Spring Training is just beginning and the Brewers have no shortage of fresh faces at their Arizona compound. To help fans get acclimated with this year's crop of newcomers to the organization, the Daily Brew has been publishing a series of player profiles over the past several weeks. This is the tenth installment in the Newcomer Breakdown series, which covers major leaguers as well as selected minor leaguers; the first nine profiles covered Jerome Gamble, Derrick Turnbow, Justin Lehr, Julio Santana, Jose Capellan, Sam Narron, Nelson Cruz, Damian Miller, and Ricky Bottalico.
In a barely-noticed move this past November, Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin combined two of his favorite pastimes: acquiring former-Rangers, and mining the Independent Leagues for undervalued talent. The object of his affection was catcher Kelley Gulledge, a once-promising young catcher coming off a stellar season with Fargo-Moorhead of the Independent Northern League.
A standout prep star at Mansfield High School in Arlington, Texas, Gulledge is the son of Rangers' Vice President Chuck Morgan and was around the ballpark often during Melvin's tenure there as General Manager. A bat boy, Gulledge caught the 1995 All-Star Game Home Run Derby at The Ballpark at Arlington in which Frank Thomas bested Albert Belle in the finals; Mo Vaughn, Ron Gant, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Reggie Sanders, and Raul Mondesi also participated in the contest.
"They had a microphone on me," he remembered. "I was on ESPN. There were 40,000 people in the stands and there I was, 16 years old, catching the Home Run Derby. It was pretty much unbelievable.
Gulledge learned a lot about baseball while hanging around the clubhouse.
"I got to see how much fun they were having and how much money they were making," he told Gabe Wicklund about his experiences at the Ballpark. "I saw the ins and outs of it and it opened my eyes to it. It made me want to do that with my life."
In the same graduating class as Vernon Wells, who starred at rival Bowie, Gulledge was heavily scouted and attended the University of Alabama after being selected by Melvin and the Rangers in the 35th round of the 1997 June Amateur draft.
As a member of the Crimson Tides, Gulledge displayed excellent walk rates and good power, posting OPSes of 1045 and 941 during his sophomore and junior seasons, respectively, and Alabama enjoyed three outstanding seasons during his tenure. In 1998, they went 46-18 and lost to Long Beach State in an NCAA Regional final. The next season, they went 53-16, won their Regional and Super Regional tournaments, and finished 2-2 in the College World Series. In Gulledge's junior season, they went 41-24 and lost in their Regional finals to Stanford.
Year G AB AVG OBA SLG OPS 2B HR BB SO
1998 41 88 .250 .380 .409 789 5 3 14 33
1999 58 195 .344 .433 .621 1045 15 11 28 45
2000 64 234 .299 .411 .530 941 13 13 36 53
One of the better collegiate catchers in the nation (ranked 96th among all college prospects by Baseball America), Gulledge was drafted in the tenth round in 2000 by the Twins. Inked to an above-slot-value contract, he reported to Single-A Quad City in the Midwest League and struggled in his first 39 professional games.
At age-22, Gulledge split the 2001 season between Quad City and Fort Myers, the Twins' Advanced-A Florida State League affiliate. Despite flashing solid production, he found himself in a logjam of signal callers in Minnesota's low minor leagues and split time with a collection of catchers that included Rob Bowen, Daniel Decola, Bryan Kennedy, John Edwards, Mark Osborne, and Gabby Torres. Forced to repeat the FSL in 2002, Gulledge regressed slightly and again had to split time with Bowen.
Promoted to Double-A New Britain to open the 2002 season, he platooned with Bowen and Torres and struggled to get his bat going. When Joe Mauer burst onto the scene, the Twins demoted Gulledge back to Fort Myers and released him just eight games later.
Picked up by his hometown Rangers (although his real hometown is Nashville, Gulledge spent much of his youth in Arlington), he finished the season with Stockton in the High-A California League and hit .278/.333/.454 in 26 games.
Texas brought him back for 2004 but released him on the last day of Spring Training. Gulledge contemplated calling it quits but decided to give baseball one more shot after Doug Simunic, Manager of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, contacted him about playing in the Northern League.