Ranking second in the league in hitting with a .403 batting average and recording 31 hits in 21 games is cause for notice at the Arizona Fall League. When combined with playing six different positions in the field, you can make yourself one of the most talked about players in the league.
The Brewers Josh Prince has made the most of his opportunities in the Arizona Fall League in the field and at the plate.
“I’ve played third base, second base, left field, right field and center field ” Prince said of his defensive positions during the Fall League. “I came up through the organization as a shortstop so I know I can play there as well. Being versatile is big. If you look in baseball there are not a lot of players that can play (all those positions). It really helps my chances of getting there (to the big leagues).”
The Brewers drafted Prince as a shortstop in the third round of the 2009 First Year Player Draft out of Tulane University. He first worked with Brewers outfield/baserunning instructor Reggie Williams on proper positioning in Spring Training and continued in the outfield at Double-A Huntsville. His extended season in Arizona has also given him many opportunities to work on defense.
“He has had a very good year,” said Darnell Coles, Huntsville Stars manager and Phoenix Desert Dogs hitting coach. “Coming from playing shortstop to the outfield this year is tough. A lot of it was learning on the spot and he is still learning but he has done a very good job as an outfielder. Being able to play these positions adds value to our organization and to him as a player. If a guy gets hurt, you know he can fill in defensively wherever and you don’t have to worry about it. Plus his bat and base running are great.”
Coles has worked with Prince all year in Huntsville and has help develop his swing to a comfortable point as his offensive numbers show.
“I’ve been working with Darnell on flattening out my swing and giving myself better opportunities to get hits when I am a little tardy or a little early,” Prince said. “I just want to be able to stay through the ball. That is the biggest reason why I have had success here.”
Brewers President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Doug Melvin also likes what he has seen from Prince at the Arizona Fall League and compared his defensive versatility to that of Jerry Hairston.
“His bat has really taken off this fall,” Melvin said. “He is a very aggressive baserunner–a high energy guy. His versatility is going to be his calling card to get to the big leagues.”
Prince hit .251 with seven home runs and 55 RBI during the 2012 regular season at Huntsville with a .346 OBP and .360 slugging percentage. Both his OBP (.489) and slugging percentage (.588) currently rank in the top four in the Arizona Fall League.
“It’s been awesome out here,” Prince said of his Fall League experience. “The weather is great, the baseball talent here is amazing and we are having fun too. The coaches are making this fun and enjoyable for us while at the same time teaching us. I’m happy I am putting up the numbers I am, but I’m constantly working on getting better.”
For Prince that work will continue through the offseason into the winter.
“There is no time for rest,” Prince said. “I’ll get home, hit the gym and start working out. With playing in this league, there is not much time for rest. I have missed some time in the gym and need to make up for that conditioning I have lost to prepare myself for a full season next year.”
Chances are most Brewers fans have not seen the type of game that Prince plays, but he described his play on the field as exciting.
“First and foremost, I want people to know me as a follower of Jesus Christ,” Prince said. “I know that He is the guy I play for and I want people to remember me for that. On the field, I want Brewers fans to know me as a guy who is versatile and a guy that can run. I like to steal bases, I like to try to get on base and score runs for the team. I feel like I can play anywhere and do a good job at any of those positions.”
With the combination of Prince’s ability to run, his defensive versatility and the offensive numbers he has put up during the Arizona Fall League, Brewers fans might be seeing this exciting player at Miller Park very soon.
Josh Prince can be found on Twitter: @JoshPrince17.
Despite an early season injury, Khris Davis had a breakout year in 2012. The Brewers’ 7th round draft pick in the 2009 First Year Player Draft joined Double-A Huntsville after recovering from a calf injury. With the Stars, he hit .383 with eight home runs and 23 RBI in 44 games. The injury nagged him throughout the season, but he battled through and earned a promotion to Triple-A Nashville late in the year.
“My season had its ups and downs,” Davis said. “That is just baseball, it’s a roller coaster ride. You have to learn to get through it all and I think I did that and performed well.”
With the Sounds, the outfielder hit .310 with four home runs and 24 RBI. Over his last 45 games of the 2012 season between Huntsville and Nashville, Davis recorded hits in 37 of those games (.365, 60-for-164).
“He’s just gradually gotten better each year,” said Darnell Coles, manager of the Huntsville Stars and hitting coach for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. “He is one of the best players in the organization at hitting through the middle. He got hurt a little bit during the beginning of the year, but came back from that strong. He didn’t stop hitting in Double-A and moved up to Triple-A where he hit as well.”
