February 2010

First base prospect added to camp

The Brewers had 56 players in Major League camp as of Sunday morning yet somehow found themselves short at a position. That minor problem was quickly solved. 

The team announced that 23-year-old first baseman Steffan Wilson would immediately join camp to help fill-out that spot. The only true first baseman on the roster is Prince Fielder, and while the Brewers plan to use outfielder Jim Edmonds and third baseman Casey McGehee at first to some extent, Wilson will help Fielder carry the load in drills this week ahead of the Brewers’ first Cactus League game. 
“It’s just a matter of an extra body,” general manager Doug Melvin said. “We may rotate guys on a weekly basis. We haven’t decided that yet.”
A product of Harvard University, Wilson was Milwaukee’s 28th-round pick in the 2007 Draft and spent last season with the Brewers’ prospect-rich group at Class A Brevard County, where he batted .272 with 13 home runs, 15 doubles and 60 RBIs. He bats and throws right-handed. 
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Spring rotation set

The Brewers have a tentative Cactus League rotation mapped out through the team’s March 24 off-day, and here’s how it looks for the six starting candidates next week:

Wed., March 3 intrasquad game: Dave Bush and Manny Parra
Thurs., March 4 at Giants: Jeff Suppan
Fri., March 5 at A’s: Yovani Gallardo
Sat., March 6 split-squads vs. Giants and at Rockies: Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson 
Sun., March 7 vs. Reds: Doug Davis
There is wiggle-room built in to allow for some adjustments later in March, but you can start to make some educated guesses about how things will line up. An every-five-day schedule plus one extra day of rest would take Gallardo right to the Brewers’ April 5 regular-season opener against the Rockies, followed by Wolf and Davis in that series. There is an off-day on the calendar for April 8, so Suppan might be lined up for April 9 against the Cubs. 
The operative phrase here is tentative, because bumps and bruises, split-squads and B-games, almost certainly will prompt some adjustments along the way. The Brewers plan to have an open competition, especially for the final two spots between Bush, Narveson, Parra and Suppan. 
The first few innings of that March 5 game against Oakland could be interesting. It’s Gallardo’s debut, and he is scheduled to face former Brewer Ben Sheets. 
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Attanasio: No deadline for Fielder talks


Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said Saturday that he won’t set any “artificial deadlines” for talks with first baseman Prince Fielder about a contract extension.  
“Prince has said he wants to be here, we have said we would love to have him here and we know our fans would love to have him here,” Attanasio said. “There is no timetable, no pressure on either side. I know you guys have seen Prince and he’s pretty relaxed. I think I’m pretty relaxed. …
“No. 1, nobody wants a distraction. Frankly, I think without having any set deadlines or parameters, it better allows that because otherwise you start checking the days on the calendar and all that.”
Attanasio was at Maryvale Baseball Park for the Brewers’ first full-squad workout and delivered his annual address. Then, he huddled in general manager Doug Melvin’s office to discuss a number of topic, chief among them Fielder. 
The start first baseman is already signed for 2010 and would be arbitration-eligible — and thus under team control for one more year — in 2011. He is on track to qualify for free agency following the 2011 season. 
Both sides say they are interested in exploring whether an extension makes sense. It’s notable, though, that Fielder is represented by agent Scott Boras, who has no track record of clients signing deals that buy out free agent seasons. 
Those talks have yet to begin. Fielder said this week that he expects a dialogue to begin very soon, and Attanasio said he would return to camp to personally take part when the time is appropriate. 
“As you know, I am very process-oriented, and we are going through all of our internal processes,” Attanasio said. “As you know, Prince is very professionally represented, and I’m sure Mr. Boras is going through all of his internal processes.”
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Motion analysis photos


