November 2009

Report: Brewers ink Dominican shortstop

The Brewers have agreed to terms with 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Santo Aybar, according to a report on ESPN.com. 

The report, which cited Brewers Latin American Scouting Coordinator Fernando Arango as its source, said the signing would not be official until Aybar passed a Major League Baseball investigation into his age. That’s now standard operating procedure for international signings. <p/>

Baseball America rated Aybar the 18th-best Dominican prospect on July 1, the date before teams were free to sign Latin American players. The terms of his signing bonus were not immediately available.

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Technically, 35 on the roster

Just wanted to correct something from several Wednesday articles published after the Brewers claimed catcher George Kottaras from the Boston Red Sox. I wrote in a couple of places that the move left the Brewers with 36 players on the 40-man roster, and while that eventually may prove true, at the moment it is not. Players claimed off release waivers have five days to decide whether to accept the claim and remain on the 40-man roster, or to decline and become a free agent.

As of this writing, Kottaras is still in that grey area. Unless he is sure that another team will offer him a place on its roster, he’ll probably accept and join the group of catchers under consideration by the Brewers for 2010.

Thanks to our Jonathan Mayo for asking why Major League Baseball is listing only 35 players on the roster, and to Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash for providing the quick answer. You learn a new roster rule every day.

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Tired Rogers satisfied with AFL stint

mark-rogers.jpgForget what the numbers say. Brewers pitching prospect Mark Rogers is satisfied with his stint in the Arizona Fall League and the end of a long but healthy season. He’s also ready for a break.

Speaking Friday on a well-deserved day off, Rogers thought there was a “good chance” that he would get at least an inning of work in Saturday’s AFL Championship game. It would offer one last chance to put a positive finish on an up-and-down experience.

Rogers has been pitching — and struggling — for the Peoria Javelinas, a team of Brewers, Mariners, White Sox, Tigers and Dodgers prospect in the prestigious AFL. His team is set to face the Phoenix Desert Dogs on Saturday in a 1:35 p.m. CT game that will air on MLB Network. 

“I’m really fortunate to be with a great group of guys,” said Rogers, one of eight Brewers prospects on the team. “I’ll chalk it up as another great experience in my career.” 

It’s almost over, and that might not be a bad thing. Rogers, the fifth overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, is coming off the longest season of his career after two full years lost entirely to shoulder surgeries. Before this season, Rogers had not pitched in a game since June 2006. 

He made up for lost time by posting a 1.63 ERA in 22 starts and one relief appearance at Class A Brevard County. Working on a strict pitch count, Rogers struck out 67 batters in 64 2/3 innings and touched 98 mph on the radar gun.

His AFL stint hasn’t been quite as smooth. Entering Saturday’s finale, Rogers had allowed 18 earned runs and 20 hits including three home runs in 10 2/3 innings. He walked nine, versus seven walks.  Opponents were hitting .392 against him. 

“I think I’m seeing a little bit of the fatigue from my first full season in three years, that’s for sure” he admitted. “But in the meantime I’m learning a lot. There are some really good hitters down here, and they hit mistakes. You have to be able to pitch. 

“It’s definitely going to be something to build on for next Spring Training. The main thing is that I feel good, but at the same time I do feel like it’s my first full season in three years. It’s a long year. That everyday grind adds up.” 

He began preparing for the 2009 season last November, meaning Rogers has now been throwing every day for more than 12 months. He’s looking forward to a post-AFL break. This year, he’ll take part in the conditioning portion of the Brewers’ offseason minicamp and will continue his shoulder exercises, but probably won’t start throwing regularly until January.  

“I know I can make it through a full season now with my arm feeling great, and that makes me really excited for next season,” said Rogers, who could find himself in Double-A Huntsville this time. “I’m going to come in fresh and ready to go with a lot more experience under my belt. Compare that to last year, when it was a clean slate. This time I have a lot of confidence that I can come into camp and turn some heads.”

The Brewers added Rogers to their 40-man roster last year and burned the first of his three Minor League options in March.

“I think he is starting to get things ironed out,” Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. “He has been through a lot to this point. It was pretty exciting to see the mid-90 [mph] fastball come back. Now it’s just touch and feel and learning to read hitters. It may take some time because he missed a lot of it. The good news is he is healthy.”

Rogers was not the only Brewers pitching prospect who struggled in the AFL.
   
In 2009 the Brewers added Josh Butler to the 40-man roster, another intriguing right-handed pitching prospect who struggled alongside Rogers. After going 9-3 with a 2.97 ERA for four Brewers affiliates and earning a taste of the Majors in September, Butler struggled to an 11.93 ERA in six fall league starts. Opponents hit him at a .429 clip. 

Fellow 40-man roster member Omar Aguilar had a 7.11 ERA in nine relief appearances. Left-hander Zack Braddock was a bright spot before he surrendered six earned runs on four walks and four hits in 1/3 inning of relief work on Thursday, an outing that bumped his ERA from 0.87 to 5.25. Righty Rob Wooten allowed five runs in nine relief innings for a 5.00 ERA. 