Brewers President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Doug Melvin also had good things to say about Davis’ development.
“He is one of the most disciplined hitters in our organization,” Melvin said. “He has some good power, too. We haven’t really seen it during the Fall League, but we know it is there.”
Fortunately, Davis has the opportunity to continue to grow as a hitter here at the Arizona Fall League. Working every day with Coles and playing against top competition for six weeks will certainly benefit Davis’ development.
“I feel like there is always room for improvement when it comes to hitting,” Davis said. “No one is as good as they want to be. There is still a lot of work to be done as far as my work and study as a hitter.”
Currently in the Fall League, Davis is hitting .226 with six RBI.
“I wanted to work on cutting back on my strikeouts and being more aggressive earlier in the counts and not take as many pitches,” Davis said of his goals while at the Arizona Fall League. “I feel if I get ahead early, it works to my advantage as a hitter.”
Davis, who was drafted out of Cal State-Fullerton, is participating in his first Arizona Fall League, but makes his offseason residence in Phoenix and went to high school in the area at Deer Valley. He has previously participated in Brewers winter conditioning programs and plans on remaining in the area and working out at the Brewers Maryvale complex before Spring Training.
“The Brewers winter programs have been great for me,” Davis said. “There is always a lot of one-on-one attention there and that is always good. To be in front of their eyes working is beneficial to me as a player.”
He doesn’t plan on taking much of a break after the league wraps up next week.
“I want to get in the weight room and work on my strength,” Davis said. “I don’t want to take too much time off. We don’t have the luxury to do that as the sport is year-round. There isn’t much of a break; you need to have a special mindset in the offseason to prepare for the next season.”
Until then, Davis has another week in the Arizona Fall League and another week for some one-on-one coaching with Coles.
“He has got a chance to be a special hitter in the big leagues,” Coles said of Davis. “For him, it is now just a process of continuing to grow and understand himself as a hitter.”
Post updated with photos.
In what was one of the biggest trades in Major League Baseball during the 2012 regular season, the Brewers acquired RHP Johnny Hellweg from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The 6 foot, 9 inch pitcher is known for his fastball, but one can’t ignore his height. It is hard to believe that Hellweg was only 6-5 when drafted by the Angels in 2008.
“I had a growth spurt after being drafted and that kind of disrupted my delivery for a bit,” Hellweg said. “There would be mornings I would get up and the ground would seem farther away, there were a lot of weird things like that. But I have grown into my body now and I’m used to it. I have a consistent release point, I’m starting to get there and I’m able to repeat my delivery better now that I have stopped growing.”
Hellweg started the season as a starter for Double-A Arkansas of the Texas League. There, he went 5-10 with a 3.38 ERA in 21 starts. After the July 27 trade that sent him to the Brewers organization, Hellweg joined the Huntsville Stars. The Brewers showed concern about his innings and shut him down after two starts and five relief appearances. Over seven appearances with the Stars, Hellweg was 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA.
“Hellweg has been lighting up the gun pretty good (in Arizona),” Brewers President – Baseball Operations and General Manager Doug Melvin said. “He has a good head on his shoulders. It took him some time to get used to his height, but now he knows where he is at and he has been throwing very well.”
Melvin also added that it has been good to see Hellweg pitch out of the bullpen while at the Fall League, a role he is adjusting to, but enjoys since his fastball is one of his best pitches. During the Rising Stars Game on Saturday, Hellweg hit 99 miles per hour on a few of his pitches and says he can turn it up to triple digits if needed.
“I throw a lot of fastballs and have a good breaking ball and have been working on my changeup too,” Hellweg said. “I like to challenge with my fastball. I know I have a pretty good fastball, which is what I have to keep telling myself. Sometimes a lot of pitchers give hitters a lot of credit, but hitting is hard and it is a lot harder to hit when pitches are coming in really fast. I have to remember that and keep firing them in there.”
Hellweg is 0-0 with a 2.00 ERA (9ip/2er) in six appearances out of the bullpen. He has held batters to a .233 average (7-for-30).
“I’m really down here just trying to work on maintaining a consistent delivery,” Hellweg said. “I feel really good with it right now. I’ve been taking notes, jotting a few things down and keep it fresh for spring. Just throwing strikes and knowing what I need to do to continue to throw strikes and place the ball.”
No matter where Hellweg ends up the 2013 season—Double-A, Triple-A, bullpen or starting role—he is excited to have an opportunity here at the Fall League and excited about the Brewers organization.
