August 15, 2022

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Small shrinks ERA with six scoreless innings

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Small allows one hit in six scoreless innings (April 16)
Ethan Small shrunk his ERA with six scoreless innings, striking out seven while allowing one hit and three walks for Triple-A Nashville in its 10-0 win.

Through three starts this season, the Brewers’ No. 7 prospect has a 0.68 ERA with 18 strikeouts to seven walks and five hits allowed in 13 1/3 innings.

Small’s strong start to the year comes as no surprise, as he had a 1.98 ERA and 92 K’s over 77 1/3 innings in 2021 and a 0.86 ERA with 36 strikeouts to four walks in 21 innings in 2019. — Nick Trujillo

Valerio’s four-hit night keeps Biloxi perfect (April 14)
Already off to a solid start, Felix Valerio took things to another level for Double-A Biloxi. The No. 11 Brewers prospect capped his fifth career four-hit game with a long solo home run to lead the Shuckers to an 8-1 win.

Valerio singled in each of his first three at-bats and scored twice before unloading on his third long ball in six games. The performance lifted his slash line in the early going to .417/.500/.833 with four extra-base hits, eight runs and six RBIs in 24 at-bats.

Signed as an international free agent in 2018, Valerio put together an impressive first full-season campaign in 2021. The 21-year-old batted .290/.401/.468 with 51 extra-base hits, 90 runs, 79 RBIs and 31 stolen bases in 114 games with Single-A Carolina and High-A Wisconsin. His 37 doubles were tied for second in the Minors. — Michael Avallone

Turang starts … in center? (April 10)
The lineup posted Sunday morning at Triple-A Nashville contained a twist: Brice Turang, center fielder.

Turang, the Brewers’ No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is a Major League-ready shortstop, but Milwaukee loves to expand players’ defensive versatility whenever possible to expand their options as a potential call-up draws closer. That day is coming for Turang, who is just 22 years old, but who has already gained experience at the Triple-A level last year during the second half and has played extensively with Major Leaguers in Spring Training games over the years. In a discussion with Sounds broadcaster Jeff Hem for the team’s pregame radio show, manager Rick Sweet said the plan called for Turang to play center field once a week or so.

“He is a shortstop,” Sweet said. “I don’t want anyone to think he’s not a shortstop.” — Adam McCalvy

Valerio powers Double-A Biloxi’s season-opening win (April 9)
Brewers’ No. 11 prospect Felix Valerio stands 5-foot-7 and models his game after Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, and like Altuve, he packs a punch. On Opening Day for the Shuckers on Friday, Valerio’s two-run home run in the top of the 11th inning powered a wild 13-12 win in Pensacola that featured five ties and six lead changes.

Valerio is among a slew of Top 30 Brewers prospects who began the season with Biloxi, a list that includes three of the team’s Top 10 players on MLB Pipeline’s list of Milwaukee’s top prospects and nine Top 30 prospects in all: Joey Wiemer (No. 2), Garrett Mitchell (No. 3), Freddy Zamora (No. 10), Valerio, Korry Howell (No. 17), Abner Uribe ( No. 20), Taylor Floyd (No. 24), Victor Castaneda (No. 26) and Gabe Holt (No. 28). Of the hitters in that group, Valerio’s 60-grade hit tool is tops. That matches top prospect Sal Frelick and No. 6 prospect Tyler Black for the top score in the system.

Last season between Single-A Carolina and High-A Wisconsin, Valerio slashed .290/.401/.468 with 11 homers and 79 RBIs.

“Valerio can flat-out hit,” said Joe Ayrault, who managed Valerio last year at Carolina and moved up to Wisconsin for 2022. “And he’s a winning player. He truly cares. He would come up to me before a game and say, ‘We’re going to win today.’ If he had three hits and we lose, he was mad. It’s good to see that, especially in the Minor Leagues where these guys are striving to move up levels. He is a winning-type player every time he is out there in the field. His defense improved a lot, too. But the first thing that comes to mind is his hit tool. The guy flat-out rakes.” — Adam McCalvy

Help from the farm (April 3)
If it seems like prospects who are helping the Brewers cover the final week of Spring Training games are getting younger and younger, it’s because they are.