The Brewers made baseball history of sorts on Friday when they began putting their Major League pitchers through a motion analysis exercise in a batting cage-turned laboratory at Maryvale Baseball Park. 
Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush and Doug Davis were among the pitchers stripped to their skivvies and strapped with sensors for a 10-pitch throwing session. The sensors recorded more than 40 individual measurements in the pitchers’ delivery and compare those readings to normative rangers established over the past two decades at Dr. James Andrews’ lab in Birmingham, Ala. The idea is to identify potential areas of injury risk. 
It’s part of a program that new pitching coach Rick Peterson calls his “life’s work,” but the Brewers have been interested in biomechanics for at least the past five years. The team’s head physician, Dr. William Raasch, established a portable lab in Milwaukee — the only such in-house setup in baseball, the Brewers believe — and has used it to analyze pitchers in Milwaukee’s Minor League system. Friday marked the first time that the team began running all of their Major League pitchers through the process. 
“Probably my fifth time doing it,” said Yovani Gallardo, who came up through the Brewers’ system. “It’s nice to know the certain points you may be putting more stress, like your shoulder or your elbow or whatever it is.”
The program likes Gallardo. He went through a test last year in Milwaukee and found that of all the pitchers tested, he put the least stress both on his shoulder and his elbow.  
“It’s good to hear that,” he said. “It makes you want to work even more on keeping your mechanics.”
Said Bush: “It’s a little bit awkward because you’re standing there without any clothes on but your sliders, but it’s going to be pretty cool to see what it says. I have an open mind about everything. I’m not saying I’m going to go along with everything it says, but I’m definitely open to talking about it.”
For more on this, see my story at Brewers.com later today. John Steinmiller of the Brewers took some photos of the activity and posted them on his outstanding MLBlog, John and Cait Plus Nine. Here are a few of them:
Thanks to John for passing those shots along. Check out his blog
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Spring broadcast schedule set

The Brewers today finalized their 2010 Spring Training broadcast schedule on Friday and announced that all 30 spring game dates will include a broadcast on at least one of three platforms: Webcast via Brewers.com, radio via WTMJ-AM and television via FOX Sports Wisconsin.
A total of 16 games will be broadcast on Newsradio 620 WTMJ with Hall of Fame announcer Bob Uecker and Cory Provus calling the action on the Brewers Radio Network. The TV schedule includes Monday, March 8 vs. Seattle; Monday, March 15 vs. Cleveland and Saturday, March 27 vs. Texas.  Brewers television play-by-play announcer Brian Anderson and Brewers television analyst Bill Schroeder will team up for their fourth year in the broadcast booth in 2010.   
Twelve other games will be webcast on Brewers.com. Anderson will once again handle the bulk of that duty.
Here’s the full schedule in PDF form: 2010 Spring Training Broadcast Schedule (calendar).pdf
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Biomechanics experiment begins

Brewers pitchers got their first taste of biomechanics at Maryvale Baseball Park today, where the team’s traveling lab was set up in the batting cages and a series of hurlers were strapped with sensors for a throwing session. The equipment took a series of precise measurements aimed to identify injury risks.

It’s one aspect of the program that new pitching coach Rick Peterson refers to as his life’s work, but the Brewers were already exploring the science before Peterson’s arrival under head team physician Dr. William Raasch. I will talk to some pitchers about the experience after today’s workout to see what they think. 
I wrote about Peterson last week before reporting to camp myself, and saw that some fans are wondering whether the Brewers hired a pitching coach or an injury prevention specialist. That’s an interesting question, so I posed it to manager Ken Macha, who worked with Peterson previously in Oakland, for his opinion. 
“The way to answer that is to tell them to check the guy’s record,” Macha said. “At one particular time, the Toronto Blue Jays had [Roy] Halladay, [Kelvim] Escobar and [Chris] Carpenter all in their snake [Minor League system]. A little later, we had [Tim] Hudson, [Mark] Mulder and [Barry] Zito. All three of those guys became extremely productive pitchers at an early age for the A’s. 
“Whereas, Carpenter didn’t become productive until he got [to St. Louis]. Escobar, so-so. And Halladay wound up getting sent back to A-ball to restructure himself. You look at that particular example, and that says a lot for [Peterson].”
Peterson’s passion, Macha said, is his best trait. 
“I think the best coaches are the guys who can break down the basic movements into such small parts,” Macha said. “Whether it’s teaching a ground ball or the hitting stroke or whatever, you simplify it for these players so they’re looking to improve their small parts.”
Here’s how Friday’s schedule was to work:The pitchers warmed up in the bullpen, then went into the lab to throw at full-effort for their motion analysis. Then they headed out to the field to face live hitters on loan from Minor League camp. The big league hitters will get a few more days of batting practice before stepping into the box for real. 
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Schafer on injury: 'It's terrible timing'

