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Should Tommy John be in the Hall of Fame?
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Minor League Roundtable

on 04/10/2005


The staff shared their opinions on some pertinent questions on the opening of the minor league season once Opening Day rosters were announced earlier this week. Jim Goulart from the Brewerfan "Link Report" acted as moderator of this roundtable. OK, so we didn't all sit at an actual round table for this, but here goes...

Just an incredible opening season from a fan standpoint for the fans of Nashville, new to the Brewer system in 2005. True top position prospects abound with Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, David Krynzel, and Brad Nelson. What will you be watching for among these five in particular in terms of development?

Bill Batterman: Prince Fielder is the Nashville prospect I expect to have the biggest 2005. His much-maligned 2004 campaign was much better than it appeared on the surface and included several excellent indicators of future success. Still only 20-years old, Fielder batted .272 with a team-best 839 OPS despite a paltry .294 batting average on balls in play, well below the Southern League average of .311. He smacked 29 doubles and 23 homers, an extra-base hit ever 9.4 at-bats, and continued to show solid plate discipline (7.65 AB/BB and 5.34 AB/SO). He'll need to continue his improved defensive play and cut down on his strikeouts, but Fielder is already a dominant offensive player with remarkable power. If a few more balls fall his way and his BABIP regresses to a more normal level, he will terrorize the Pacific Coast League and put Lyle Overbay on the trading block sooner rather than later.

Of the remaining four players, Krynzel has the most to gain (or lose) in 2005. After a where-did-that-come-from Spring Training in which he displayed outstanding patience at the plate and nearly earned a spot on the Brewers bench, he most certainly has caught the attention of the organization and is primed to enjoy a breakout campaign. That is, of course, if the change in approach sticks. The Brewers wisely sent him to Nashville to play everyday with hopes that he will do just that, and it is hard to bet against him after the transformation we saw in the Cactus League. If he can walk and spray singles to all fields while working the count and avoiding strikeouts, he'll be a worthy replacement for Brady Clark in 2006 (or before).

Weeks, Hart, and Nelson will all need to improve their defensive play if they want to see Milwaukee this season. Hitting isn't a problem for any of them, although Nelson most certainly needs to display more power in 2005 to reclaim his top prospect status. If Hart and/or Nelson are unable to play well in the outfield corners, I would expect one or both of them to be traded and moved back to first base. Thankfully, the team doesn't have to make that decision quite yet and both sluggers will be given every opportunity to succeed.

Patrick Ebert: I think improved defense is what we're looking for the most from Fielder, Weeks, Hart and Nelson. Krynzel of the bunch is the only one that doesn't have that huge question lingering over his head. Krynzel needs to carry his improved approach at the plate from spring training over into the rest of the season, and basically he needs to become a much more consistent player. As a leadoff hitter, consistency from him is key. While Weeks 2004 season wasn't as bad as many believe it was, as his peripheral numbers were strong, he needs to hit for a higher average. Prince just needs to keep on slugging. Despite putting up fine numbers year after year, Hart needs to continue to produce to start proving some of his doubters wrong. Nelson needs to re-find his stroke that made him the Brewers #1 prospect according to Baseball America after his fine 2002 season at Beloit.

Brian Kapellusch: Prince Fielder - Would like to see some improvement on defense at 1B, but mainly I'd like to see him just be able to carry some modest numbers offensively. He's still extremely young for the league, so if he can hold his own, that's a great sign.

Rickie Weeks - Defense, defense, defense. His offense will be fine, but he's going to be exposed pretty badly at 2B if he can't get his footwork down.

Corey Hart - I'd like to see Corey develop just a little more power, and make some progress on his plate discipline. Despite his televised struggles, he still has the potential to be an above average outfielder, so I think a full year in AAA will shore that up. He's still relatively new to that position, so I think he's making fine progress there.

Dave Krynzel - Dave seemed to be reborn in spring training this year, which was a surprise to many of us. He started laying down some nice bunts and showed much improved plate discipline. His defense is (and has been) near flawless, so if he just keeps doing what he did in Spring Training, the Brewers will probably look to move Brady Clark at the deadline to give him his shot.

Brad Nelson - He really needs to get his power stroke back, because he needs to make up for some of his athletic shortcomings on defense. This is probably the year we'll find out if Brad can handle LF, or if he'll be moved to 1B to backfill a possible Fielder vacancy, or given a shot with another organization.

Michael Clifton: Defense, defense, defense for the most part. Hart and Nelson still learning new positions, Weeks and Fielder improving the only knock naysayers have against them. Krynzel is the opposite in that his D is major league ready and has been for awhile now. Dave had a huge spring at the plate and needs to continue this success to punch his plane ticket to Milwaukee for good. I think Krynzel will be the biggest winner from his goals. Weeks, Fielder, Nelson are seeing AAA for the first time and Hart has more to work on then Dave. Dave may have very well figured it out and only needs to prove that Spring Training wasn't a flash in the pan before joining JJ at Miller Park.