The Triple-A Nashville Sounds departed Arizona on Friday ahead of their regular-season opener Tuesday – two days before the Brewers open at the Cubs. And now the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers have left, too, meaning the players on loan from Minors camp for the Brewers’ weekend games were headed to High-A Wisconsin or below. For Saturday’s road game at the Mariners, they included three players in the starting lineup: Second baseman Felix Valerio (No. 11 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Brewers prospects list), left fielder Korry Howell (No. 17) and right fielder Carlos Rodriguez (No. 22). On Sunday at home against the Rangers, Rodriguez started again and delivered two more hits and a run scored in a 13-2 loss.

“The thing that’s different this spring is that more inexperienced players are getting opportunities,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “One name that stands out is [outfielder Jackson] Chourio. He’s really young.”

Chourio, who just turned 18 on March 11, signed with the Brewers in January 2021 and played last season in the Dominican Summer League. He appeared in both Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, and though he might start in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League in ’22, he has a chance to start his first Major League Spring Training game Tuesday against the Royals. By then, all of the full-season affiliates will have departed, the Brewers’ positional regulars are not expected to play more than an at-bat or two, if at all, and there is still a Cactus League game on the schedule. — Adam McCalvy

Turang to begin season at Triple-A (March 28)
Shortstop Brice Turang, the Brewers’ No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was among the players informed by manager Craig Counsell on Monday that he wouldn’t make Milwaukee’s Opening Day roster. That wasn’t exactly a surprise for Turang, 22, who played 44 games at Triple-A Nashville in the second half of last season and appeared ticketed for a return to begin ’22. In their meeting, Counsell told Turang to be ready for a call if he’s needed.

“Yeah, I think that’s the plan,” Counsell said.

Does he consider Turang ready for the Major Leagues?

“I don’t like saying that, because I think he needs to think about improving,” Counsell said. “There’s lots of avenues for him to get better and he should still be in a big part of the growth curve as a player. But certainly, [he is] getting closer. That’s what I would say for me.”

Turang was one of the non-roster invitees reassigned to Minor League camp on Monday, where he can get more regular at-bats. Last season he slashed .258/.348/.362 between Double-A Biloxi and Nashville. — Adam McCalvy

Frelick, Wiemer make unofficial Crew debuts (March 22)
There’s a tendency to describe things that happen at this time of year as “just Spring Training.” But for Sal Frelick, the Brewers’ first-round Draft pick in 2021 and ranked as the No. 70 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipleine, Monday night’s 13-6 win over the Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz., was most certainly not “just” another game. It marked his first appearance in a Major League contest.

Frelick made the most of it after entering the game as a reserve, knocking a couple of singles and running down a fly ball in center field.

“It was huge. It was my first taste of Major League-level baseball,” Frelick said. “It was fun coming out here. First time meeting some of the guys in the clubhouse, too, which was great. Kind of putting faces to names and whatnot. I was glad I was able to get in there in the end, too, and get a couple of hits there and catch a fly ball.”

Frelick and 2021 Brewers Minor League Player of the Year Joey Wiemer — ranked No. 100 in MLB Pipeline’s recently released Top 100 for 2022 — both had advance notice the day before that they would be on loan from Minor League camp. They slept on the idea they were about to make their unofficial big league debut.

“I don’t know if there was much sleep, but yeah, I was told [Sunday],” Frelick said with a smile. “It was great to do it with Joey. He was one of the guys I looked up to [last season] after coming in as an outfielder. He kind of took me under his wing.”

They have been together again for the past month, among the players who took part in the Brewers’ early camp for non-40-man roster players. Frelick and Wiemer have been logging at-bats against live pitching since that camp opened on Feb. 23.

Against the Giants, both of Frelick’s hits were on the ground; a single through the left side of the infield in the eighth inning and a two-run single that bounced through a drawn-in infield in the ninth. Wiemer, coming off a 27-homer season in ’21, showed that he never gets cheated on a swing. He put a charge into a fly ball in the ninth inning, but he saw it caught near the right-center-field warning track.

