I like our Advanced-A club. I like that they are called the ‘Manatees’, which is by far the least threatening animal in existence. I like that they love beer. I like that on April 14th they had a promotion called “Rock out with your Cook Out” on the same day they had a performance from a Catholic school marching band.
I also like that they are 6-4 to start out the year and only one game back from the division lead.
Advanced-A is where the cream really starts to rise to the top, and even if it is generally just a layover for rising prospects, it’s worth your while to keep tabs on the Manatees and the players that call Space Coast Stadium home.
The Manatees are off to a hot start this year, and at the plate it’s all thanks to three very different young hitters. Leading Brevard County in batting average is catcher Shawn Zarraga, with an astronomical .421 in 19 at-bats. To say he’s seeing the ball well is an understatement – the guy hasn’t struck out a single time so far in 2012. At six feet and 260 pounds, he’s a big backstop who has a big presence at the plate. Zarraga has been impressing baseball fans since he was in high school, and so far has batted near .300 every year (save for a dismal half-season with the Timber Rattlers). With Lucroy and Kottaras at the big club I don’t know how much further he stands to get in the Brewers Organization, but for now the Manatees are very lucky to have him.
If you follow the Minor Leagues regularly the next two hitters will come as no surprise to you. T.J. Mittelstadt is starting hot again after he was named an Organization All-Star by the MiLB last year. So far TJ is batting .273 with five runs batted in, along with a pair each of doubles, triples, and home runs. Where Zarraga is more of a contact hitter, Mittelstadt is a power hitter who seems to thrive when men are on base. He also brings speed to the bases – TJ stole 28 bags last year with Single A Wisconsin. Of course it’s still early on in the season, but if Mittelstadt can keep any momentum from last year into the rest of his career, everyone will be watching the left fielder a lot closer.
Rounding out the offensive stars for the Manatees is Nick Shaw. The 23 year-old second basemen – a Post-Season All-Star in the Arizona Fall League – is currently boasting a very impressive .294 batting average, with a .767 OPS in ten games. He’s hit well ever since he joined the Brewers organization as well, his lowest batting average for a season is only .260. I wish we could say the same about other home-grown players. Shaw is a solid hitter and fielder, and with a little work on his plate discipline he could turn out to be a real star infielder in years to come.
The Manatees offense is on the right track, but the Brewers fans who get out to Brevard County games aren’t coming to see the bats. They are coming to see the two big-name prospect pitchers – you might have heard of them during draft season last year. This year Jed Bradley and Taylor Jungmann are headlining an impressive group of pitchers for the Manatees. Bradley is 1-1 so far in 2012, and has yet to surrender an earned run in thirteen innings of work. His loss came earlier last week, and he got anchored with the L despite pitching 5 perfect innings to start the game – with a stomach flu. He officially earns the title of “Michael Jordan of Brewers Pitching Prospects”. He already has four good pitches under his belt, although he doesn’t go to the change and curve as much as the fastball and slider. Bradley is a son of Hunstville, Alabama – a place he’s likely to return to as a Star by the end of the year. He’s also the number two prospect for the Brewers, so don’t be surprised to see him in Miller Park very, very soon.
Jungmann just recently received his first career loss on Sunday, but pitched well nonetheless in a 3-2 loss. He struck out three in six innings, and surrendered six hits. Despite the fact that he has trouble hitting the corners so far in his career, it doesn’t seem to matter that much as he as already struck out 10 batters in 17 2/3 innings of work. It says a lot about the kind of stuff he’s working with, which is mainly a mid 90s fastball and a hard biting curve. He has work to do, but he should be a monster in short order. He would make a fine addition to any Major League rotation in two to three years.
Brevard County is off to a good start this year, and the roster is brimming with future major league players. None of the players mentioned will likely finish the season with the Manatees, but for now the team is in prime position to take their Division – and they’re likely to take their young stars even further than that.