In 2016, just two players hit more than 14 home runs in the Midwest League's 140-game season: Timber Rattlers infielder Isan Diaz led the league with 20 and Cedar Rapids first baseman Zander Wiel finished second with 19. Those numbers shed some light on what first baseman and Brewers 2016 23rd round pick Ronnie Gideon was able to accomplish just one rung down the ladder in Helena.
Gideon hit a home run in his second professional appearance with the Rookie-level Brewers, his first of 17 in just 59 games. He led the Pioneer League in home runs (17) and tied for fourth in doubles (20), while also leading all players with at least 200 plate appearances in slugging percentage (.638) and finishing fourth in on base plus slugging (1.010).
"That's my game. I'm a power hitter," Gideon said. "I wouldn't say I expected 17 (home runs), but you never know what the limit is. You just see it and hit it, and where the ball goes it goes. And I just happened to hit 17."
Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson coached Gideon at the Brewers' fall Instructional League. He was quick to note that the Pioneer League's altitude and hitting environment may have impacted Gideon's results, but still noticed his raw power.
"The power numbers can be construed a little bit in the Pioneer League. In Helena, the ball jumps and they play in a lot of little parks," Erickson said. "But, you still have to hit them, and he did. And you saw in the few weeks here, his batting practice and in the game, there's definitely power potential. That's a power hitting prospect, to be sure."
Gideon's collegiate numbers were also noteworthy, as he posted a .419 on base percentage and .597 slugging in his junior season at Texas A&M in 2016. His playing time was a bit limited, however, as he was frequently overshadowed by Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Boomer White (who went on to be drafted in the tenth round by the Padres) and SEC RBI leader Hunter Melton (who was selected in the 18th round by the Rockies).
"I turned it into a positive. He's a great example of grassroots scouting," Brian Sankey said of Gideon. Sankey scouts southern Texas for the Brewers and serves as the organization's regional scouting supervisor. "The Brewers are digging for diamonds in the rough. We're digging for players like Ronnie Gideon that can give our organization an advantage. Ronnie didn't get a chance to play at A&M, so it was a perfect fit for him to get the opportunity in pro ball and then take off and start getting more at bats every day, which he did."
Sankey started scouting Gideon when he was a freshman at Texas A&M in 2014 and added him to a list of players for the organization to follow when he played in the Northwoods League in 2015 (where he hit eight home runs in 34 games for the La Crosse Loggers) before meeting him for the first time in 2016.
"To be able to meet him and see his desire to play professional baseball…I knew once I met him that this kid had the makeup. He wanted to play," Sankey said. "That was the biggest thing. One thing, from meeting him in person, shaking his hand, looking him in the eye, I knew this kid wanted to play."
In addition to Sankey, Brewers area scout Harvey Kuenn Jr. and Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting Tod Johnson also saw Gideon play before selecting him in the draft.
"So that was a team effort in getting him into our system," Sankey said.
As is frequently the case for players experiencing professional baseball for the first time, Gideon said adjusting to a new schedule was one of the biggest challenges he faced with Helena.
"It's just, playing every day rather than playing 3, 4 times a week. That's the biggest thing," Gideon said. "But the other the big thing is approach. They're going to throw you how they want to throw you. And it's a game of failure, and you've got to learn from your mistakes."
Erickson said Gideon has work to do to physically prepare for a full season at the professional level.
"He's a guy that's going to have to come in in better shape," Erickson said. "He's never played six months every day of baseball, and that conversation has been dealt with already. If he can do that and get in the lineup every day, I know he can put up some numbers."
Frequently, players attending the Brewers' fall Instructional League camp are given individual skills or adjustments to practice. This fall, Gideon was given both a defensive and offensive challenge to focus on.
"Mine was range and agility at first base. They wanted me to come in and expand on that a little bit," Gideon said. "They also wanted me to work on my approach a little bit more, hitting wise. I had a lot of strikeouts, but staying through the zone, keeping a good approach with two strikes was their main thing for me."
After almost a month of watching him play in Arizona, Erickson praised Gideon's work in the field and at the plate.
"Ronnie is a guy that has pretty decent hands. He moves well around first base," Erickson said. "He did ok, and made some really great plays at first base through camp. Like I said, he's shown to be able to drive the baseball to all fields."
The 2016 season was a long one for Gideon, stretching from Texas A&M's first game of the spring in February through the final day of Brewers Instructional League camp in October, but he said he enjoyed the experience.
"It's been a long grind, definitely different from college. But it's been a lot of fun, you know?" Gideon said. "A completely different game, you've got to be bought in every day. But like I said, it's a lot of fun."
Sankey cited Gideon's willingness to work hard as one of his favorite things about him.
"The one thing I love about Ronnie is his work ethic and the ability to make adjustments as a player. Ronnie loves to play, he's got a big heart, he knows his game, he knows what he has to do and he's going to give you an honest day's work every day," Sankey said. "And he's got 'plus' raw power, which is a tough tool to find out there with players nowadays. Ronnie has that, and if he gets the opportunity to go to Wisconsin hopefully he can continue to put up some numbers and progress through the system."
For now, though, Gideon said he's looking forward to taking a break from baseball back home in Texas.
"It's been a long season," Gideon said. "Taking a short break, not doing anything's going to be a lot of fun. And then, fishing and hunting in the offseason."