“I’ve seen some of Sal’s at-bats on the Minor League side, but that was the first I’ve seen Joey Wiemer,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I mean, he’s entertaining. I think that’s really cool. I think baseball needs players like that.” — Adam McCalvy

Counsell on Small: ‘He’s going to make starts for us’ (March 18)
Ethan Small started the Brewers’ Cactus League debut against the Dodgers on Friday and struck out a pair of batters (Trea Turner on a changeup Small called his best pitch of the day, and later Cody Bellinger) in two scoreless, hitless innings. He doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser and Small were all Brewers prospects who got their feet wet in Major League relief in recent seasons, and Small, Milwaukee’s reigning Minor League Pitcher of the Year, is perfectly positioned to do the same in 2022.

“Ethan has put himself in a great position,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of the Brewers’ top pitching prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline. “He had a really good season. Pitched this winter. So, he’s first [to start in the Cactus League] because he was here earlier a little bit earlier too, but he’s been going for a while. So we feel like he’s in a really good spot. I think he took a big step forward last year.”

Does Counsell think Small’s prospect predecessors provide inspiration?

“For Ethan, there’s a pretty significant group ahead of him. But where he sits now, he’s definitely put himself squarely in the mix to be one of the next guys,” Counsell said. “And so you feel like he’s done his job. Ethan Small is going to make starts for us this year. The way he’s going right now, he’s going to make starts for us. You still have to earn yourself into that conversation. And he has done that.”

Small was in camp early as part of the Brewers’ “Build-Up Camp” for prospects not on the 40-man roster who were not subject to the lockout. He stretched out to 37 pitches against the Dodgers and allowed only one baserunner on a two-out Chris Taylor walk in the second inning.

He came to camp to compete, and not just to prepare for a long Minor League season.

“One hundred percent. And I’d say that has probably changed a little bit from years past,” Small said. “I came in this year wanting to really show up ready on the front end more so than like, coming in here and, like, ‘Oh, I’ve got time.’ Because that’s really not the case anymore. Like, you’ve got to come in — especially if you’re a guy like me and fighting your way up — you just got to come in ready. So, I tried to do that this year and it’s a lot better.” — Adam McCalvy

Lefty Kelly ‘all good’ after TOS rehab (March 1)
No pitcher in camp is more thankful for his health than cancer survivor Tyler Gillies, but the runner-up could be 6-foot-6 left-hander Antoine Kelly, who is healthy again after recovering from thoracic outlet surgery in late 2020. Kelly was a limited participant in last year’s Spring Training and didn’t pitch in a game until July 13.

“It feels good not to be in rehab at this time of year,” said Kelly, 22, who is ranked 10th on MLB Pipeline’s most recent list of the Brewers’ top prospects. “It sucked watching everybody do baseball activities while I was sitting in the trainers’ room. It was really bad. It was not a good time.”

It was a tough year all around. In nine appearances between the Arizona Complex League and the two Class A levels (seven starts at Carolina and one at Wisconsin), Kelly was charged with 21 earned runs on 16 hits, 19 walks and three hit batsmen. He will continue to work this spring on controlling the running game and other nuances of pitching. Priority No. 1, he said, is cutting down the walks.

“He can be a very dominant force,” said Joe Ayrault, who managed Kelly last year at Low-A Carolina and will be skipper at High-A Wisconsin this year. “He’s healthy and should shoot through the system. Shoot, I remember last season in Fredricksburg, looking up there in the first or second inning and he’s touching 97 [mph] from the left side. I wouldn’t want to be a hitter facing that stuff.”

Said Kelly: “Last year was a lot. It was a grind. It was probably one of my hardest years of all time. [I learned] patience and wanting to feel good and not getting the results that I want. I would have certain games where I felt decent, but I never felt 100 percent like I do this year. There was always something bothering me with my arm. It was not fun.”

Kelly continued to battle aches and pains during the offseason, but he started feeling 100 percent within the last month.

“Now,” he said, “we’re all good.” — Adam McCalvy

Valerio aims to be next Altuve (March 1)
One observer at High-A Wisconsin last season viewed the close friendship between Joey Wiemer and Felix Valerio as the Timber Rattlers’ version of The Odd Couple — Wiemer a 6-foot-5 outfielder from Michigan, and Valerio a 5-foot-7 infielder from Bonao, D.R.

It might not surprise you to hear that Valerio’s boyhood favorite was Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.

“People would always tell me I have to do more than them because they were taller than me,” said Valerio, ranked No. 29 among MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Brewers prospects. “I read [Altuve’s] story, and I struggled a lot, and I know he struggled a lot to get a team to sign him. I take advantage of every opportunity that’s given to me.”

