Jim Powell participated in a Brewerfan Q&A Session on April 02
Brian Kapellusch asks: Do you think Doug Melvin will keep Enrique Cruz and Matt Ford on the 25-man roster this year, no matter what their level of performance is? (in limited sample size, most likely)
Hello everyone. Thanks for the invitation to talk some ball with the brewerfan.net nation. I will answer as many of these as I can. Brian asked if I can chat until 1 PM CT, which is no problem at all. Let's get started.
Brian, all indications are that Cruz and Ford will be on the team all year. So far both players are holding their own quite nicely. From the Brewers' perspective, keeping those guys on the roster all year is a small price to pay for adding two top-10 caliber prospects. I couldn't agree more.
Michael Clifton asks: In regards to the Javier Valentin trade for Jason Conti, is that all we could get for him? With the way Osik has been playing, did Melvin make a mistake?
It was apparent that Valentin's defense was not going to allow him to make the team. Osik played very well defensively in camp and earned the spot. Conti gives the organization needed outfield depth. I never judge a trade two weeks after it was turned.
Jordan Bodendein asks: Jim, at this point in the season, do you think it's too early to decide whether Wes Helms will stick at 3B? What are your impressions of him?
I do think it is too early. The plan is to give Wes alot of Major League at-bats this season and see how he does. Ned Yost has said he plans to be very patient with Helms and give him every opportunity to establish himself as the third baseman of the present and future. I am rooting hard for Wes, who is a hard worker, a no-nonsense competitor, and a very nice young man.
Michael Clifton asks: Outside of the "major" prospects in the system, who do you see as having the best year and elevating his prospect status?
I have a few sleepers I like among the prospects. If I have to narrow it to one, I'll go with Brian Foster. The High Desert catcher is probably the best defensive catcher in the system and he is off to a great start with the stick. I would love to have 2003 be the year that the organization was able to identify a bluechip catching prospect (or two), and Foster might be the guy. Kade Johnson, who is splitting the catching chores in HD, is also an intriguing prospect with big upside. If Kade stayed healthy while catching 70 games and put up the kind of numbers he is capable of offensively, he would become a top 10 prospect.
Michael Clifton asks: How many years until the Brewers are contenders?
I wish I knew, my friend. There is no question that Ulice Payne is going to try to make this happen as quickly as is possible, but there is alot of work to be done.
Michael Clifton asks: Do you forsee the Brewers as being a player in free agency after this year? If so, who may they be targeting?
One of the bright spots of the Brewers current plight is the payroll flexibility that will be enjoyed by Doug Melvin next season. The club is on the hook for about $20 million in payroll for '04, which leaves plenty of upward mobility. Whether the team adds players via free agency or through trades remains to be seen. Sometimes it is harder to talk premier free agents into signing on a team which hasn't enjoyed recent success than it is to make a trade which is lopsided in talent and dollars. Maybe next offseason we will see Melvin cut a Johnny Estrada for Kevin Millwood deal...wouldn't that be nice?
Chris Hawkinson asks: Thanks for stopping in today!
In the past we have seen Jenkins come off an injury trying to make up for lost time. From afar, it seemed as tho Jenkins was trying to hit three-run homeruns in each at bat (even when the bases were empty).
This year (injury) seems to be different. He is more selective and he's got that nice compact swing we saw when he first arrived in Milwaukee.
What changed this time? Is it simply a matter of a more mature Geoff Jenkins?
I think so. Geoff and I were talking about this very subject last week in Pittsburgh. He understands how important he is to this team and knows he has to find a way to stay healthy and productive. I don't think Jenkins has lost any confidence in his own ability. Hopefully this is the year that his ability, experience, and maturity come together and he has the kind of year we've been waiting for him to have. He put in alot of time in the offseason to tune up his stroke and so far, so good.
I've said it before: Jenkins is the #1 key to this lineup. If he is hot in the cleanup spot, the outlook for this team's run production is markedly different.
