While the weather in Wisconsin has made a sudden turn into autumn, it still feels like baseball season in Arizona and many former, present and future members of the Timber Rattlers have made the desert their home during the Brewers' fall Instructional League camp. For about a month a few dozen players have been reporting to Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix daily as part of the final assignments for their 2017 baseball season.
Instructional League camp had a slightly younger feel this year as the Brewers cut down their roster size and game schedule (from six per week down to three) to focus on working with the newest and youngest players in the organization. When camp breaks on Saturday, those players will have spent a month working with minor league managers, coaches and roving instructors from all levels of the organization.
2017 Timber Rattlers outfielder Demi Orimoloye has been a part of this camp in each of the last three seasons, and noticed a change in focus this year.
"A lot of work, a lot of individual work, getting yourself better. So I think this camp is more focused on each person getting better at exactly what you need to do. It's more specific," Orimoloye said.
For Orimoloye those specific goals include working on timing and mechanical adjustments at the plate. As one of the more experienced players in camp he's also being counted on to provide leadership and mentorship for the next generation.
"It's definitely different. In past years I've been the youngest guy at Instructs, so this year I'm trying to lead the younger guys that haven't been to this part of the country or haven't been to Instructs yet. So it's just a leadership role and helping them get better as well," Orimoloye said. "It's good. It just shows that you're getting the experience. You keep working every day so that as you go up you always have that role and always have that leadership in you."
On the mound, 2017 Timber Rattlers pitcher Daniel Brown is also in camp this fall. It's been easily his longest professional season, as he made just three appearances in the Arizona Summer League after being drafted in the seventh round in 2016. He pitched in 37 games in relief and amassed 72 innings for Wisconsin this year, and said he's proud of the fact that he was able to complete a full, healthy season.
"I struggled in my first professional year at being healthy, so it was nice just to be healthy for a full season and able to contribute to whatever I could," Brown said.
Aside from a few scouts and some autograph seekers, players and coaches largely have the Brewers' minor league facilities to themselves in the fall. Brown noted the change in atmosphere after a regular season in the Midwest League.
"It's definitely more laid back, not as many fans or anything. But it's nice to get some extra practice in and work on certain skills," Brown said.
This fall Brown cited a pair of mechanical goals for camp.
"I'm just working on my direction, getting that going towards the plate, and then working on a little more explosion stuff. Once I get those going it should be good," Brown said.
There are many familiar faces among Brown and Orimoloye's coaches this fall, including Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson. Erickson was delayed a bit coming to camp this year due to a special assignment.
"The day before I came down here (Brewers Farm Director) Tom Flanagan called and said, 'little bit of change of plans: You're going to be advancing (advance scouting) the Diamondbacks with (Brewers Scouting Director) Ray Montgomery,'" Erickson said. "So we did. I flew up to San Diego, watched the Diamondbacks play, then came back here and watched them for several more days against the Miami Marlins and San Francisco Giants. We put together a 16-page report on everything Diamondbacks. It was something that I haven't been exposed to, to this point, and it was a lot of fun."
Once he arrived in camp Erickson noted a young roster and an increased volume of opportunities to work with them in specialized drills.
"It's been fun, it's been good. So far we've been pretty healthy, no major injuries. The weather is always beautiful down here. The quality of work has been fun, and you can see by looking out there right now we have some good-looking bodies, some good, functional bodies conducive to talented baseball players. We're just trying to give them some baseball skill," Erickson said.
On top of his coaching duties, Erickson is also getting an opportunity to get to know and work with players who could be members of the 2018 Timber Rattlers.
"That's always part of it," Erickson said. "You become more familiar with the players that were drafted in June or some of the Latino players that have been called over from the DR (Dominican Republic). So yeah, I'm showing face and I help out where I can. I spend a lot of time in early work on Field 8 with the infielders and (Brewers roving infield instructor) Bob Miscik and then come out and watch the games, sit down with (Dominican Summer League manager) Victor Rodriguez and (former Timber Rattler and Arizona Summer League manager) Rafael Neda, who are managing the teams here this fall and have conversations about what's going on in the game. If they ask me questions I try to answer them for them."
It's been a long year for Erickson, Brown and Orimoloye and while they're all working to finish strong, they're also excited for the break that comes next. Brown and Orimoloye both mentioned looking forward to seeing family. Erickson is also doing that, in addition to taking on a new challenge.
"For me I go back home, I have a wedding anniversary the next week. I'll spend a lot of time with the family. I just accepted a third grade girls coaching position, so I'll be in the gym a lot this fall and winter, and hopefully that will be a lot of fun spending some time with Aubrey, my eight-year-old daughter, and the other girls on the team," Erickson said. "I'm looking forward to meeting them and their energy and their excitement for the game of basketball."
In the meantime, however, the Instructional League Brewers still have a few days left to work.
"The last week is much of the same," Erickson said. "The first week you kind of introduce the program to each individual, the second week they get more acclimated into competition and the games, and then next week will be more repetition. Hopefully everybody stays healthy and we break camp on Saturday."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.