Results tagged ‘ Timber Rattlers ’

Brewer Nation Interview Series: Mitch Haniger

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As you all know, I like to interview players shortly after they’re drafted in an effort to help the fan base get to know them as well and learning more about them than just the numbers from college or high school say or what’s in a scouting report. I interviewed the Brewers’ 2013 11th round draft pick Andy Hillis back in June this year, for example.

I also like to follow up with the players every now and then, and that’s what I had the pleasure of doing yesterday with 2012 1st Round draft pick Mitch Haniger.

(If you missed my original interview with Haniger in 2012, you can find a link to it here.)

In the conversation we talk about his 2013 season which was split between Class-A Wisconsin and Class-A Advanced Brevard County, his being selected as the Brewers priority exception to the 2013 edition of the Arizona Fall League, and what his off-season plans are.

Please take a listen, learn a little bit more about an up and coming outfield prospect in the Brewers system, and get to know Mitch Haniger a bit better.

Thanks again to Mitch for his time. Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @M_Hanny19

Prospect Pilgrimage Audio – Taylor, Roache, McFarland

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As you’re aware if you follow me on Twitter (@BrewerNation), I was up at the Timber Rattlers game on Saturday evening for my annual prospect pilgrimage. I want to get up there more often, but it didn’t happen last year. Hopefully I’ll be able to accomplish that goal here in 2013.

Regardless, when I have gone up I’ve been fortunate enough to get a media credential and have access for some one-on-one time with the players. Last year I chatted with three guys who I had interviewed before on the phone in Mitch Haniger, Nick Ramirez and Chad Pierce. I also got the single greatest quote out of Timber Rattlers’ manager Matt Erickson when it comes to player development vs. trying to win a game on a given night.

This year, with some talented individuals on the roster, I had to limit myself to just three players quite frankly because there is only so much time between batting practice and first pitch. I think I did alright with the choices.

Here you can listen to my interviews with Tyrone Taylor, Victor Roache and Chris McFarland.

Enjoy!

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Another Opening Day

Tonight, the full-season affiliates of the Milwaukee Brewers (and other organizations as well, but you’re here for a reason so let’s focus) begin their respective regular seasons for 2013. The Brewers have four such affiliates so let’s give you a quick rundown of each one along with some quick hit info.

Nashville Sounds – Class-AAA Affiliate

The Nashville Sounds begin their 34th season of play and their 9th season as the Brewers’ top affiliate. Last year the Sounds got off to a poor start both at the plate and on the mound, but turned it around a bit as the season advanced. They technically wound up with a second-place finish in their Pacific Coast League, American Conference, Northern Division, but only sporting a 67-77 record for the campaign and falling well short of the playoffs.

While the Sounds had just one All-Star in 2012 (current Brewers reliever Jim Henderson), plenty of the parent club’s current players have made a stop in Music City, U.S.A. on their way to The Show. One man who has already debuted in the big leagues but is hoping to eventually carve himself out a permanent spot on Milwaukee’s pitching staff is the Sounds’ 2013 Opening Day starting pitcher: Tyler Thornburg.

Thornburg had an interesting 2012 as a professional with a run of oddly timed promotions which threw off his schedule and a shift in role which threw off his routine and ultimately led to some physical problems. With what is expected to be a full season of starting games again, the Brewers are hoping Thornburg can once again show the form that resulted in an 8-1 first-half record with Huntsville compete with a selection to the Double-A All-Star Game.

Thornburg will be followed in the Sounds’ rotation by 40-man rosterees Hiram Burgos and Johnny Hellweg, Zach Kroenke as the four, with Frankie De La Cruz rounding things out.

For more on Tyler Thornburg, check out his profile in my “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” series: #63 Tyler Thornburg

Filling out the batting order are such recognizable names as Scooter Gennett, Blake Lalli, Hainley Statia, Caleb Gindl, and Southern League (AA) MVP Hunter Morris. The Sounds have a nice mix of up-and-comers along with guys on the precipice of MLB service time.

The same can be said for the bullpen which is likely to be anchored by Donovan Hand who almost won a spot in the Brewers ‘pen to begin the season.