The Brewers’ hitters in the AFL offered more to feel good about. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy was especially impressive, drawing raves from scouts and the Brewers officials who saw him play, hitting .310 through Thursday with two home runs and 10 RBIs. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who on Wednesday was added to the 40-man roster, hit .242 but posted a solid .375 on-base percentage as the Javelinas’ leadoff hitter. 

Third baseman Taylor Green was batting .212 entering Saturday’s finale but had four of his 11 hits and all six of his RBIs in the Javelinas’ last three games. 

“I believe that if you have this experience, it’s going to make you better,” Rogers said. “It’s been a great year for me, and I don’t want to look at it as anything else. I look forward to a full season ahead of me without a pitch count where I can just go play.”

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Heether injury is minor

Infielder Adam Heether, who was added to Milwaukee’s 40-man roster earlier this month and will compete for a job as a backup Brewers infielder next spring, returned home from the Venezuelan Winter League this week after he strained a rib-cage muscle. Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash called the injury — an intercostal strain — “very minor.”

The move made sense in part because another Brewers infielder is about to head in the opposite direction. Third base prospect Mat Gamel is getting married on Saturday and is scheduled to travel to Venezuela on the day after Thanksgiving for a stint in winter ball. Gamel will work out with the Caracas team for about five days before debuting in a game sometime in early December.

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Brewers consider Halama for Minor League deal

halama.jpgThe Brewers told John Halama’s agent that they will have a scout in the stands for the former big league left-hander’s start in the Dominican Republic on Friday night, and Halama hopes to strike a Minor League deal with Milwaukee by early next week. <p/>

The Brewers are seeking starting pitching depth this winter and Halama, 37, wants to reunite with pitching coach Rick Peterson and manager Ken Macha. The trio was together in Oakland in 2003, Macha’s first year as A’s manager and Peterson’s final year as that team’s pitching coach.

Halama would also be rejoining Brewers advance scout Chris Bosio, who was a special assignment coach for Seattle during part of Halama’s four-year run with the Mariners.

“He really wants to pitch for the Brewers,” agent Joe Rosario said. “He would love to reunite with both Macha and Peterson.”

Brewers Latin American scouting coordinator Fernando Arango is to attend Halama’s start for Aguilas against Licey on Friday night. It’s a rematch of Nov. 15, when Halama pitched seven innings and allowed two Licey runs on six hits with five strikeouts and no walks.

In his first six winter league starts, he was 3-2 with a 1.66 ERA and 21 strikeouts versus two walks. Both of Halama’s losses came in 1-0 games.

Halama pitched for seven Major League teams in parts of nine seasons from 1998-2006. He’s 56-48 with a 4.65 ERA in the Majors, but his career was derailed after a stint with the Orioles in 2006, in part by a contentious divorce.

He began the 2009 season with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League and was 8-1 with a 1.96 ERA in 69 innings, drawing the interest of the Braves. At Triple-A Gwinnett, Halama was 4-7 with a 4.48 ERA in 13 starts and three relief appearances, but much of the damage was done in a pair of relief outings July 7 and 12, when Halama relieved rehabbing Braves JoJo Reyes.

As a starter, Halama had a 3.69 ERA last season at Triple-A. He turns 38 on Feb. 22.

“He spent the last two years pitching his butt off to get to where he is now,” Rosario said. “He’s big league-ready. He just wants an invite to [Spring Training] camp to show that he belongs and he feels like Milwaukee is the way to go.”

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Braves not interested in Hart

From Braves.com beat reporter Mark Bowman’s blog:

The Braves see the Brewers as a potential suitor for Derek Lowe.  But contrary to a report on FOXSports.com Thursday, they have never been interested in trading the veteran sinkerballer in exchange for Brewers outfielder Corey Hart.

The report indicated that the Brewers seem reluctant to deal for Lowe because he is owed $45 million over the next three years.  While that is certainly understandable, the Braves have also provided indication that they are not interested in Hart.

In other words, if the Braves end up having to trade Javier Vazquez to the Brewers, there’s little reason to believe that Hart would be part of the return package.

Indications are that the Braves don’t like Hart’s undisciplined offensive approach.  The Brewers outfielder, who could draw a $5 million salary via arbitration this winter, hit .260 with 12 homers and a .753 OPS this past season.

As the Braves continue to explore their options with Lowe, they still think there’s a chance that the Angels may be willing to add the veteran sinkerballer to their young rotation.

It appears that instead of getting a Major League-ready outfielder in return, the Braves would be more interested in digging into the Angels farm system.

Bowman has more on Lowe’s situation in a story on Braves.com. As Mark notes, Lowe is coming off a season during which he posted a 4.67 ERA — his career high in the National League — is owed $45 million over the three seasons and turns 37 next season.

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Upgrades in, around Miller Park

The Brewers on Thursday announced a number of minor upgrades at Miller Park, which will host its 10th season of baseball in 2010.