“Doug and Gord Ash have been great, I’m excited to be a Brewer, it is a great organization,” Hellweg said. “I look forward to getting to Milwaukee and I am going to continue to work hard to get there. I’m a Midwest boy so I’m happy to be a part of the organization.”
Hopefully Hunter Morris has a nice trophy case at home because the list of awards he received in 2012 is quite long.
Southern League Most Valuable Player, Brewers Minor League Player of the Year, Topps Southern League Player of the Year, Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award–just to name a few.
It might sound cliché, but Morris credits his on field success this year to old-fashioned hard work.
“It was a long process and a lot of work went into what I accomplished this year,” Morris said. “I think it was a combination of things as far as success on the field. I have put in a lot of work defensively and that helped my all-around game, but l certainly didn’t take any days off from working on my offense and maintaining my swing.
The awards were a byproduct of hard work. There were certainly a lot of guys who were deserving of those awards I received. I consider myself lucky and fortunate to be on the receiving end of those awards.”
Morris nearly had a Triple Crown as he led the Southern League in home runs (28), RBI (113), hits (158), slugging percentage (.563), total bases (294) and extra-base hits (74). He finished fourth in the league with a .303 batting average.
“My consistency throughout the year was the biggest blessing I had,” Morris said. “If something went wrong, I was able to fix it within a few at bats or a game or two. Keeping those peaks and valleys to a minimum as far as the success and the struggles is important. I was able to go out and focus on playing hard, rather than over-thinking things. It was easy to relax and play.”
Not only did Morris turn in stellar numbers at the plate, but his fielding was an important part to his MVP season. He had a .995 fielding percentage and committed only six errors in 136 games played.
“Hunter has improved a lot defensively,” said Brewers President – Baseball Operations and General Manager, Doug Melvin. “He looks a lot more fluid out there at first base. His work with Bob Miscik, our roving infield instructor throughout the year was key and the repetitions he has received at the Fall League will continue to help. We debated sending Morris to the Fall League because of the season we had, but the competition is good for him and will help him cap off a great year.”
Morris also credits Huntsville Stars Manager Darnell Coles—who is in Arizona serving as Hitting Coach for the Phoenix Desert Dogs—with a lot of extra defensive work this month.
“Working with Darnell has been great,” Morris said. “He has really worked hard with me on getting better defensively, he has done everything I could have asked of him. He played some first base in his career, understands the position and helped me out a ton. My defense can always get better and I want to get better throughout my career.”
A unique part of Morris’ dream season was the fact that it took place in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala. often in front of family and friends.
“Having the season I had in front of my family and friends at home certainly made it a little more special,” Morris said. “Baseball is baseball, you have to go out and play no matter if you are 3,000 miles away from home or in your own backyard like I was, but it was certainly nice to be home with my wife and son every day.
That was a huge blessing for me, but at the same time, it kind of takes away from baseball. There were days when I was taking my son to doctor’s appointments at 8 a.m. on game day when my teammates were sleeping in. Fortunately, I was able to put my family first and still have that proper balance of performing well on the field and focusing on baseball. I loved every minute of being able to spend the season with my family, it was great.”
Entering today in Arizona, Morris was hitting .268 with one home run and six RBI, modest numbers compared to what he put up during the regular season, but Morris has played over 160 games since Spring Training and he is focusing on how to fight through the fatigue of a long season.
“I have struggled a bit at the plate out here, but that is probably a product of having played baseball since February 10th of this year,” Morris said. “That is also one of the learning curves I need to go through to train myself to get through 162 or 175 games instead of 140 games. I’m preparing myself to get through longer seasons. It’s not going to happen overnight, but being here helps me work through struggles. I’m just trying to build on the season I had, there is not a whole lot I am looking to change from the year.”
This is Morris’ second stint in the Arizona Fall League. The Brewers drafted him in 2010 and he received an invite from the club to play after his first professional season.
“Certainly a lot more twists and turns a few years ago, but this was my first truly long season that I have had. Last year and the 2010 season is nowhere near the length of time that I have been playing this year. It is a great situation for me to come out here and play with a lot of great guys, build relationships, make friends and work on fundamentals. The experience as a whole, you are getting something out of it no matter how you perform.”
It seems as though Morris will make the move up to Triple-A Nashville from his hometown Huntsville Stars in 2013, but he is not taking anything for granted at this point.