Huntsville Stars – Class-AA Affiliate

***UPDATE: The Stars’ opener was rained out tonight. Nelson will start tomorrow.***

Starting on the bump for the Stars tonight will be Jimmy Nelson, he of the 2010 draft class (second round). Nelson began the 2012 season with the High-A Manatees and was advanced up the ladder during the summer. Combined in 2012, Nelson posted a 6-8 record with an ERA of 2.83 in 127.1 innings across 23 starts. With his success in High-A, Nelson made himself the primary candidate to move up when promotion time came around and Huntsville had an opening.

While he struggled early with Huntsville, not much should be read into it. Many baseball people concur that other than the jump from Triple-A to the bigs (of course), the step between High-A and Double-A is the biggest one that a professional player makes. That being said, a heavy ball plays so long as it can be controlled. Following a brief appearance in the Arizona Fall League where it was clear that he was worn out, Nelson enters this season with elevated expectations as he continues along his career track. The Brewers have confidence in him, he has confidence in himself, and with his ability those things ought to come together pretty well in 2013.

Brevard County Manatees – Class-A Advanced Affiliate

The Manatees of the Florida State League play their home games at Space Coast Stadium. That’s awesome. Their rallying cry is “Fear the Sea Cow”. That’s even more awesome. From a production standpoint, the FSL is notoriously brutal on hitters, but the Manatees only got mediocre production from some of their pitching last year. That was en route to a 63-72 record. Looking to start the turn around on the right foot will be Opening Day starter and 2011 1st round draft pick, southpaw Jed Bradley.

Bradley had a rough go of things in 2012 after starting off well initially. More on his 2012 season can be found in his BBt(J)N profile here: #77 Jed Bradley. If the Georgia Tech product can remain injury/issue free in 2013, he’ll hopefully be able to flash more of the ability which led to his selection as the 15th overall choice 22 months ago.

Joining Bradley (who spent all of 2012 with Brevard County) will be a bevvy of graduates from Matt Erickson’s prep school in Appleton, Wisconsin. All they did together was win their league championship last year. Hopefully the magic sticks with the players as they spend some time in south Florida to begin the season.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers – Class-A Affiliate

The 2012 Midwest League Champion Timber Rattlers will begin their title defense with a series in Peoria, Illinois before coming home for an April 8th tilt which features a bobblehead giveaway with the likeness of manager Matt Erickson holding the MWL Championship trophy. It’s sharp.

Off the field, the local owners of the facility pumped a bunch of money in and many structural improvements were made to the structure around the field. The press box was expanded, the broadcast booths were segregated and moved; it was a nice facility before, but now it’s even better.

On the mound, 2012 draft choice (4th round) Tyler Wagner gets the starting nod. It sounds like Erickson will once again be employing the “piggyback” technique where another starting pitcher knows he will be pitching for sure on a given day despite not starting in the first inning. To that end, Mike Strong will follow Wagner on the bump.

As for at the plate, the Timber Rattlers begin the year featuring a treasure trove of prospects. Most top choices from the 2012 draft (Clint Coulter, Mitch Haniger, Tyrone Taylor, etc) will be there right away. They’ll be joined by prospect darling Orlando Arcia with slugger Victor Roache expected to be not far behind as he gets a little time in extended spring training in Arizona.

There are many more names in the system that I could call out, but on this Opening Day I just wanted to highlight a few including the focus on the Opening Day starting pitchers for each affiliate.

While the Brewers system is widely panned by the experts — I think the highest rank I saw out of 30 was 23rd best — there are some pieces to be excited about. Follow along if you choose to, but rest assured that help is developing throughout the minor league affiliates which begin play tonight. After all, there is no substitute for game action in baseball.

Good luck to the Sounds, Stars, Manatees, and defending champion Timber Rattlers! Maybe the Brewers will have some more rings to give out before the 2014 season.

Brewers Protect Five From Rule V Draft

The Brewers announced this morning that they have added five players to their 40-man roster ahead of tonight’s midnight EST deadline for protecting players from the upcoming Rule V Draft.