In addition to a project announced two weeks ago to improve hitting conditions for players, the team unveiled four more initiatives of note to fans: 

- Work has already begun on renovations to the retail store on the highest seating level at Miller Park. The store is being expanded and redesigned and will feature new merchandise next season. 

- The team is constructing the “Plaza Pavilion” outside Miller Park in the right field corner. The project involves upgrading an existing smoking area into a covered outdoor gathering location with lighting, televisions, furniture, additional fencing and portable food and beverage stands. The area will be open free of charge to all ticketed fans prior to and during Brewers home games. 

- The Brewers are upgrading the Milwaukee Braves Wall of Honor, located on the third base side of the Field Level concourse. It will feature new plaques, artwork, lighting and photo banners.  The Braves Wall of Honor celebrates the National League team that called Milwaukee home from 1953 to 1965. 

- The ballpark parking lots are being renamed to honor the city’s legends, just in time for the 40th season of Brewers baseball. Twelve lots around Miller Park will be adorned with names of former Milwaukee Brewers and Braves players, with banners and other artwork notating the new designations. Uniformed members of the Brewers and Braves Walk of Fame are represented, with lots named after Henry Aaron, Cecil Cooper, Rollie Fingers, Jim Gantner, Harvey Kuenn, Eddie Mathews, Paul Molitor, Don Money, Warren Spahn, Gorman Thomas, Bob Uecker and Robin Yount. 

The Uecker Lot will include a special twist for fans.  As a nod to his “front row” series of Miller Lite ads, 10 cars paying cash for general parking at each game will be selected at random to move up to the front row of the Uecker Lot for only $1.  A row of decorated “Uecker’s Front Row” parking spaces will await.

The Brewers also are planning improvements to areas not accessible to fans. Both clubhouses are getting an upgrade, and the Brewers baseball operations department will take over part of the right field corner of the Terrace Level in a new “War Room.”  New offices and meeting space will be fitted with state-of-the-art technology to enhance the club’s scouting and baseball operations efforts.

Brewers Clubhouse_Copperplate.jpg
Braves Wall of Honor.jpgparking_map2.jpg

parking_map2.pdf

Renderings courtesy of the Brewers.

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Brewers' staffers launch MLBlog

Steinmiller-Moyer.pngHere’s a new must-bookmark for all Brewers fans: Front office staffers John Steinmiller and Caitlin Moyer launched a blog this week that will offer a glimpse into the happenings at Miller Park. It’s a dynamic duo. John is a manager in the Brewers’ media relations department (a.k.a. Mike Vassallo’s intern) and Caitlin is the team’s manager of marketing promotions (a.k.a. The Queen of the Bobbleheads).

You’ll find their blog at www.brewers.mlblogs.com. They launched this week with the No. 1 question asked of everybody who has anything to do with baseball.

Just don’t have so much fun that you forget about me.

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The "other" free agency

Jonathan Mayo, who does a great job covering the First-Year Player Draft and the Minor Leagues for MLB.com (and MiLB.com) wrote an interesting piece about key six-year Minor League free agent signings. Brewers officials expend just as much energy scouring the list of six-year free agents as they do the more-publicized big leaguers, often to fill-out the rosters at Triple-A Nashville and Double-A Huntsville.

Every now and then, you find a gem, and Mayo discussed some of the better-known names. There are no Brewers on the list, but pitchers Chris Smith, Chris Narveson and Mike Burns all were acquired as six-year free agents and appeared pretty extensively for the Brewers in 2009.

Can anyone think of any other six-year gems in the Brewers’ recent past?

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Melvin expects Counsell & Co. to hit open market

Thursday is the final day for teams to negotiate exclusively with their own free agents, but Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is not anticipating striking any deals before the market opens in earnest.

“No,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t think they want to sign, personally. They want to wait until Friday and hope someone picks up the phone and makes them an offer they never thought they would get.”

Beginning Friday at 12:01 a.m. ET, free agents are free to field those calls from all 30 teams. Before then, during a 15-day window that follows the World Series, other teams can only express general interest but are technically barred from making any offers.

The Brewers have nine outgoing free agents: Outfielders Mike Cameron, Frank Catalanotto and Corey Patterson, infielders Craig Counsell and Felipe Lopez, catcher Jason Kendall and pitchers Braden Looper, Claudio Vargas and David Weathers. Looper and Weathers hit the market after the Brewers declined their options.

Melvin wouldn’t say which of those players he would like to bring back to avoid giving other teams an idea of the Brewers’ thinking. He did say this month that the Carlos Gomez acquisition likely closed the door on Cameron, that the Brewers might not be able to afford Kendall unless he takes a serious pay cut and that the team remains committed to Rickie Weeks at second base, making a Lopez return very unlikely.

Counsell seems the most likely incumbent on the Brewers’ radar but a report this week said that as many as 12 teams had expressed interest. That’s not surprising at all given Counsell’s defensive versatility and his outstanding 2009 season at the plate, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could field multi-year offers.

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