September 2013

Still a chance Nelson gets a start

The Brewers are still mulling a start for right-hander and top pitching prospect Jimmy Nelson before the end of the season, though manager Ron Roenicke declined to say Monday when or where Nelson might fit.

The Brewers are already using a six-man rotation while finishing the regular season with 20 games in 20 days and have their starters set for the current series against the Cubs. The Cardinals come to Miller Park next, and it’s unlikely the Brewers would throw Nelson against the National League’s top offense in a series with implications for the National League Central race.

So Nelson would probably fit somewhere during the season’s final road trip against the Braves, who have the National League East locked up, or against the Mets, who are not in the postseason picture.

Since a call-up on Sept. 3, Nelson has made a pair of appearances out of the Brewers bullpen. He pitched two perfect innings at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Sept. 6 in his Major League debut, then struck out two batters in another perfect inning against the Reds on Saturday at Miller Park.

“He’s an aggressive guy, and that makes a difference,” Roenicke said. “Maybe he’ll be wild, I don’t know. But he’s going to come at you and he’s going to give you his best stuff. Those are the kind of guys you want to see, so if we can get him in there, we want to see him.”

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Brewers fall instructional league underway

Add the fall instructional league to Brewers prospect Jason Rogers’ busy schedule.

Rogers and top 2013 Draft picks Devin Williams and Tucker Neuhaus highlight the list of players reporting Sunday to Maryvale Baseball Park for an instructional program that gets underway Monday morning. Rogers, who manned first base at Double-A Huntsville this season, will work a bit at third base before primarily playing left field in the Arizona Fall League as the Brewers increase his versatility for 2014.

Fifty-three players in all are listed on the Brewers’ instructional league roster — 42 on the regular roster and 11 more on an advanced roster. They include 20 of the team’s 2013 First Year Player Draft picks, and eight players from MLB.com’s list of the top 20 Brewers prospects: outfielder Tyrone Taylor (No. 4), shortstop Orlando Arcia (No. 6), outfielder Victor Roache (No. 8), right-hander Williams (No. 9), catcher Clint Coulter (No. 11), infielder Neuhaus (No. 13), and right-handers Drew Gagnon (No. 15) and Damien Magnifico (No. 19).

Also participating are shortstop Franly Mallen and outfielder Nicolas Pierre, who received record-setting bonuses in the Dominican Republic in July.

“It’s mostly young guys,” assistant general manager Gord Ash said. “The instructional league has changed over the years. Twenty-five years ago, it would have been primarily Triple-A and Double-A guys just finishing off something, whether it was another pitch or learning to switch-hit, base stealing.

“I would say certainly in the last decade it’s been more about extension of rookie ball. So the concept in Arizona and Helena [the Brewers’ two rookie-level affiliates] is you come in, you get oriented to the world of professional baseball, playing every day, working out every day, traveling, but we don’t do a lot of mechanical work with you. You do all of that in the instructional league.”

That’s not to say there is no instruction in rookie ball, Ash said. If a pitcher’s mechanics are viewed as a threat to his health, it is addressed.

But many of the fundamentals are saved for the fall.

“You’re not putting in their mind interfering with their results,” Ash said. “In instructional league, results aren’t as important, so they are more open to adjustments.”

“When I was managing rookie ball, that’s what they did, too,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “The drafted guys, you don’t change. If they come to you and ask you, ‘Hey, I need some help,’ OK. I think it’s great, because a lot of times a scout will draft a guy for a certain reason, and he gets to rookie ball and you’ve got a coach who just wants to change everybody; maybe he wants to clone everybody, which doesn’t work. All of a sudden, this guy is a mess, and the scout says, ‘What happened?’”

Ash was not aware of any major positional changes in store for any of the Brewers’ participants. Coulter, the team’s top pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, will continue to catch.

“He’s struggling,” Ash said. “He had a knee injury, and he has struggled with it. I think it’s also that he’s getting frustrated that [catching] is a little bit more difficult than he thought it would be. I’m sure this fall will answer that. We would like him to stick with it. It’s too early to give up yet.”