The players protected are:

  • RHP Nick Bucci
  • RHP Hiram Burgos
  • OF Khris Davis
  • INF Scooter Gennett
  • OF Josh Prince

Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash was contacted for some quotes* about the players added today and said the following about how they arrived at these five names.

“They’ve all excelled at various times over the course of the season at different levels. Probably even more important than that are the tools and ability they possess. We want to manage and protect our assets. We didn’t want to lose any of the five.”

“We had some other guys we liked as well,” said Ash. “We did our due diligence. We started with a list of nine or 10 names and whittled them down. There are surprises (in the Rule 5) every year. You can’t protect everybody.”

Nick Bucci

Bucci is 21 years old and coming off of a very good 2012 season split between the Low- and High-A levels of the Brewers farm system. He posted combined numbers of a 1.90 ERA, 1.102 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 in 42.2 innings over 10 starts. He missed time to begin the season coming off of an injury. His season debut was July 18th with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Bucci finished his year with a stint in the Arizona Fall League. Not only are the Brewers high on him, but after missing the amount of time he did, it was a way to help him get more innings before shutting it back down for the winter.

“I wouldn’t put much emphasis at the level he pitched at. That was mostly a rehab assignment,” said Ash. “He’s young and has a good arm, and a team could keep him as the 13th pitcher on the staff (if taken in the Rule 5 draft). For $50,000 (the draft price), you can’t replace that kind of arm. It might be a longer road for him but we like his upside.”

Hiram Burgos

Burgos, 25, rocketed through the system in 2012. He began the year with the High-A Brevard County Manatees, made a stop in Double-A with the Huntsville Stars, and finished as a Nashville Sound in Triple-A. There was even talk that he was being kept at the ready in late September should the Brewers have needed an extra arm later in their season. Quite the year. That is evidenced in his numbers which ended up at a 1.95 ERA (2.91 in AAA), 1.035 WHIP (only 128 hits), over 171.0 innings pitched in 28 games (27 starts).

“Everyone wants to put labels on him and he is a Shaun Marcum type,” said Ash. “He has great command and without overpowering stuff he still has a knack for missing bats. It’s hard to explain. He has command of the strike zone and a real knack for getting out of trouble as well. Those are some of the intangibles you look for in a pitcher.”

Khris Davis

Davis is a 6’0″, 195 lb outfielder who both bats and throws right-handed, turns 25 next month. Davis began his season with Huntsville before an injury and subsequent rehab assignment cost him some time. He came back to Hunstville in early July and was promoted to Triple-A on July 30th where he played out the remainder of the season. Davis played a total of 82 games in the regular season posting a combined line of .350/.451/.604 which includes a .310/.414/.522 line at Triple-A in 32 games. Davis was also assigned to the Arizona Fall League in order to get more at-bats but he didn’t fare as well in the desert the second time around. Still, he does appear to have a bat which could play at the MLB level one day.

“He’s a tremendous offensive player,” said Ash. “He’s a bit streaky but when he’s hot, he’s real hot. I saw him hit the longest home run I saw all year at Nashville. It went over the batter’s eye in center field. The ability is there and in the American League it’s easy to carry an extra hitter (as a Rule 5 pick). His bat is close to being big-league ready. We didn’t want to lose him.”

Scooter Gennett

Gennett’s addition to the 40-man roster was probably the easiest to guess (outside of Burgos because Melvin told us so in an interview awhile ago) because despite his small stature (5’9″, 164 lbs) his profile has been an elevated one. All he’s done is hit since signing with the Brewers after being drafted in the 16th round of the 2009 draft. Over .300 at both Low-A and High-A, Gennett continued his progression with a full season in Double-A which saw his average dip to .293 but he basically maintained his OBP including an increase to his walk rate. He is still learning second base defensively after being drafted as a shortstop, but those issues are getting farther away in his rear view with each inning. His errors decreased, his fielding percentage has gone up every season (I know…I know), and his Range Factor per Game has also increased every season.