Chris Hawkinson asks: I know its REALLY early, but its hard to not ask this question of three of Milwaukee's better prospects.
Given the fast starts by JJ Hardy, Brad Nelson and Prince Fielder, what kind of promotions do you anticipate (to where and when). Some of us have speculated that perhaps Fielder is mature enough to skip High Desert.
As a sort of follow-on question: Assuming that both Fielder and Nelson continue to hit as they have been as they move up the system, where do you anticipate them playing should they both be in Milwaukee at the same time?
Doug Melvin has said repeatedly that he plans to err on the side of patience when it comes to developing prospects. The Brewers have a set of criteria which a young player must meet before getting promoted, and there is more on that list than just hitting and pitching well. I don't think there is any rush to get players to AAA. Sometimes the environment is better for a top prospect at the AA level than it is at AAA.
A player can certainly change his estimated time of arrival by his actions on- and off- the field, but generally speaking I think the Brewers are going to advance their prospects very slowly. There is no incentive for a team in the Brewers' position to hurry someone to the big leagues and let them learn on the job while their arbitration- and free agency- clocks are ticking.
I don't see Nelson or Fielder as obvious fits for alternate positions at this point. Since they are one level apart, there is no need to force a change. Usually these things work themselves out, whether it is by performance or injury. If both Nelson and Fielder get to the Majors as first basemen and Sexson is still here, there will be plenty of suitors in potential trades.
Toby Harrmann asks: Hi, Jim. Who are your top 10 Brewers prospects?
Hello Toby. I enjoy your work on this excellent website. Keep it up!
I haven't done a top 10 list all spring. I will rattle one off the top of my head:
1-JJ Hardy (same as last fall)
2-Prince Fielder (that is a jump for him on my list)
6-Manny Parra (last night's game notwithstanding)
Look for me to change my mind 10 times in the next half-hour!
Toby Harrmann asks: How hard will the Brewers try to keep the Huntsville squad intact for the whole season? What if someone "earns" a promotion?
I think they would like to keep the team together for a number of reasons, but I don't sense that anyone is obsessive about it. Developing the players individually will take precedence over developing a minor league team, for sure.
Toby Harrmann asks: Who is one prospect that we don't hear about a lot who the Brewers are pretty excited about?
Steve Moss. I hear alot of good things about him.
Toby Harrmann asks: If you had to guess, who will be the Brewers' starting first baseman 5 years from now?
Toby Harrmann asks: What is your record in sausage race prognostication?
Not too bad at all. I tend to narrow my odds by finding out who is running before I make my friendly wagers.
Toby Harrmann asks: Is Alex Sanchez any closer to grasping baserunning fundamentals?
In the big picture, Alex has shown alot of improvement over the last 12 months, especially for a guy who suffered a catastrophic leg injury. He isn't blessed with great instincts in the field or on the bases, so his lessons must be learned under fire. He has tremendous ability and I think he has a chance to be a difference-maker, but the growing pains aren't over. Dave Collins worked with Alex everyday last year, and Dave Nelson is doing the same this year. Both are excellent coaches. If Alex doesn't succeed, he has no one to blame but himself.
Toby Harrmann asks: When are you getting into the Hall Of Fame?
Right after I plunk down my $9.50!
Jason Belter asks: Jim while nothing is sure it looks like Ritchie may have a DL stint ahead of him. My question is who do you think would be called up to replace him, and does that answer differ from who you'd like to see called up?
Todd was to be re-examined this morning after leaving last night's game with "shoulder fatigue". I hope that he doesn't have to go on the DL at all. I'll know more this afternoon.
It is worth pointing out that after Matt Kinney's start on the 17th, the Brewers won't need their 5th starter for a couple of weeks and will employ one sparingly over the next month-plus. That might allow the team to go with a smaller pitching staff when Brady Clark comes off his injury-rehab. Durocher is due back in late April, too, and he is progressing very well after the elbow surgery.
