A year ago at this time, Florian Villanueva was an extraordinarily nondescript player. Between completing his third tour of duty with the Dominican Summer League Brewers the past season and turning 20 right after the season (quite old for a player in that league), things couldn't have been looking that rosy for the young catcher/infielder/outfielder. After earning a visa to the States on a strong showing on his third (and likely last chance) in the DSL, Florian had to prove a lot during his time in Arizona.
It was only in that third season in the DSL that Florian showed a knack for making the good contact people throughout the system and beyond are raving about today. In 1998, Florian hit .212 in 33 at-bats in very limited duty. The next season, he hit only .239 as the DSL Brewers' utility player, in 155 at bats. He drew a good number of walks both seasons, but still wasn't proving to the Brewers that he deserved to be invited stateside. Then something clicked. In the 2000 DSL campaign, Florian's batting average inexplicably jumped from that .239 to .322. He didn't lose any power or on-base skill in that jump, either. In fact, his power output grew.
After getting to the U.S. in December, Florian had even more to prove. Although he didn't make the Beloit roster out of camp, the Brewers were impressed enough with him to give him a starting job in Ogden, bypassing the newly created Arizona Brewers team. They really didn't know where to give him playing time, though, because Florian could pretty much play anywhere in the field. He has the agility and arm strength to play catcher, and the quickness, range and arm to play anywhere on the infield or in the outfield. So, they gave him playing time wherever they could. He played mostly at third base, but also spent a good hunk of time in the corner outfield positions, and at catcher. And his hitting continued to blossom into the season with his defense. Despite a late season slump, Florian hit over .300 again, batting .308. Even more amazing, especially in a system starved of contact hitters, he only struck out 27 times in 270+ at bats. While making contact he also hit the ball hard, amassing 21 doubles, 2 triples and 6 home runs in 68 games.
Now the sky is the limit for the young Dominican. After batting in the mid-.300's in the first month of the season for Beloit, he has already been promoted to High Desert, where he is just about the average age of the good prospects in the league. The Brewers rave about what he can do behind the plate and with the bat, giving them a potentially plus offensive and plus defensive catcher, a rarity in baseball. He is still a couple of steps away from the majors, but if he continues to play lights out in and behind the batters box, he could be the Brewers' long term answer at catcher.
Offensive Player Of The Week:
It seems somehow wrong to go back to the High Desert kettle and get another batter of the week from their thin-air stew, but once again, one player from the Mavericks well outperformed everyone else in the organization. In my defense, it hasn't been the same guy week after week, so at least there is some variety. This week the man is Pete Zoccolillo, High Desert's new everyday right fielder. Prior to this past week, Pete was stuck on the bench behind hot hitting Ryan Knox (since promoted) and power prospect Derry Hammond (since injured). Once he got a chance to play everyday, though, Pete was lights out. The only Maverick to play in all 6 games last week, Pete batted .385/.448/.654 over 26 at-bats. He smacked 2 home runs, and added a double, 6 RBIs and 3 walks. The 25 year old was acquired by the Brewers from the Cubs as a part of the David Weathers-Ruben Quevedo deal last July. Pete is 6'2, 205, bats left handed and throws the ball with his right hand.
Last Week: Corey Hart, 1B, High Desert
April 22nd: Ryan Thompson, OF, Indianapolis
April 15th: Ryan Knox, OF, High Desert
Pitcher Of The Week:
Unlike the consecutive batters of the week, something I didn't see coming was the possibility of consecutive pitchers of the week from High Desert, but nonetheless, here it is. After posting a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings and 2 starts for the Mavericks, Doug Dent wins the award for the week. Although he didn't receive a decision in either start, Doug was excellent on the mound. In those 12 innings, Doug allowed 9 hits and 6 walks, while logging 15 strikeouts and allowing only 2 earned runs. Like many free agent pitchers signed this past offseason by Dean Taylor and crew, Dent is a former Atlanta Brave farmhand, although he spent most of the past few seasons with the Padres. The Brewers signed him this past December 19th, and he is one of the tallest pitchers in the system at 6'8. He weighs 210, bats and throws right, and turned 25 a few weeks before the season began.
Last Week: Justin Gordon, SP, High Desert
April 22nd: Brian Nielsen, SP, Beloit
April 15th: Andrew Lorraine, SP, Indianapolis
Team Of The Week:
Last week no team of the week award was given simply because, well, all the teams stunk. Beloit and High Desert both went an uninspiring 2-4, while Huntsville went 1-6 and Indy blanked, going 0-6. I won't give an award out if no one deserves in, and no one deserved it. This week an unlikely recipient gets the award. After finishing the month of April 6-19, the Huntsville Stars were hitting the dumps. However, after going 3-2 last week, and with some success already this week, things seem to be turning around. Four of the five starts the Stars got were quality starts, and the offense seems to be picking up, maybe partly the result of catcher Eli Alfonzo and centerfielder Ryan Knox being added to the roster. Seven Stars pitchers didn't allow an earned run last week, and 2 of the other 4 had ERAs under 2. If the Stars can get their pitching and hitting to work in sync like they did last week, they can still salvage the season.
Last Week: None
April 22nd: High Desert Mavericks
April 15th: Indianapolis Indians.