Toby Harrmann: Prince Fielder - He can hit, he just has to keep getting better at defense. When he's ready on defense, he'll be ready for the Majors.

Rickie Weeks - Rickie needs to maintain his plate discipline without getting hit by so many pitches. Not looking for any big jump in power numbers, just that he continues to work the count and improve his defense.

Corey Hart - I'm not so worried about his defense due to the nature of the position, so I'd like him to focus his energies at the plate. He's always had pretty decent strike zone knowledge for a big guy, but he needs to translate that knowledge into selection of the pitches he swings at. The rest of his game will come along once he develops a good method of doing things at the plate.

David Krynzel - Just needs to play everyday and work with Pettis on baserunning. He's pretty much ready right now.

Brad Nelson - Has the most work to do of these five guys, by far. His performance wasn't great in AA, and all aspects of his game could use improvement. The most important thing is probably making consistent contact and worrying about getting the bat on the ball before trying to hit the ball over the wall.

Well, the Pacific Coast League should present new challenges for the pitching staff. Do you have confidence that Ben Hendrickson can work out his arm slot changes, etc., in an unexpected second AAA season?

Toby: No one ever said Ben was anything more than a #3ish pitcher, and it looks like he may wind up closer to being a #4-#5 type guy, but that's fine, and I fully expect him to be a rotation workhorse in the next couple of years. If he does what Maddux suggests, there is no reason to believe he won't succeed.

Brian: Ben has shown that he can handle adverse pitching conditions, as he is one of the Brewers' only pitchers that has been able to manhandle the California League (2.55 ERA, 3 HR in 81.1 IP). Whether he can handle a new arm slot will remain to be seen, but he's been as steady as they come throughout his minor league career.

Patrick: I'm confident Hendrickson will continue to have success at the AAA level despite changing leagues, but he really needs to refine his overall game and start believing that he belongs at the big-league level.

Michael: I have confidence in Ben and think he will continue his AAA success. Ben has pitched well everywhere except Milwaukee and that includes High Desert. Ben has the talent and just needs to reassure himself of that in AAA before coming back to Milwaukee and hopefully staying confident.

Bill: Revamping the mechanics of the International League's best pitcher strikes me as unwise, although Mike Maddux has done wonders with many of his pupils since joining the Crew. Hendrickson's struggles at the big league level seemed more mental than physical and his biggest downside (a lack of velocity on his fastball) won't be helped much (if at all) by a lowered arm slot. I am also afraid that the three-quarters delivery will negatively impact his curveball, the pitch that earned him his status as the Brewers' top pitching prospect. That said, I think Hendrickson's comfort level will have a great deal more to do with his performance in the big leagues than will his mechanical adjustments. I expect him to struggle out of the gates in Nashville before finding a groove... and a plane ride back to Milwaukee before the All-Star Break.

Will Jose Capellan blow us all away, just kind of struggle along (like Jorge de la Rosa last season), or something in-between? Long-term starter or closer in Milwaukee?

Toby: Starter. Once he gets his changeup to even a respectable level, he'll be fine.

Brian: The key to Capellan's development as a starter will be the development of his changeup. His fastball is obviously dominating, and his curveball has been described as very good by all accounts. A third pitch will be the key to his success. If he can't get it together by mid-season, it'll probably be time to recall Jeff Bennett anyway, so he should be given a chance to be Nashville's closer.

Patrick: Since Capellan is relatively new to the organization, it's hard to know what to expect. I really want to see him stay in the rotation for as long as possible. The Brewers shouldn't feel rushed to move him to the bullpen at the first sign of him struggling as a starter. With popular comparisons to Bartolo Colon, Colon is a perfect example of a pitcher that can thrive in the big leagues with a dominating fastball. Capellan just has to do a better job commanding the strike zone with that pitch, and if he does, it's exciting to think about what he can do.

Michael: Jose Capellan will blow us away. He has the stuff and he also has results. Being this is his first with the Milwaukee organization, those not familiar will be wowed. Long term I think he can succeed as a starter. Just because you can throw a 100 doesn't automatically tab you for the closers role.

Bill: Capellan has the fastball to dominate PCL hitters but I expect him to struggle at times when he loses command of his off-speed stuff. The Brewers should watch his game logs closely and, if necessary, require him to throw a minimum number of breaking balls and changeups; it is more important for Capellan to throw strikes, particularly with his secondary pitches, than to miss bats this season. His overall numbers should be outstanding in any case, but it will be important to determine whether he's making progress or simply overpowering hitters with an explosive fastball.