Benjamin Krautkramer asks: Should Brewer fans be concerned that the team payroll has dropped from 21st to 28th in baseball, a drop of approximately $10 million just this year (according to USA Today)?
I think the Brewers' payroll flexibility as you look to '04 and beyond is a great advantage for Doug Melvin. I'm sure there was alot of pressure for the new regime to make some bold acquisitions and throw some money around to impress the fans, but when good opportunities didn't materialize they wisely showed patience. It is not like people felt the club was one or two players away from contention and the organization decided not to spend the money to make it happen.
Patrick Ebert asks: Baseball America has recently stated that they expect the Brewers to target a college arm in this June's draft. What direction you think they will take, and if you had your choice between Rickie Weeks & Adam Loewen, who would you select?
I haven't seen any of the top prospects for this year's draft play, so my opinion is just like yours: A guess based on various things I have heard and read. If they could land a college pitcher who has #1 starter-upside, I'm all for it. If not, and Weeks is sitting there, I would love to stick his bat in at AA with those other prospects.
The draft board will change many times between now and June. Alot can and will happen. It is exciting to have such a high pick. Whoever they take will go right into a top 10 prospect list which BA's Jim Callis told me is already the Brewers' best since the '80's.
Patrick Ebert asks: Daryl Clark, JJ Hardy, Prince Fielder, Luis Martinez & a few others are off to hot starts this year. Are there any sleeper players that are exciting the Brewers so far this spring that we may not be able to tell by following the box scores & top prospect lists?
The organization is still in the relatively early stages of assessing its own minor league talent. Ask me again in a month or two. I haven't heard of any hidden surprises to date.
Patrick Ebert asks: Other than Miller Park, what stadium is your favorite? Who has the best press box facilities? Best ballpark food? Best, most loyal fans?
I like Pac Bell alot. I like Bank One Ballpark alot. Pittsburgh has the worst press box and BOB might have the best. The press box food is different from the ballpark food, so I am not a good judge there. St. Louis has the best fans, hands down. Miller Park is the best place to work by far, if you ask me. The people there spoil us.
Toby Harrmann asks: Mike Jones or Brad Nelson?
Nelson. When in doubt, I side with the position player prospect because he is more projectable.
Toby Harrmann asks: Adam Loewen or Rickie Weeks?
I'll go with Weeks for now. My fear is that Loewen will sign with Balt, Weeks will go at 1 to TB, and nobody will have stepped up to make the #2 pick obvious.
Brad Jiles asks: With Hammonds obviously injured (again), will the Brewers bring up Brady Clark or Jason Conti?
Haven't heard the results of Jeffrey's exam from this AM. If he misses any time at all the team will be woefully short of RH bats. That would make Clark a necessity.
Jason Nelson asks: Jim - When Nick Neugebauer returns from his latest arm injury, do you think the Brewers will at least explore the option of making him a reliever/closer?
Sometimes pitchers coming off shoulder problems are very poor candidates for bullpen work because they have trouble getting loose on short notice and don't respond well to warming up, sitting, warming up, sitting again, etc., which is the daily life of a fireman. We'll just have to see how Nick's arm feels when he makes it back.
Jordan Bodendein asks: Of current Brewer prospects, who do you think will be the first to become an impact player in Milwaukee?
Brad Jiles asks: Will Eric Young be trade bait this season??? And do you think Bill Hall can stick at 2B in Indy?
I could see EY's name getting into some trade discussions because of his age and contract status along with the presence of Ginter on the roster. Hall hasn't maintained even a .300 OBP anywhere except High Desert since he got to full-season ball. He has alot to prove offensively and defensively, regardless of his position. The early returns on his switch to 2B have been good and he impressed in Maryvale this spring, but now he has to go produce.
David Vandenberg asks: BA ranked the Brewers minor league system in the middle of the pack (#16) this year. Were you suprised by the big jump or was the ranking finally recognizing the talent that is coming through the system?