Nestor Corredor and Matt Erickson will each manage a team over a schedule that begins Wednesday and runs through Oct. 12.

More details:

2013 BREWERS FALL INSTRUCTIONAL LEAGUE

Pitchers
67 Alexander, Tyler LHP 2013 draft – 27th rd
63 Astin, Barrett RHP 2013 draft – 3rd rd
22 Banda, Anthony LHP 2012 draft – 30th rd
59 Barnes, Jacob RHP 2011 draft – 14th rd
54 Diaz, Miguel RHP Signed December 2011
53 Ghelfi, Drew RHP  2013 draft – 25th rd
66 Hillis, Andrew RHP 2013 draft – 11th rd
57 Martin, Harvey RHP Signed June 2013
47 Ortega, Jorge RHP Signed April 2011
38 Peterson, Stephen LHP Signed June 2011
78 Razo, Chris RHP 2013 draft – 24th rd
79 Seidenberger, Trevor RHP 2013 draft – 12th rd
30 Terry, Clint LHP 2013 draft – 18th rd
31 Uhen, Joshua RHP 2013 draft – 5th rd
32 Ventura, Angel RHP Signed March 2011
77 Viramontes, Martin RHP 2012 draft – 28th rd
56 Williams, Devin RHP 2013 draft – 2nd rd
48 Williams, Taylor RHP 2013 draft – 4th rd

Catchers
14 Berberet, Parker  2012 draft – 25th rd
23 Cleary, Jack  2013 draft – 39th rd
15 Coulter, Clint 2012 draft – 1st rd
16 Houle, Dustin 2011 draft – 8th rd
13 Norton, Tanner 2013 draft – 13th rd

Infielders
6 Arcia, Orlando Signed October 2010
17 Brennan, Taylor 2012 draft – 37th rd
3 Castillo, Francisco Signed September 2010
18 Chal, Roosevert Signed June 2013
7 Cooper, Garrett 2013 draft – 6th rd
8 Denson, David  2013 draft – 15th rd
12 Garza, Mike  2012 draft – 20th rd
40 Harris, Jalen  2011 draft – 41st rd
10 Mallen, Franly Signed July 2013
2 Neuhaus, Tucker 2013 draft – Comp B rd
9 Ortega, Angel  2012 draft – 6th rd
Rogers, Jason 2010 draft – 32nd rd

Outfielders
1 Davis, Johnny 2013 draft – 22nd rd
11 Diaz, Brandon  2013 draft – 8th rd
36 Garcia, Omar 2013 draft – 7th rd
39 Pierre, Nicolas Signed July 2013
33 Ratterree, Michael 2013 draft – 10th rd
28 Roache, Victor 2012 draft – 1st rd
35 Williams, Eric 2013 draft – 23rd rd

Advanced Roster

Pitchers
51 Gagnon, Drew RHP 2011 draft – 3rd rd
52 Magnifico, Damien RHP 2012 draft – 5th rd
58 Medlen, Casey RHP 2011 draft – 37th rd
64 Miller, Matt RHP 2010 draft – 5th rd
41 Williams, Alan LHP Signed June 2010

Catchers
21 Garfield, Cameron 2009 draft – 2nd rd
26 Roberts, Tyler  2009 draft – 10th rd

Infielders
76 Ramirez, Nick 2011 draft – 4th rd

Outfielders
25 Reed, Michael 2011 draft – 5th rd
20 Richardson, D’Vontrey 2009 draft – 5th rd
37 Taylor, Tyrone 2012 draft – 2nd rd