On Friday morning, Brewers outfield prospect Logan Schafer strolled into the Major League clubhouse at Maryvale Baseball Park for the first time this year and saw his name above a fully-stocked locker. It just about broke his heart. 
He was supposed to be beginning the first big league Spring Training camp of his budding career, but instead Schafer was there to see one of the team’s doctors. He strained his left groin at the tail-end of a workout in Minor League camp on Thursday afternoon and won’t be able to participate in Major League camp. 
The 23-year-old was not expected to compete for a big league job. His invitation was a reward for winning the organization’s Minor League player of the year honor in 2009. Still, it stung. 
“It’s terrible timing, you know?” Schafer said. “I’m disappointed, but it’s just a minor bump. It shouldn’t be a big deal other than I’m over here [at the Minor League complex] instead of over there, and we’re all trying to get over there.”
Brewers manager Ken Macha was particularly impressed with Schafer as a Minor League loaner last spring, so much that Schafer was invited (along with infielder Adam Heether) to accompany the team to Los Angeles for exhibition games and then to San Francisco for a workout ahead of Opening Day. Macha said he plans to invite Schafer to sit on the bench during Brewers home games this spring to he can soak up a bit of the Major League experience.
“You guys all know how I feel about him,” Macha told reporters. “Last year, he was impressive.”
Schafer hadn’t heard about the invitation yet. 
“I would love that,” he said. 
Schafer spent most of last year at Class A Brevard County, winning the Florida State League batting title with a .313 average. He also ranked second in the league with 76 runs scored and third with 31 doubles. 
He had been working out at Maryvale Baseball Park since Jan. 16 as part of the team’s winter conditioning program. While other big league campers filtered in to work out and take batting practice this week, Schafer and fellow outfield prospect Lorenzo Cain were asked to remain in Minor League camp until Friday for a more structured program. 
Those players were taking part in a simulated game on Thursday and Schafer singled. He broke for second when the next batter hit a ball down the line and felt his groin pull right away. Schafer suffered the same injury last season and missed about a week. 
This time, the estimate is that he’ll be out 2-3 weeks. Since his stint in big league camp probably would have been over by then anyway, the Brewers removed him from the camp roster. 
“It’s all about the season, really, but it would have been nice to have them take another look at me,” Schafer said. “With a little hard work, I’ll be able to get over there.”
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Injury dashes Schafer's camp hopes

Brewers outfield prospect Logan Schafer injured his groin during a workout at the team’s Minor League facility on Thursday and will not be part of Major League camp as expected, assistant general manager Gord Ash said. Schafer, who is not on the 40-man roster and was not expected to compete for a spot on the team, was extended a camp invitation as a reward for winning organizational player of the year honors in 2009. 

Schafer, 23, is expected to be sidelined 2-3 weeks, Ash said, meaning he will be healthy by about the same time he would have been cut from big league camp. Ash said that if Schafer improves sufficiently by mid-March, he could still see some action in Cactus League “A” games. 
A series of similar opportunities last spring left a positive impression on the Brewers’ coaching staff and Schafer backed it up in the 2009 regular season. He spent most of the year at Class A Brevard County, winning the Florida State League batting title with a .313 average. He also ranked second in the league with 76 runs scored and third with 31 doubles. 
Schafer’s injury means the Brewers will have 56 players in camp including eight outfielders. The full squad is scheduled for its first official workout on Saturday.
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Emptying Thursday's notebook

Some random thoughts from Thursday morning:

First baseman Prince Fielder and infielder Luis Cruz reported to camp, leaving only shortstop Alcides Escobar yet to arrive. Escobar’s flight from Venezuela was canceled on Wednesday, so he’s expect to arrive at Maryvale Baseball Park on Friday, assistant GM Gord Ash said. 
When he does arrive, manager Ken Macha intends to work him slowly into the rotation. Escobar played winter ball in Venezuela and saw much more playing time than the Brewers might have liked, hitting .393 in 45 games and 173 at-bats. 
Rehabbing reliever David Riske was scheduled to throw off a bullpen mound on Thursday, and Macha believed it was Riske’s first such workout since he reported to camp. Riske underwent Tommy John elbow surgery last June and remains a long shot to be ready for Opening Day. He threw some bullpen sessions at home in Las Vegas before reporting for Spring Training.
Something would have to go terribly wrong for the Brewers to need a backup first baseman this season, but Macha said that the job could go to outfielder Jim Edmonds, assuming Edmonds makes the roster. Edmonds, one of baseball’s best center fielders in the past two decades, has appeared at first in 51 Major League games over eight different seasons. 
“Willie [Randolph, Milwaukee’s infield coach] had him over there the other day and he was picking it pretty good,” Macha said. 
Fielder was the only player in the Majors who appeared in all of his team’s games last season. He started all 162 games and played all but four innings. Casey McGehee backed him up. 
Macha told reporters that he’s working to improve his personal relationships with players this spring. He’s always had an open door policy, but realizes that sometimes it’s best to invite a player to walk through that door. 
“Am I going to change? Well, we’re working on it,” Macha said. 
One player took advantage of the open door on Thursday. After checking out his locker in the clubhouse, Fielder went straight for the manager’s office. 
“He had a big smile on his face,” Macha said. “He’s ready.”
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Dillard buys into new delivery

Give Brewers right-hander Tim Dillard some credit: The old way wasn’t exactly working, so he’s trying something new. 

Dillard is working on a new, side-arm delivery this spring and will continue the project with another bullpen session on Friday at Maryvale Baseball Park. His last mound work was Wednesday, when Dillard worked on his full arsenal of pitches and then stayed late to chat with an army of organizational pitching coaches including Rick Peterson. 
“It’s basically the same thing; I’m just tilted over,” Dillard said. “It didn’t take them much to talk me into it.”
It’s in Dillard’s interest to try something new. He made 13 appearances for the Brewers in 2008 but only two in 2009, when he walked five batters in 4 1/3 innings and was charged with six earned runs. The Brewers removed him from the 40-man roster earlier this month after they claimed fellow righty Marco Estrada off waivers from Washington. 

Dillard had better luck as a starter in 2009 for Triple-A Nashville, going 11-7 with a 4.51 ERA. The Brewers assigned him to start so he could log more innings to work on his breaking pitches, but now it appears he’ll focus on becoming a relief specialist with his new, funky delivery. 
Peterson has had success with similar changes in the past. He worked, for example, with Mets pitchers Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano on dropping down, though Feliciano throws much lower than Dillard. Heilman’s angle is more similar to Dillard’s. 
“The whole thing was to try to get his stuff to be a little more effective,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “He didn’t throw many in the strike zone [on Wednesday] but his breaking ball had a little depth to it. I thought the quality of his breaking ball was good. Now if we can get them over the plate, it would be a lot better.”
Macha brought up Kent Tekulve as another example of a pitcher who found success after dropping his arm slot. Tekulve made the change 40 years ago in Class A ball — Peterson’s father, Harding, was the team’s farm director at the time — and was a teammate of Macha for several subsequent seasons in the Pirates’ farm system. It took Tekulve parts of seven Minor League seasons to crack the Majors, but he went on to have a long and very successful career. 
Dillard has bought into the change.
“I just haven’t stuck,” Dillard said. “They’ve seen me as a reliever, as a starter, and a few years ago I even closed some. I’ve asked before, ‘Just put me in a role and let me stay with it.’ I think that’s what they’ve done with this move. They think I can be effective this way. There’s not as many right-handers out there doing it like this.
“I’ve thrown a little bit like that and high school and college, so it’s not that big a deal for me. They didn’t have to do a lot of convincing to get me to try it. I almost like being a little ‘dirty.’ I like the bullpen. If this is the role they see me in, I think I can do it.”
It’s a work in progress. He gave catcher Angel Salome quite a workout on Wednesday, spraying pitches all over the strike zone and one that sailed over Salome’s head and struck the fence. It might be some time before he tries facing hitters. 
Dillard will be patient. He turns 27 in July, so there is still time to get back to the big leagues.
“A lot of friends were asking me over the winter what I thought was going to happen this year,” Dillard said. “I think I joked around and said something like, ‘Who knows, maybe they’ll have me try something crazy.’ Well, here I am.” 
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