“A lot of that is out of my control,” Morris said. “I’m going to go home, take a week off, pick up right after Thanksgiving and get in the weight room to work on conditioning. It will be a short offseason, so I have a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. I’d like to be in better shape come Spring Training, which can be a challenge, but I plan on going home, working hard and continuing to build on this season.”
Morris can be found on Twitter @HunterMorris15.
The Arizona Fall League continues to help develop Major League talent every year. The developmental league, just winding down a six-week schedule in the Phoenix area, is in its 20th year. Brewers President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Doug Melvin and Vice President – Assistant General Manager Gord Ash have each seen the league grow since day one.
“The league itself is very well scouted and an important stepping stone for future Major Leaguers,” Melvin said. “We send all of our scouts there knowing that this is one of the top developmental leagues. It will continue to be the top developmental league for years to come because of the competition involved.”
When Major League organizations take seven top prospects and send them to take part in this league, the competition is very high. Teams are in the homestretch of a 32-game schedule. Games are held six-days a week around the Phoenix-area.
“The level of competition is what makes the league so important to the development of these players,” Ash said. “They aren’t playing a regular season game; there is an elite level of competitive talent there. It’s not just a game either; there is work and practice too which helps fundamentals. There is no travel which decreases stress for players, you are in one place and focused on baseball.”
Each organization send scouts to games throughout the league to view this level of competition. Seeing these players play in the Arizona Fall League helps teams come assess what opponents have in their developmental system and comes in handy around the trade deadline.
Take the Brewers mid-season trade with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that sent Zack Greinke to the Angels. One of the key players in the trade, Jean Segura, played in the Fall League last year and was seen by Brewers scouts.
“Segura is a good example of a player we saw in the Fall League last year and liked,” Melvin said. ”We were able to see him against that high level of competition. He proved to us he was ready and when the Angels called on Greinke, we were ready with reports on Segura that included the Fall League.
The players know every game there is a minimum of 30 scouts each game. During the year, scouts may only see five, six or seven legitimate prospects in games, but here you get a chance to see a lot of players in every game. We send all of our scouts down there at different times.”
While a number of Brewers players like Josh Prince have put up impressive numbers during the Fall League, they aren’t the most important gauge of a player’s success in the league. Switching positions, working on driving the ball to the opposite field or a pitcher’s introduction to a new pitch are all things that are common in the league, giving a skewed perception of numbers.
“I don’t get too worried about performance and numbers; maybe they are working on something,” Melvin added. It is important for guys to get work in. Get at bats and innings pitched against solid competition day in and day out. That is the spirit of the league. Good numbers are able to show us that players are ready to compete at the next level.”
Melvin and Ash each visited the Fall League in October along with other members of the Brewers Front Office staff. Not only is this a great opportunity for the organization to take inventory of young talent on the field, but it also a chance for the club to get to know players off the field. With no travel, the schedule is less hectic, allowing a chance for some social activities.
“We take the players out to dinner with our staff,” Melvin said. “It’s important for us to share stories with them and get to know them in a relaxed environment away from the ballpark. I want to hear what the players have to say about our organization and their thoughts on how we do things. They also want to hear from us.”
Fans were once a rarity at Fall League games, but with a number of sparkling new facilities in Phoenix, the stands for Fall League games have seen more and more fans.
“It’s caught on from a fan perspective,” Ash said. “There are more fans. The improved facilities in Phoenix also play a part in that. From a perception point of view, fans understand that these are players they will soon see in the big leagues. And it’s not necessarily just the Phoenix people. I have seen a lot of people obviously from the hometown of the teams—almost like a mini-Spring Training. It has certainly caught on as a top developmental league.”
I arrived in Phoenix today and will be sharing stories about the Brewers involved in the league. If you have followed the stats and read my first Fall League preview, you might have noticed that a few Brewers prospects are missing from box scores. OF Brock Kjeldgaard broke his left foot on Oct. 27 after he fouled a ball of his foot. He has returned to Milwaukee where he will have surgery this week by Dr. Richard Marx. He expects to be ready in time for Spring Training and finished his stint in the Fall League hitting .385 with four home runs and nine RBI in just seven games.
RHP Santo Manzanillo has returned to the Brewers facility in the Dominican Republic where his is rehabbing from a sore right shoulder. He pitched in only three games, tallying 2.0 innings of relief.
The Brewers players are participating in the league as members of the Phoenix Desert Dogs. The team has a 9-10 record.
