The Huntsville Stars, AA Affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, are so named because the Alabama town was home to the facilities NASA built to launch men into orbit, and eventually to the moon.
This year, the name might as well describe the level of talent on the Minor League club. As of right now, six of Milwaukee’s top 20 prospects call Joe Davis Stadium home. The team itself, despite an enormous amount of talent, is sitting at 6-6 and two games back from the division lead. Of course, records don’t matter in the Minors any more than batting average does in Spring Training – that is to say, everything is conditional. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key players on this roster who are mere steps away from playing in Miller Park.
On offense, it’s hard to pick one or two difference makers on the club – there are currently five players in the lineup batting over .300. For the time being, we are disregarding catcher Anderson De La Rosa’s .444 batting average because he has only played in 3 games, but we will keep our eye on him if his numbers stay that good. The rest of the regulars are still hitting well, including well known Reviewing the Brew man crush Scooter Gennett, who is posting a .351 average with only seven strikeouts in 53 at-bats. If the boy had more infield versatility he may have made the club this year – he’s that good at the plate. But as it stands, Rickie is the only second baseman we really need on the club and Scooter will have to wait his turn another year.
Khris Davis, the number 13 Brewers prospect according to mlb.com, currently leads the team in batting average at .381. Almost a fourth of his at-bats end up in strikeouts, but it’s not quite as bad as it seems when you consider that when he does connect, he’s moving runners or taking extra bases. Playing left field certainly hurts his chances of making it up to the big club any time soon, but for now his presence at the plate is more than enough to garner some attention. Center fielder Kentrail Davis has been bumped around the system for the past few years, but it looks like he’s finally putting everything into place in Hunstville. He’s hitting .296 and getting on base quite a bit more than he did last year even if it is early. He doesn’t have a ton of power, but he moves well on the base paths. He’s already earned two steals this year, and in 2011 he stole 33 bases, good for second within the Brewers’ farm system. Another good full year from him will certainly help his position in the club.
Brock Kjeldgaard, who had an absolutely abysmal trip to Spring Training, is starting to put things together again Hunstville. He’s hitting .206 right now with one home run and five runs batted in. Unfortunately it appears his free-swinging attitude is hard to shake, as he struck out 10 times so far in as many games played. His power might reach off-the-chart levels, but he’s going to need to get on base more if he wants to keep moving up the chain. I like Brock and think he can do well, but he needs to capitalize on more opportunities. Patience is a virtue, especially for someone in the Minors.
On the mound, number four prospect Tyler Thornburg truly looks like a man among boys. He’s 1-0 in
three starts, with 24 – count ‘em – 24 strikeouts in 18 innings of work. He has a WHIP of .60, and almost had a perfect game on Monday, striking out 11 batters and retiring 22 consecutive batters. There’s not much more you can say about him, except that he has three great pitches and he deserves a shot at a big league debut – maybe as early as this year. He’s slated to come up in 2013, but he had a great spring training with Big Club and he has proven to be an effective reliever when necessary. Depending on how the season goes, a hot young arm might serve the Brewers bullpen well.
I know I gush about Thornburg a lot, but a few other pitchers deserve mention on here as well. Kyle Heckathorn has a high ERA (4.63), but is 1-0 in two starts with 12 strikeouts of his own. He doesn’t have the high-level stuff that Thornburg does, but he pitches well. If he can prolong a few of his starts and keep himself out of trouble on the mound, he will be in for a good career. Josh Stinson is a reliever on the rise, as he proved by striking out 11 batters in nine innings of work and a save so far in 2012. However, he will need to stop issuing free passes – he’s walked six batters so far and they have come back to bite him.
So Hunstville is, for lack of a better term, in the hunt for their division early on this season. The talent is there, but fundamental mistakes seem to be holding them back from their true potential. What is Minor League ball for if not tweaking those practices? I have a feeling the team will do very well this year, and I think their stars will do even better in the future.