I think they could have been ranked even higher, so I wasn't surprised. The depth of talent in the Brewers' top 10 is as good as any team that I am aware of. I look for another good jump next year if these prospects continue to develop like they did last year, especially when you add in Matt Ford, Enrique Cruz, and this year's #2 pick.
Jim Goulart asks: Jim, can you give your prediction on who makes the playoffs in the NL?
Hello Mr. Goulart. I like the Dodgers in the West, although the Giants start is pretty damn impressive. I am picking the Astros in the Central. I like Philly in the East. SF, STL, and Atl are the wildcard favorites...whichever division has the least depth of quality teams will produce the wildcard winner because of the unbalanced schedule. I'll say SF.
Jim Goulart asks: Jim, I'm concerned about the number of baserunners that Ben Sheets allows (well, the whole staff really, but let's focus on Ben as a rotation mainstay). 1-2-3 innings are few and far between. He seems to think his 93'94 MPH fastball can bail him out much too often. Can and will Sheets maje the adjustments necessary to move closer to true #1 starter status, or are we seeing about the same pitcher we'll continue to see for the next few years?
Ben is only what, 24? He still has the stuff to be a nice #1, but he is certainly not the first guy to take a couple of years of Major League experience before moving up to that next level. I like the fact that Ben isn't afraid to pound the strike zone early in the count and let his fielders make plays. He still needs to trust his change more to neutralize the lefties. If he stays healthy I think he will lead this staff for a long time.
Patrick Lawton asks: What is the word about Luis Vizcaino? His velocity seems to be way down this year. In the past, we have seen this in many cases, only to find out later that a pitcher has been pitching through an injury that he hasn't told the staff about which just makes the injury worse. Is their any chance Luis could be hurt, or is it just his mechanics?
Everybody I have talked to, including Luis, says it is just a mechanical thing and is nothing to worry about. He hit 95 on the gun at BOB this weekend, so it isn't like he just isn't capable of showing that arm strength anymore. Hopefully he will get it going soon.
Patrick Lawton asks: Hi Jim. Thanks for participating in this chat. I was able to attend a few spring training games this year and was very impressed with Brooks Kieschnick. Were you at all surprised that he didn't make the squad out of spring training? Also, do you think he will get a call anytime in the near future? Thanks and keep up the good work!
My pleasure, Patrick. Thanks for the invitation. Kieschnick made a very good impression in camp and could have made the team under certain circumstances. I think he is a strong candidate for promotion at some point this season. I'd be surprised if we didn't see him, assuming he pitches well at Indy.
Patrick Ebert asks: What is the best thing you like/have heard and/or seen about each main member of the new management team: Ulice Payne, Doug Melvin & Ned Yost?
Okay, let's see. Ulice Payne impressed me right away when he said that his baseball plan will always drive his business plan, not the other way around. Winning is the only acceptable result for Ulice on a longterm basis. With that posture, I think it will happen here.
Doug Melvin has impressed me in many ways. I like how he has surrounded himself with experienced and smart people. I like his patient philosophies with prospects. I like his honestly and frankness.
I am really excited about what I've seen from Ned Yost so far. The best thing about him is that he is commanding respect in that clubhouse. The players are buying into his philosophies and enthusiasm. He is a natural leader and that has been demonstrated already.
Harold Hutchison asks: Which minor-league prospects are on the hot seat?
It is time for Cristian Guerrero to step up. Kade Johnson has to stay healthy and needs to play well. It is a pivotal year for JM Gold.
Jason Cress asks: Jim - who do you see in the Brewer outfield in 2004? With Hammonds leaving, will they let Krynzel compete for the spot?
I would be surprised if I saw Krynzel in the OF next year. I am not sure what will happen in RF. I wish Vladimir Guerrero had a favorite grandmother who lived in Racine.
Our thanks go out to Jim Powell and all of the people who participated in this chat session