The Arizona Fall League opened its 20th anniversary season yesterday in the Phoenix area. Nine Brewers Minor Leaguers will take part in the league as members of the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
The six-team league will play six games a week through mid-November and is described as an off-season “graduate school” for top prospects. Scouts, general managers, farm directors and die-hard baseball fans all enjoy the skills that are on display during the 40-day league by future MLB stars.
I have traveled to the league each of the last two years and will be there again in November to highlight the Brewers prospects who are out there. Here is a list of Brewers players who are participating:
RHP Nick Bucci – Bucci made 10 starts this season after missing the start of the season with a right shoulder injury. Pitched with the Arizona Brewers and Brevard County Manatees. Finished 3-3 with a 1.90 ERA while recording 44 strikeouts in 42.2 innings pitched. He was a member of the Canadian national baseball team that won a gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Games. Bucci was an 18th round selection by the Brewers in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of St. Patrick High School in Ontario, Canada. Fans can follow Bucci on Twitter: @nickbooch.
RHP Kyle Heckathorn – Heckathorn spent the entire 2012 season with the Huntsville Stars where he went 5-11 with a 4.75 ERA in 35 appearances/17 starts. He was taken in the supplemental first round (47th overall) of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Kennesaw State University. Fans can follow Heckathorn on Twitter: @KyleHeckathorn.
RHP Johnny Hellweg – Hellweg joined the Brewers organization following a July trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. At 6-9, Hellweg is one of the tallest players in baseball and he finished the season with an overall record of 7-11 with a 3.29 ERA. He began the season with Arkansas of the Texas League and finished with Huntsville. He won both starts he made with Huntsville this season and posted a 2.70 ERA while holding opponents to a .171 batting average as a starter. He was originally a 16th round selection by the Angels in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. Hellweg picked up the save in the season-opener yesterday for Phoenix.
RHP Santo Manzanillo – Manzanillo suffered a shoulder injury after a scary auto accident in November of 2011 in the Dominican Republic, pushing his 2012 debut back to August. He split time between Brevard County, Huntsville and Wisconsin and finished the season with a combined record of 2-6 and an ERA of 6.95. He made 18 appearances out of the bullpen this season. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005.
RHP Jimmy Nelson – Nelson went 6-8 with a 2.83 ERA in 23 starts this season between Brevard County and Huntsville. He stuck out 119 and held opposing hitters to a .213 batting average. Nelson was named to the Florida State League All-Star Team. He was a second round selection by the Brewers in the 2010 First Year Player Draft out of the University of Alabama. Nelson is 6-6 and has a lot of athletic genes in his family as his father, Jim, played football and ran track at the University of Florida while his mother, Deborah, played basketball at the University of Florida. Fans can follow Nelson on Twitter: @Jimmy_J_Nelson.
INF Hunter Morris- Morris had one of the most decorated seasons by a Brewers minor leaguer in recent history. He was named Southern League MVP and nearly achieved the Triple Crown as he led the Southern League in home runs (28) and RBI (113) while hitting .303 (4th best in the league). He was also awarded with a Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove and was named to the Southern League All-Star team. He was a 4th round selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Auburn University where he was the 2010 SEC Player of the Year and set Aubrun University records for home runs (23) and RBI (76). Fans can follow Morris on Twitter: @HunterMorris15.
INF Josh Prince - Prince spent the entire 2012 season with the Huntsville Stars hitting .251 with seven home runs and 55 RBI. Prince also led the Stars with 41 stolen bases this season. A 3rd round selection by the Brewers in the 2009 First Year Player Draft out of Tulane University, Prince played one year of college baseball at the University of Texas. Fans can follow Prince on Twitter: @JoshPrince17.
OF Khris Davis – Davis worked his was up to Nashville this season where he finished the season with the Sounds. He hit .383 in 44 games with Huntsville before a July promotion sent him to Triple-A. Davis his .310 with four home runs and 24 RBI in 32 games with the Sounds. Davis was named Brewers Minor League Player of the Month for July. He was selected in the 7th round of the 2009 First Year Player Draft out of Cal-State Fullerton University. A Phoenix-area native, Davis was two-time all-State at Deer Valley H.S.
OF Brock Kjeldgaard – Kjeldgaard split time this season between Brevard County and Huntsville and finished the year hitting a combined .211 with 12 home runs and 33 RBI. Played for the Canadian national baseball team that won a gold medal in the 2011 Pan American Games.
In addition, Huntsville Stars manager Darnell Coles will serve as hitting coach for Phoenix.