Staff

Field Coordinator & Catching Instructor: Charlie Greene
Hitting Coordinator: Sandy Guerrero
OF/Baserunning Instructor: Reggie Williams
Infield Instructor: Bob Miscik
Pitching Coordinator: Rick Tomlin
Managers: Nestor Corredor, Matt Erickson
Coaches: Chuckie Caufield, Ned Yost IV
Pitching Coaches: Mark Dewey, Jose Nunez, Fred Dabney
Physical Therapist: Kevin Truitt
S/C Coordinator: Jeff Mester
S/C Specialists: Jake Marx, Tim Gifford
Athletic Trainer Coordinator: Frank Neville
Athletic Trainers: Adrian Ramon, Greg Barajas
Clubhouse: Matt Bass, Juan Garibay
Latin Liaison: Rolando Valles

2013 SCHEDULE

Player Report Date: Sunday, September 15
First Workout: Monday, September 16

Wed September 18 MIL at TEX
Thu September 19 ARI at MIL
Fri September 20 MIL at SK Wyverns
Sat September 21 OAK @ MIL
Mon September 23 LAA @ MIL
Tue September 24 SK Wyverns at MIL
Wed September 25 CAMP
Thu September 26 MIL at LAA
Fri September 27 MIL at CHC
Sat September 28 SF at MIL
Mon September 30 Mexico at MIL
Tue October 1 COL at MIL
Wed October 2 CAMP
Thu October 3 MIL at OAK
Fri October 4 ARI at MIL
Sat October 5 NC Dinos at MIL
Mon October 7 MIL at SF
Tue October 8 Mexico at MIL
Wed October 9 CAMP
Thu October 10 OAK at MIL
Fri October 11 MIL at LAA
Sat October 12 CIN at MIL

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Francisco mulling adjustments in winter ball

The Brewers are recommending winter ball for Juan Francisco as an opportunity implement some changes at the plate and continue working defensively at first base, a position he manned this season for the first time in the Major Leagues.

Francisco plays for Licey in the Dominican Winter League. The idea is for him to play first and third base.

“We talked about it a couple of weeks ago and he asked me again a couple of days ago. I think he needs to go play,” manager Ron Roenicke said.

Brewers hitting coach Johnny Narron has some adjustments in mind for Francisco, whose playing time has diminished lately as he entered Sunday in a 7-for-51, 27-strikeout slump. The Brewers are intrigued by Francisco’s power (18 home runs in his first 285 at-bats this season for the Braves and Brewers) and still consider Francisco one of the options to man first base next season.

“It’s very difficult to ask a guy who comes over to you in a season to say, ‘Hey, this is what you need to do,’” Roenicke said. “Because he is trying to make an impression on us, he wants, obviously, a job with us next year, a starting job if it can me. And to make him change and all of a sudden he doesn’t perform well and then you don’t keep him, that gets a little difficult.”

Compounding that difficulty is the fact Francisco will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and will be paid based on his statistics relative to peers.

“If it’s your guys that you’ve had, and you know that you’re bringing them back next year, they know that you’re bringing them back, it’s different,” Roenicke said. “You can ask a guy to do some things. That’s the thing we’ve been caught with this year, is what’s fair to him? Is it fair to have him change, and if he doesn’t succeed, then we don’t bring him back? I don’t know, I’ve always had trouble with that.”

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Roenicke: Yuni starts for his defense

Yuniesky Betancourt’s .236 on-base percentage was the lowest in the Major Leagues entering Saturday for hitters with at least 300 plate appearances, and his -1.8 WAR (via Baseball-Reference.com’s measure) was third-worst. Ron Roenicke explained the decision to start Betancourt at first base like this:

“[Johnny] Hellweg pitching has a lot to do with it,” Roenicke said, referring to the Brewers rookie with a knack for inducing ground balls. “I want our best defense out there. Yuni is in there some because [Ramirez] isn’t in there, so we have to cover both spots. And you know, he’s played really good defense all year, and lately he’s been swinging the bat well again. He was so good early, then we had that long stretch when he didn’t do much, and now he’s swinging the bat pretty good, I think. …

“He’s in like 125 games or something. When we signed him, we didn’t think he’d be in 125 games. He’s done a nice job for us for us for what we needed. I think the defense is important. I talk about it all the time, the value that players have is not just offensively. For those numbers, you subtract or you add because of his defense and what they mean to a team. For Yuni, you add to his offense. With some other guys, you subtract, and with some guys, you subtract a lot.”