Josh Prince

The final player who was added today (alphabetically, not necessarily reflective of ability) was tapped due to his incredible “season” in the Arizona Fall League. Josh Prince was just converting from infield to outfield defensively and after a pedestrian season at Double-A Huntsville (.251/.346/.360) the Brewers probably thought that they might be able to avoid protecting him for one more year. Then when Mat Gamel’s exemption request to play in the AFL was denied, the Brewers sent Prince instead and he absolutely rose to the occasion. Now, AFL offensive stats are often inflated but Prince even rose to the top of the inflation. He hit a team-best .404 which was good for second-highest overall in league. His OBP was .491 so he was still drawing some walks (a team-best 15, 5th-best in the AFL) and his slugging finished at .573 which gave him an OPS over 1.000 at 1.064.

“That (AFL) performance certainly put him over the top,” said Ash. “That kind of performance in that setting is something everyone notices. He was the talk of the league, and every scout from every team passes through there at some point. It’s hard to minimize that kind of performance. He solidified his place in the organization.”

With these additions, the Brewers 40-man roster currently sits at 39.

*Appreciation and credit to Tom Haudricourt at the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel for the quotes about the players from Brewers assistant general manger Gord Ash.

Timber Rattlers Report – Friday, June 29, 2012

Outside of a terrible third inning which saw the best-fielding infield in the Midwest League post four errors and allow four earned runs (six total in the frame), the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers played a pretty good game Friday evening.

It was a departure of sorts from my usual coverage of the Milwaukee Brewers, but the opportunity arose to actually report on the game up in Appleton, WI Friday night between the Timber Rattlers (Class-A affiliate of the Brewers) and the Peoria Chiefs (Class-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs).

The final score ended up at 8-7 in the home team’s favor, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

A run in the first inning and a five-run fourth negated a third inning outburst from the Chiefs.

Timber Rattlers’ starting pitcher David Goforth battled through that third inning which saw the entire infield struggle to record outs (his own throwing error costing him some runs). Manager Matt Erickson, after the game, said that “the third inning was uncharacteristic of our game” and that “all six of the guys in the infield…all had a mental or physical error in that one inning and when you do that obviously you’re going to give up a big inning.”

Ironically, in talking to the previous game’s starting pitcher and friend of the podcast Chad Pierce before Friday’s game, Pierce lauded the play of what he rightfully called the infield “by far the best in the Midwest (League)”.  To their credit, SS Yadiel Rivera and 2B Carlos George each had plays where they ranged far up the middle and converted hits into outs.

Before the game among other questions I asked first baseman Nick Ramirez, another friend of the podcast, about the infield play and how the quality of the field helps them make plays.

“This is one of the better fields I’ve played on in my professional career. We drag it every three innings and no one really knows how much that takes effect on your mentality. (Having a) fresh drag (means) I’m not going to get a bad hop. They take of this field, they keep it looking nice, and it’s really level.”

In my conversation with Chad Pierce he also had high praise for the Rattlers’ outfield which saw a tremendous diving play from Ben McMahan in LF late in the game Friday night to save a couple of runs for relief pitcher Stephen Peterson.

I asked Friday night’s starting center fielder, and yes…friend of the podcast, Mitch Haniger about the play of himself and his fellow outfielders. Haniger said that the right-center gap (405 feet to the wall) is always in the back of his mind and that the wind changes from day to day but that having speedy outfielders in all three spots really helps.

“All five of the outfielders on this team are real fast. I didn’t think that I was going to get to a ball last night in the gap and I just hear Lance (Roenicke) saying ‘I got it. I got it.’ and just pulled up right next to him and back him up. So it’s been great having guys by your side that if you can’t get to balls, they’re going to be there.”

Goforth pitched well otherwise including a six-pitch fourth inning which no doubt helped his offense out by limiting Chiefs starter Michael Jensen’s downtime between frames. Erickson praised Goforth after the game for his ability to bear down and get through three additional frames after the long third.

The Timber Rattlers got back in the box quickly and struck hard in their half of the fourth resulting in a 28-pitch fourth for Jensen where he let the Rattlers right back into the game by surrendering a pair of two-run home runs and another run. That tied the game up at six after four innings.