Valerio spent the winter working to improve his arm strength, and he is ready to move around the field again. Last year at Low-A Carolina, he made 40 starts at season base, 16 at shortstop and 14 at third. He also started 14 games as the designated hitter and finished the season with an impressive .314/.430/.469 slash line. His 24 doubles led the team.

“He’s a winning player. He truly cares,” said Wisconsin manager Joe Ayrault. “I always call him Mike Tyson. He looked at me one day, and just the hunger and the look in his eye. So I always called him Mike Tyson, and our sign was a little gut punch when he would get to me at third [base]. He has that Mike Tyson look in his eyes.” — Adam McCalvy

Black expands Canada’s ‘small baseball circle’ (March 1)
Second baseman and Ontario native Tyler Black, the 33rd overall pick in last year’s Draft, was thrilled to see a fellow Canadian go to the Brewers seven rounds later. Tristan Peters, an outfielder, went to Milwaukee in the seventh round.

“He’s from Manitoba, and we’ve been pretty close,” Black said. “It’s a small baseball circle in Canada. Not a lot of us. So we all know each other, and we’re all rooting for each other.”

The Brewers have long been stocked with Canadians. Their former GM (Doug Melvin) and assistant GM (Gord Ash) are both from Canada. Their assistant director of scouting and international player development, Taylor Green, is Canadian, as is new bullpen coach Jim Henderson. In addition to Black and Peters, another player in the club’s Minor League early camp, pitcher Tyler Gillies, is from Ontario.

The short season up north makes it difficult for Canadian players to garner notice from scouts, and there’s also the pull of such winter sports as hockey.

“Honestly, I tend to look at it as an advantage, to be honest,” said Black, the Brewers’ No. 7 prospect. “You know, I’m in [an indoor] cage for however long in the winter. There’s advantages to that — you don’t get too big, because you’re in a cage. I told one of my buddies when I was in college, every time I’d come to college from the winter, I’d feel great because I’d be hitting in the cage for two months leading up to the college season so I wouldn’t try and do too much or anything like that. So it’s good. It keeps us fresh.” — Adam McCalvy

Wiemer’s tower of power (Feb. 24)
Did you hear about the time Joey Wiemer hit a walk-off home run off the light tower? That was one of the many stories told this spring about Wiemer, a relatively unheralded prospect going into last season who won the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year Award. (Pipeline now ranks him No. 21 in the system.)

Wiemer, who turned 23 on Feb. 11, spent the offseason in Cincinnati, where he attended college. He’s one of 10 outfielders in the Brewers’ early “Build-Up Camp” for prospects not on the 40-man roster. Six of the 10 are among Milwaukee’s Top 30 prospects: Wiemer, Sal Frelick, Hedbert Perez, Joe Gray Jr., Carlos Rodriguez and Tristen Lutz.

For Wiemer the challenge is sustaining his power output in 2022.

“I think it’s completely sustainable,” Wiemer said. “It was nice to finally start to tap into that power potential that I’ve known I’ve always had. It’s just [about] getting to it in a game. It feels good now. I’m just trying to keep it going.” — Adam McCalvy

Small used winter ball as slingshot (Feb. 23)
Ethan Small’s time in the Dominican Winter League — where he logged 20 innings over five starts for an Escogido team that included Albert Pujols, Fernando Rodney, Pedro Strop, and new Brewers teammates Mike Brosseau and Brett Sullivan at various points of the season — bore fruit beyond allowing him to rub elbows with a boyhood hero, Pujols. It helped the pitching prospect reclaim innings lost to a left finger injury in the middle of his regular season with Triple-A Nashville in 2021, a setback that denied him any chance at a late-season callup to Milwaukee. Now he is back on schedule.

“I think the time in the D.R. was huge for him,” said Minor League pitching coordinator Cam Castro. “A lot of people tell you that if you can pitch down there, you can pitch anywhere. I think he’s at a point right now where he’s getting ready to tackle the season in the best shape we’ve seen him, and that’s really exciting.”

“I pretty much told everybody I would go do it at least once,” Small said of his experience in winter ball. “It’s cool to be around the culture, kind of see what those guys go through. … The passion of those games is wild. You’ve got people in the stands banging those drums. That was the part I thought was the coolest.” — Adam McCalvy

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