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Scouting report on Jose De La Torre

The Brewers added to their stable to relief options for 2014 and beyond when they claimed right-hander Jose De La Torre off waivers from the Red Sox on Friday.

De La Torre, 28 next month, made his Major League debut with Boston in May and June, pitching to a 6.35 ERA in seven low-leverage appearances, with 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 11 1/3 innings. He is 12-5 with a 2.58 ERA in 104 appearances at the Triple-A level for the Mets, Indians and Red Sox over parts of the past four years.

“Three pitches [fastball, slider, change-up], at times every pitch above average. Ability to throw multiple innings,” Brewers pro scouting director Zack Minasian said. “He’s not a very big guy [5-foot-10], but a pretty good competitor. He’s had a lot of success in the Minor Leagues, and it’s just a matter of getting a chance in the big leagues.”

Two Brewers scouts recommended De La Torre: Special assistant Dick Groch, who saw De La Torre pitch in the Majors for Boston, and pro scout Tom Mooney, who saw him more recently in the Minors.

“We were fortunate to see him late, and we saw him pretty good,” Minasian said. “It was good that they both recommended him separately, and we had our analytics people look at him, and they had good stuff on him, too.”

The Red Sox had designated De La Torre for assignment to make room for pitcher Clay Buchholz’s return from the 60-day disabled list. To make room on their own full 40-man roster, the Brewers shifted injured second baseman Rickie Weeks to the 60-day DL.

The Brewers were required either to bring De La Torre to the big leagues or option him to the Minor Leagues, so he was optioned to rookie level Helena, Milwaukee’s only active affiliate. But he will not report to that team, which begins the Pioneer League Championship Series against Idaho Falls on Saturday night.

De La Torre will have two Minor League options remaining when he reports to Brewers big league camp in the spring. It is his second stint with Milwaukee; the organization originally signed him a free agent out of Puerto Rico in January 2004, but released him that April.

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Roenicke will continue juggling first basemen

Juan Francisco has seven hits and 27 strikeouts in his last 51 at-bats, and Yuniesky Betancourt is batting .182 since in his last 94 games.

So manager Ron Roenicke was asked Thursday a question many of you have wondered — why not simply play Sean Halton the rest of the way?

“It’s not just myself and the staff, it’s the people upstairs that we need to see something from Francisco,” Roenicke said. “Was the 12 or 13 home runs he hit, is this something that he has a chance to be more consistent at? If he does, you’re talking about a first baseman who has a chance to hit 30-plus homers. That’s what we need to find out for sure – is this just a little slump that he is in, or is this the kind of stuff we’re going to see from him.”

Roenicke said he would continue to pick a first baseman based on the matchups, indicating that all three players would see time at first base.

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Progress and uncertainty for Hart

Brewers officials said Thursday that Corey Hart is recovering well from his latest knee surgery and is expected to visit Miller Park next week during the season’s final homestand.

Will it be his final visit as a Brewer? That remains to be seen.

“We haven’t even begun to consider it yet,” assistant general manager Gord Ash said. “As we all know, there’s plenty of time.”

Hart, a free agent at the end of this season, will miss the entire year after undergoing surgery on his right knee in January and his left knee in July. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke spoke with Hart this week and said his spirits are high, and, considering Hart’s positive progress so far, Brewers head athletic trainer Dan Wright confirmed that Hart should be baseball-ready in time for 2014 Spring Training.

“Back two weeks post-surgery for the left knee, he said, ‘The right knee feels to the point where I could play on it right now,’” Wright said. “Since we had to take time to do the left knee surgery, we’ve throttled back on some of the other things, just because you can’t do the full activity. I can tell you he is progressing very well.”

“He is repaired,” Ash said. “[Will he be] 100 percent? We hope so.”

