Well, I’m a few days late and at least a dollar short.
Such is life, I’m afraid. But the good news is, I come bearing gifts of penance for you readers. Instead of profiling just one AZL Brewer, I have three.
Today we take a look at the pitchers who have the most to prove during their stint as a Phoenix Desert Dog – Wisconsin Timber Rattler Santo Manzanillo, and Hunstville Sounds Kyle Heckathorn and Johnny Hellweg.
To begin we take a look at Santo Manzanillo, born in the Dominican Republic in 1988. He was signed in 2006 as a non-drafted free agent and has been struggling to prove himself ever since. He had a rough start in limited time in the Arizona Brewers and Helena Rookie Brewers in the beginning of his career. In 2009, he missed an entire year due to the dreaded Tommy John surgery – but since then has been steadily improving in the bullpen.
He was in a car accident in the off-season of 2011 that once again left him trudging the path to recovery in his baseball career.
In 2012 he split time between the Helena Brewers, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and Huntsville Sounds, playing only 18 games. It was a tough return action after having been named one of Milwaukee’s organizational All-Stars in 2011 by Minor League Baseball. Despite a rough road to health and success, many scouts still see a lot of potential in Manzanillo. He is described by many as a ‘natural closer’ and could be effective in the back-end of a bullpen. His fastball has blinding speed – encroaching on triple-digits with some regularity – and has enough life to put some fear in the minds of hitters. He doesn’t have breaking balls that will blow you away, but there’s enough there to mix things up. Manzanillo is in Phoenix mainly to get more time on the mound as a result of his injuries during the season – but he has plenty to show scouts and fans during his stay.
Kyle Heckathorn is a name many Brewers fans probably aren’t as familiar with – but that may change in
a short time. Kyle is six foot six, and his big frame is almost as intimidating as the five pitch arsenal he carries with him. He has a two-seam fastball that works as one of his most effective pitches, touching in the mid-90 range. He works a sinker very well, as aided by his height. His change comes with excellent command (some say better than with his fastball offerings) and if he can get his slider to work with him on a regular basis, he’s got the stuff to last a long time in the majors.
Heckathorn has been regularly moving up the ranks through the Brewers’ system, landing an organizational All-Star title in 2010 as a member of the Brevard County Manatees, and spent the entirety of 2012 and most of 2011 in Hunstville with the AA squad. What Heckathorn needs out of Phoenix is a sense of consistency – currently he works just a touch better out of the bullpen then as a starter and has some trouble finding a rhythm. If he can put together a string of good appearances as a Desert Dog it will go a long way towards his trip to Milwaukee as a Major Leaguer.
Johnny Hellweg, on the other hand, probably does not need an introduction to Brewers fans who have kept tabs on this season. Hellweg has been shifted from the ‘pen to the rotation for his entire career in the Angels system and now in his very short stint as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. This year has marked the first year where he was as good as a starter as he was from the bullpen.
The rap on Hellweg is mainly that any team that has him needs to wait for his delivery to grow into his frame. He’s six-foot-eight and that high angle of attack makes his fastball a little more punishing, but it also lends to inconsistency with command. He really only has a fastball and change (though many scouts would say they are plus pitches) and is still developing a slider that needs to hit a little better before it’s truly effective. There’s no question of potential when it comes to Hellweg – he was highly-rated in a system that covets quality pitchers – but he needs to turn that hype into more consistent results. In Phoenix, he will likely get plenty of chances to show fans how he’s coming along.
These pitchers are definitely worth keeping an eye on not only through the Arizona Fall League season, but as they advance beyond the ranks of the minors. All of them are just a few steps away from making an impact on a Major League club, and the Arizona League is one of those steps. You can track those steps starting October 9th.