baseball. "I didn't want to have my mind set on something when I didn't know what was going to happen. I just wanted to take it all in, get the experience and make adjustments as I go along. So far it's challenging. It's a challenging game: Baseball is probably the hardest sport to play. But I think I'm handling it maturely and I'm ready to make improvements."
Hairston made a splash offensively right away with the Timber Rattlers: He had two hits in his debut and hit his first professional home run the next day. After a week to evaluate the newest member of his roster Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson described Hairston as a "nice little player."
"He's got a live lower body, lower half," Erickson said. "He looks to have pretty good feel at shortstop and has made a few nice plays in the five days that he's played."
Brewers Farm Director Tom Flanagan and others have the sometimes challenging task of finding where dozens of newly acquired players fit into the organization. He said the team's scouting department plays a big role in those determinations.
"Obviously they know the player completely, whereas on the player development side we're just getting to know them based on their input," Flanagan said. "So it's kind of a mixture of things: You look at playing time, ability to get at bats at some point but, even more important, it's 'Can this player hold his own or be challenged appropriately at a certain level?' With Devin, I think it was a case of our scouts feeling pretty good about him on both sides of the ball, defensively and with the bat, where they felt Wisconsin was a good fit for him."
Most of the 2017 Timber Rattlers played together in spring training and the Brewers' fall Instructional League, and many of them were also teammates on one of the team's two rookie-level clubs last season. As such, Hairston joined the team with some work to do to make himself a part of the clubhouse.
"At school I was with the same guys for three years in a row. But it's a good group of guys I'm around here, I'm enjoying my teammates and it's been fun so far," Hairston said. "You just play the game together, that's big. You share a lot of the same struggles, talk about things to focus on, how to get better, the mindset to have. But it's been good, there have been a lot of guys helping me adjust to the professional game, and I'm thankful for those guys."
In addition to adjusting to new teammates, Hairston also had to adjust to a rigorous professional baseball schedule.
"I asked him today how many times he's played seven games in seven days and he said 'never,'" Erickson said following Monday's game. "So we got him through the first week and gave him a day today, so he'll get two days off before the travel day on Wednesday. You have to pay attention to that, especially with some of the younger guys."
While managing a player's workload is more often discussed in relation to pitchers, Flanagan said there are also multiple factors to consider when establishing a usage pattern for a young position player.
"On the position player side, it's kind of a balance between acclimating that player to the new lifestyle, the new workload of six or seven days out of seven, and still having success or being able to 'answer the bell,' so to speak, on all those days," Flanagan said. "So it's an extreme challenge and adjustment, regardless of the level, but for Devin it will be a good challenge being able to do that at Class A."
Hairston cited the mental side of the game when asked to define a successful first season.
"I define success by having the right mindset every single day, showing up at the park ready to compete, definitely not getting too high if I have success, not getting too low if I have my struggles, but trying to be consistent in my attitude and my effort every single day," Hairston said.
When asked the same question, Erickson said a successful season for a first-year player doesn't look any different from success for any of his more experienced teammates.
"The definition for me for any baseball player is, once when you get an opportunity you go out and compete your butt off," Erickson said. "As long as he competes and gives great effort he's going continue to get opportunities, whether it's him or anybody else on this roster."
Flanagan, meanwhile, cited a balance between trying to help a first-year player make the adjustment to professional life and ensuring that they're not missing out on developmental opportunities.
"You want to acclimate the player to pro baseball in general, whether it's at an advanced level like Devin in this case or it's somebody going to our complex in Arizona or rookie ball in Helena. It's really every day baseball, and every day with a purpose. So they're not going through the motions, which may sound simplistic at the front end but it's really a challenge from the college lifestyle or the high school lifestyle in terms of the amount of reps that they can get in pro ball," Flanagan said. "We want to make the most of their opportunities, of course. So that first year is developing that routine, and then also not having it serve as a throwaway year. It's a big year for those guys to establish their routine and get to know a good foundation and put that under them heading into next spring."
Hairston won't have to look far to find others who can relate to what he's experiencing. Pitcher Zack Brown was a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft and made his Midwest League debut a year ago. Brown said if he could go back, the biggest piece of advice he'd give himself is to "just enjoy it."
"Baseball's failures kind of bring you down, but you just need to have fun," Brown said. "Just try to have fun and enjoy the little things and time around the guys. It was a bit of an attitude adjustment to enjoy the things that you normally wouldn't. When I wasn't playing time dragged on, and I wasn't enjoying baseball. It was a different time for me. But now I just enjoy everything. That's the big thing."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.