First base has been the Brewers’ most tumultuous position all year, with Hart, Mat Gamel (ACL surgery) and Taylor Green (hip surgery) all lost before Opening Day. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez started there on Opening Day but was released in early June when the Brewers acquired power-hitting Juan Francisco, who has been at best too strikeout-prone and at worst a bust. Prospect Hunter Morris will be added to the 40-man roster this winter, did not distinguish himself enough at Triple-A Nashville to warrant a September call-up.

All of those issues could create an opening for the return of Hart, the Brewers’ longest-tenured player who was drafted as a first baseman in 2000, played most of his Milwaukee tenure as a right fielder but moved back to first base after Gamel was injured in 2012 and hit 30 home runs.

The Brewers are very unlikely to extend Hart a qualifying offer, because he would accept and earn upwards of $14 million in 2014. Instead, if the club is convinced of Hart’s health, the sides could discuss an incentive-laden deal with a smaller guarantee.

Asked about the need to figure out first base, Ash said, “That is, I think, obvious.”

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Axford embracing the ‘Cardinal Way’

The color of his uniform was not the only change, but John Axford either could not put his finger on the difference between playing for the Brewers and playing for the Cardinals, or he didn’t want to say.

“It has been different, but it’s definitely good,” Axford said Tuesday afternoon, before his old team met his new one at Busch Stadium. “I think I like that, also, that you get a different change of scenery and get to experience things a little differently, when things are done a little bit differently. That’s all part of the experience, I guess.”

Asked to expound on how the Cardinals do things differently, Axford said, “I don’t know. There are some things you can just feel, and some things you can just tell. The way things are in the clubhouse, I guess it’s just an all-encompassing thing of sorts. You can just tell the way things are and the way things are different here compared to the Brewers.”

Axford has surrendered two earned runs in five appearances since the Aug. 30 trade that sent him from the Brewers to the Cardinals for another right-handed reliever, Michael Blazek.

Axford knew he was a candidate to be non-tendered by the Brewers after the season. With that in mind, was he a good candidate for a change of scenery?

“I might have been,” Axford said. “It seemed like Milwaukee was coming to an end for me, and it was time to carry on and go somewhere else and start new once again. Milwaukee gave me a huge opportunity, the Brewers gave me a huge opportunity, and I took advantage of it the best I could, and did a great job the best I could for as long as I could. I guess, over the last couple of seasons, things haven’t worked out quite as well, and maybe what’s needed as another change.”

He has had an interesting couple of weeks with the Cardinals. Axford missed his first game with the Cardinals because of travel issues at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, including weather and a fire on the runway, and he was ejected in his fourth outing after hitting the Pirates’ Tony Sanchez with a high and tight fastball. Both teams had been warned by the home plate umpire earlier in the game.

Axford, who said he’d never been ejected at any level, is still awaiting word from Major League Baseball about whether he will be fined.

“I’m sure if I just brushed a jersey or got someone on the thigh, it would have been no big deal,” Axford said. “But because it was 96 [mph] and the shoulder, it’s a little different story.”

His new team enters its series against the Brewers on a hot streak. The Cardinals swept the second-place Pirates over the weekend and entered play Tuesday with a one-game lead in the National League Central.

“It was huge,” Axford said. “A lot of fun, a lot of energy here. The team is excited. You can get a sense of that just being in the clubhouse — you don’t even have to talk a lot or discuss it, you can just feel it. That’s a great thing to have around you right now. It’s fantastic.”

The biggest adjustment has been that uniform color. Besides his stint with Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, Axford had mostly worn blue, beginning with his days at Notre Dame.

“Even back in college, everything was navy blue,” Axford said. “But it’s been good. It’s a good transition so far.”

Of facing the Brewers, he said, “I am definitely looking forward to getting in there. It will be fun. I’m sure it will be odd from both sides, so we’ll see how it goes.”

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Hellweg, Rogers win Minors honors

The awards continued to pile up Friday for right-hander Johnny Hellweg, who was named the Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year a day before rejoining the Major League rotation for a start against the Cubs.