The game remained tied until the seventh though a lead-off triple in the sixth inning by Cubs uber-prospect Javier Baez looked to put the Chiefs back on top first. Goforth pitched around it however and completed six full innings in front of a short bullpen on this night.

Goforth’s final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R (2 ER), 0 BB, 4 K, 99 pitches (70 strikes)

Stephen Peterson took over in the 7th and walked a pair of batters around two outs. The lead runner stole third and then scored on a wild pitch from Peterson, before the reliever got out of the jam. That run would not prove the game-winner, however, as the Rattlers had yet another rally in them.

Peterson pitched a scoreless 8th inning, thanks in large part to that aforementioned tremendous diving catch in left field by McMahan. 1B Nick Ramirez then tied the game back up in the bottom half of the frame with a mammoth home run just fair inside the RF foul pole and “exactly” 398 feet away from home plate. That came off of Chiefs reliever Yao-Lin Wang who started the eighth inning for Peoria.

Current closer Tommy Toledo entered for the 9th and kept the Chiefs off the board. But Wang countered with a scoreless bottom half to send it to extra innings.

Following a second perfect frame in the 10th inning from Toledo, the Chiefs called upon Luis Liria to handle Greg Hopkins, eighth-inning hero Ramirez, and McMahan, he of the earlier two-run home run back in the big 4th inning.

Hopkins led off the frame with a single back through the box. Ramirez  struck out after Hopkins advanced to second on a wild pitch. They intentionally walked McMahan to pitch to SS Yadiel Rivera who worked a walk to load the bases after being down in the count 1-2.

Up stepped Rafael Neda who earlier in that same big fourth inning had hit the first home run of his professional career. Neda was nearly hit by a pitch early in the at-bat, but ended up singling through the left side of a partly drawn in infield for the game winner!

After the game, Neda said that not only getting his first home run but also being able to walk-off in extra innings was the biggest moment of his career to this point other than his first professional hit but it wouldn’t have been possible without the earlier rally. I asked Neda to describe how it happened and he said that “One hit started leading to another one. We just wanted to help our pitcher because there were four errors in the inning. As a catcher I wanted to help him a little more and we luckily came back in that inning.”

So despite the one rough inning, the Timber Rattlers played a very solid game all around. Most importantly, the win brought the team back to even on the second half of the year at 4-4. It was the fourth consecutive Win for the T-Rats.

This of course comes after a first-half which saw Wisconsin finish with the best record in their division. This assures them of a playoff spot but several key pieces to the success in the first half were promoted up the organizational ladder.

Therein lies the dynamic of managing at the Minor League level. I asked Erickson about that dichotomy of not only wanting to win but needing to get his players better and to move them along. His answer was perfect.

Said Erickson, “It’s player development until the first pitch of the game. Then we’re trying to beat somebody’s ass.”

Friday night, that ass belonged to Michael Jensen and the rest of his Peoria Chiefs teammates.

Your Brewer Nation Timber Rattler of the game was Rafael Neda. 2-for-5, 1 R, 3 RBI, including his first professional home run and the walk-off single in the 10th inning.

(FULL AUDIO OF OUR INTERVIEWS FROM FRIDAY NIGHT WILL BE MADE AVAILABLE SOON FOR DOWNLOAD. I WILL UPDATE THIS SPACE WHEN THAT HAPPENS.)

Until then, here are the highlights from last night’s 8-7 Timber Rattlers victory:

Mitch Haniger Interview – Recorded: June 15, 2012

I had the pleasure of being joined on the phone earlier tonight by recently inked 2012 First-Year Player Draft Pick, and the 38th player taken overall this year: Mitch Haniger.

Haniger is an outfielder who played collegiately at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.*sharp inhale*

We discuss why Haniger didn’t sign after being drafted out of high school by the Mets, what led him to Cal Poly, his experiences playing in a wood bat league last summer in Wisconsin, where he’ll be playing the rest of this summer, and a multitude of other things.

Download the file and give it a listen. Then, if you’re on Twitter, be sure to give Mitch a follow and a congratulatory tweet on his account: @M_Hanny19

Click Here to hear Big Rygg interview Mitch Haniger.

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