The 2018 MLB Draft begins on June 4 and, per usual, it will be a busy day for the Milwaukee Brewers: They have three of the top 73 selections, including the #21 overall pick. In 2017 the Brewers had 41 picks, including three of the top 46. They signed 29 of those players, including 12 that have already appeared in games in the Midwest League with the Timber Rattlers.
"The 2017 class has done very well. We have players already mixed in from rookie ball to High-A Carolina. And guys have made an impact and gotten their careers off to nice starts," Brewers Farm Director Tom Flanagan said.
One of the players getting their career off to a nice start is Timber Rattlers outfielder and 2017 Competitive Balance Round A pick Tristen Lutz, who batted .311 with a .398 on-base percentage and .559 slugging across two rookie level leagues in 2017 and earned a promotion to Wisconsin for the 2018 season despite being just 19 years old. Lutz said he's learned a lot, but one specific highlight was the adjustment to playing games every day.
"It's hard to pinpoint one thing, but one thing I've learned is how to handle yourself every single day. It's a different game when you're playing it every single day. In high school it's Tuesdays and Fridays. So that's probably the biggest thing I've learned," Lutz said.
Timber Rattlers shortstop and 2017 sixth round pick Devin Hairston followed a different path to professional baseball, playing three collegiate seasons at Louisville before signing with the Brewers last year. He also said, however, that the biggest thing he has learned to date was "showing up on a daily basis."
"I came from college where you're playing one midweek game on a Tuesday and then you play Friday, Saturday, Sunday so there's a lot of time off between games. Professional baseball you might get one or two games off in a month. So you've got to really take good care of your body, make sure you're getting good rest, getting your stuff done in the weight room, training room and all that, to make sure that you're ready to compete every single night," Hairston said.
While the schedule is much more involved at the professional level, players also have a bit more independence when it comes to managing and finding their routines. Pitcher and 2017 seventh round pick Bowden Francis said accountability is one of the biggest things he's learned in his early professional career.
"It's not as structured as in college where you have to do this, that, and that. It's more on your own, you know what's best for you and they kind of give you the guidelines, and the trainers give suggestions. Workouts you've got to do, but it's more like you've got to learn what's best for you, what works for you. It's your career, and it's time to kind of grow up," Francis said.
Making the transition to professional baseball also means getting to meet and play alongside new teammates from a variety of backgrounds. Francis described that experience as "awesome."
"It's eye-opening," Francis said. "It's cool to talk about everyone's situation, and where they're from. If they came from high school or college or junior college, or if they've been playing in the organization since they were 16 like the guys from the DR (Dominican Republic). It's just kind of cool, everyone's different mold. The conversations go a long way."
While Francis was selected out of a junior college, Lutz joined the organization straight out of high school.
"At first you don't know anybody. Then as you keep going you get to meet people, I have a lot of really good friends and pretty much everybody I've met I like, so it's been a really great experience to meet people from all over the country and all over the world, really. So it's a great thing," Lutz said.
Hairston's experience was a little different from the others, as he was immediately assigned to Wisconsin after signing his first professional contract.
"It's been pretty cool for me," Hairston said. "Last year there were guys that were drafted and they got to go to short season and they all kind of met, but I was sent straight here so I was with a bunch of full season guys who had been together since spring training. So it was kind of hard to find my way in there, but after going to fall instructs and being at a full spring training I feel like I've met a lot of new people, I've made some friends that are on this team."
The Brewers' first eleven picks in the 2017 draft included Francis, a junior college player, along with four high schoolers and six college players.
"It's a pretty balanced group overall," Flanagan said. "But it's a nice mix of both college and high school bats and arms, as well as many projectable athletic young pitchers and position players. I think there are a number of good, young pitchers that have a chance to make this group particularly good as they mature and progress through the system."
Soon after the draft a new generation of Brewers minor leaguers will follow in Lutz, Hairston and Francis' footsteps and make the jump from amateur to professional baseball. If he could go back to that day, Hairston said the biggest piece of advice he would give himself is to be confident and steadfast in his routine.
"Sometimes you can start losing success and you think it's solely based off of your routine and you stop trusting yourself and that's when it can be hard to find your way back," Hairston said. "So I just trust in what I do every single day, I believe in it, and I feel like it gives me a good chance to go out there and compete and help my team win."
Meanwhile, Lutz would have advised himself to maintain a sense of identity.
"Just to stay true to who I am, always trust in myself, and don't change who I am," Lutz said.
Francis described professional baseball to this point as being about what he expected.
"It's just something you kind of have to adapt to," Francis said. "You learn from it, you move forward and you take it to the next year. You take the good things with you, you learn from the negatives and you turn the negatives into a positive going into the next spring training and the next season."
Of course, the learning and adaptation process is never over for a professional baseball player.
"First full season, trying to see how my body can last 140 games, taking that into the offseason, adjusting my training and my hitting programs, fielding programs and all that stuff in the offseason to know what I need to do to get ready for 2019. So we'll see how that goes," Hairston said.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.