Hellweg, who last week was named the Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s player of the year, was honored alongside Brewers Minor League Player of the Year Jason Rogers, a first baseman who is less well-known to the many of the organization’s fans.

Each of the awards is named for Robin Yount, and will be presented to Hellweg and Rogers in a pregame ceremony at Miller Park later this month.

The Brewers have been handing out the awards since 1999, and they are a strong predictor of a promotion to the Major Leagues. The only player of the year who has not made it to the Majors is Hunter Morris, who just won last year. The only pitcher of the year who did not make it was 2009 winner Amaury Rivas.

“We congratulate Johnny and Jason on their great seasons and well-deserved recognition,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said in a statement. “In his first season at the Triple-A level, Johnny showed why he was chosen as the top pitcher in the Pacific Coast League and we’re excited to see him contribute at the Major League level. Jason had a great finish to the season in the Southern League as the league’s top run producer while playing nearly every game this season. This is also a reflection of our player development and scouting staffs as they work hard to provide young players the opportunity to play in Milwaukee.”

Hellweg, 6-foot-9 and 24 years old, was 12-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 23 starts at Triple-A Nashville, where he was named the PCL’s top pitcher He led the league in winning percentage (.706) and opponents’ batting average (.228) and was among the leaders in ERA (second) and wins (tied for second). Hellweg struggled mightily in his first Major League stint in Milwaukee but won 11 of his last 12 decisions with Nashville, including a stretch in which he went 9-0 with a 1.16 ERA over 10 starts from May 16-July 30.

Hellweg has owned a high profile in the Brewers’ system since last July, when he was traded from the Angels to the Brewers with shortstop Jean Segura and pitcher Ariel Pena for right-hander Zack Greinke.

Rogers, 25, played the entire season at Double-A Huntsville and enjoyed a breakthrough summer, batting .270 with 22 home runs and 87 RBIs in 133 games. He led the Southern League in RBIs and ranked among the leaders in home runs (tied for second), total bases (third, 225) and extra-base hits (tied for fourth, 49).

A 32nd round Draft pick of the Brewers in 2010 from Columbus State University, Rogers earned the organization’s Player of the Month honors in July (.338, seven homers, 20 RBIs) and August (.333, fiuve homers, 15 RBIs).

Rogers will represent the Brewers in the upcoming Arizona Fall League.

This marks the second straight season that a Huntsville first baseman was named Brewers Player of the Year. Hunter Morris took the honor in 2012.

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Brewers, Cards complete Axford trade

Two days after sending John Axford to the Cardinals, the Brewers completed the teams’ trade Sunday by acquiring 24-year-old reliever Michael Blazek, who will join the big league team before Monday’s game against the Pirates.

The trade turned into a swap of right-handers with high strikeout rates and occasional command concerns. Blazek, who converted from a starting role to relief in 2012, issued 10 walks with 10 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings with the Cardinals this season, his first stint in the Major Leagues, but was excellent in the Minors, pitching to a 1.97 ERA in 36 appearances between St. Louis’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.

He struck out 52 batters versus 26 walks in 45 2/3 innings in the Minors, his best strikeout rate (10.2 per nine innings) since 2007 in rookie ball.

“We had good reports and [pro scout] Leon Wurth recently saw him and liked his arm,” Melvin said. “He’ll be here tomorrow and we’ll see if we can get him in some games in September.”

Blazek’s fastball averaged 92-95 in his outings with the Cardinals, according to the website FanGraphs.com.

Asked what sort of role he profiled for, Melvin said, “I don’t think we know enough about him. We have a lot of pitchers we’d like to see [this month], but he’ll get in some games.”

The Cardinals drafted Blazek (pronounced BLAY-zek) out of high school in the 35th round in 2007. He was added to the Cards’ 40-man roster last year, attended his first Major League Spring Training camp, and has two options remaining. He will wear uniform No. 54 with the Brewers.

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