Anybody among the Sounds you expect to surprise or have special rooting interests for?

Brian: I'd like to see Ryan Knox develop into a good pinch hitter. He can play all three outfield positions, and was a big fan favorite in Huntsville.

Patrick: It's exciting to think about what Andy Pratt could accomplish if he reverts back to his pre-2004 form. Lefties that have a knack missing bats are hard to come by, and given the Brewers immediate need for southpaws out of the 'pen, he could be a pleasant surprise if he finds what made him successful prior to last season.

Michael: I will be rooting hard for a few players on the Sounds this year. Housman has had success that seemingly came out of nowhere and to have someone like him make it in Milwaukee would be a great story. I'm also rooting for players like Andy Pratt and Justin Lehr. These guys were acquired via trade and I'd like to see them succeed to make the trades look better. Plus Pratt came from the Cubbies and his success would make it that much sweeter.

Bill: Julio Santana has an outstanding slider, a solid fastball, and excellent control; I expect to see him in Milwaukee very soon. His track record is full of disappointments and injuries but he has always shown closer-type potential and looks to be back at 100 percent.

Toby: Mike Meyers doesn't have the stuff of an ideal MLB pitcher, but he's shown flashes of brilliance in the past. He'll likely go the way of most other has- been top prospects, but there's always that chance he'll turn into something special.

Not the most important thing for those other than Nashville ticket-buyers, but is this team too inexperienced or young to post a winning AAA campaign?

Patrick: The lineup is going to score some runs, without a doubt, as long as Kremblas isn't bunting runners over every time someone gets on base. The pitching staff concerns me, and while there is potential there, I think there are going to be some long nights with high-scoring affairs. The team is bound to lose a few players to call-ups given how many prospects, particularly in the lineup, are on the cusp of moving up. I guess the pitching could be aided if guys like Parra, Eveland and Sarfate get off to fast starts at AA, and if so the Nashville club may be the most impressive collection of prospects in all of minor league baseball. However, as we found out last year with the Huntsville team, a strong group of really good prospects doesn't always equate to a big season in the standings. For whatever reason, veterans always seem to propel the best AAA teams, and Pat Borders' 41 years on this planet doesn't make up for a relatively young team.

Brian: Brewers' prospects have been able to put together winning seasons as a team before. Borders will do a nice job in the clubhouse and behind the plate reigning in the youngsters, and Frank Kremblas is managing a cast of familiar faces. I think the only question here is if the Brewers be tempted to pilfer the roster at the trading deadline.

Michael: I think the Nashville squad has the talent to win some games this year and compete. Problem I see is keeping the talent in Nashville. Hendrickson will be the first starter pulled to Milwaukee in case of injury and Capellan could see himself called up as well. Weeks, Fielder and Krynzel will also have a phone close by as well on the injury front. If anyone has followed the Brewers, they know this squad will not be intact for long and the success in the standings may suffer do to it.

Toby: Because the AAA leagues don't go by half-seasons, and because it is virtually impossible to tell what the roster composition will be like by the middle or end of the year, it's really hard to tell if this team will be successful or not. If the Brewers kept the present AAA roster intact all year, it is easily a .500 team. But, they won't, so who knows?

On to Huntsville:

The strength of this squad would appear to be in its starting rotation. Given the potential for Dana Eveland / Manny Parra / Dennis Sarfate / Glenn Woolard as rotation stalwarts in 2005 in the traditionally pitching dominated Southern League, might we see a lot of quick games from the Stars this year?

Patrick: Parra and Eveland have been so consistent throughout their careers, and Sarfate will benefit from a year at AA already under his belt. Toss in Woolard and it's hard not seeing this team cruise through games with that collection of arms.

Bill: Eveland, Parra, Sarfate, and Woolard could pitch their way into Triple-A by the end of the season and that foursome is as exciting as any Brewers minor league rotation in recent memory. Left-hander Matt Ford, now 24, is another interesting hurler who demonstrated his ability to get big league hitters out in 2003 but has since battled arm problems. His 2004 was mostly regrettable and he will need to rebound this season to reestablish his prospect sheen, but a southpaw with his track record is tough to find. If he can remain healthy for a full season, Ford could work his way into the above-mentioned group and give the Brewers, along with Eveland and Parra, a promising trio of left-handers.

Toby: The Stars have big question marks throughout the lineup even though they have a roster with a strong presence of AA veterans. Considering how good many (myself included) thought the offense for the Stars should have been last year, think about an average AA team, and lower your expectations from there. The pitching should be good until some of them are promoted, but will it be good enough to compensate for the pedestrian offense? That's a tough call. Look forward to lots of 2-0 and 4-3 games this year.

Manager Frank Kremblas was known for playing "Frankie-Ball" over his three-year stay with the Stars


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