Feb 25, 2014; Maryvale, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers Mitch Haniger (75) is greeted at the dugout after hitting a solo home run in a Spring Training inter-squad practice game at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
Three weeks ago I began a weekly series looking back at some of the top farm squads in the history of Brewers baseball, dating back to 1970 when the Seattle Pilots headed northeast from spring training in Arizona and became the Milwaukee Brewers. I have not included short-season Class A or Rookie ball teams, as their seasons are generally too short to compare to full-season squads in A, AA, and AAA levels.
With this week’s edition of Beating the Bushes, I present the #17 team on my list:
"#17, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, 2012"
Appleton, Wisconsin is located in the Fox Valley in the central eastern part of the state. It lies just a few miles southwest of Titletown, aka Green Bay, Wisconsin. Back in 2012, Appleton was considered Titletown as well when the Timber Rattlers took seven of nine contests in three rounds of Midwest League playoffs and earned the league crown.
The Timber Rattlers played their games (and still do) at Fox Cities Stadium, a beautiful facility with a capacity of 5,900 just west of Highway 41 on Appleton’s northwest side. In the magical year of 2012, the ‘T-Rats’ drew over 240,000 fans, averaging more than 3,400 per home game.
Matt Erickson was in his second year in 2012, guiding the Timber Rattlers to a record of 67-72 the year before. Better things were to come.
If you look at the team stats, the squad was just average, although the team was second in the league in home runs (107). Otherwise, in all the key numbers that measure a team, they were no more than average.
But the heart and hard work that went into the season produced several magic moments, culminating in a league title for the T-Rats.
Proving that fan support was a key part of the team’s success, the Timber Rattlers had ten walk-off wins at home during the season, an incredible number of victories in the last at-bat.
The team won the Western Division title in the first half with a mark of 44-25, insuring a post-season spot. They struggled in the second half, limping to a 34-36 record, good for a fourth place tie.
In the second round, Wisconsin swept Clinton in two games to advance to the championship series.
Fort Wayne and the T-Rats split the first two game in Appleton before the series moved to Fort Wayne, where the guests took both games and celebrated their first Midwest League crown under Milwaukee leadership.
The front office also won the Larry MacPhail Award, symbolizing the top promotional effort in all of minor league baseball.
All in all, it was a pretty good year for the T-Rats.
C: Rafael Neda/Cameron Garfield
1B: Nick Ramirez
2B: Greg Hopkins/Carlos George
3B: Brandon Macias
SS: Yadiel Rivera
LF: Ben McMahan
CF: Chadwin Stang
RF: Max Walla
SP: David Goforth
SP: Matt Miller
SP: Chad Thompson
SP: Drew Gagnon
SP: Mark Williams/Chad Pierce
CL: Seth Harvey
Player With Best Chance to Make the Big Leagues: Mitch Haniger, OF
Haniger, 23, began his pro career with the T-Rats in 2012, playing in 14 games after being drafted by the Brewers in the first round (38th overall pick) in the 2012 June Draft. The outfielder from Cal-Poly State hit 286/379/429 in his brief opening season.
In 2013, he split time between Wisconsin and Brevard County (A+ level) and showed a good eye and good power, slashing 264/348/431 in 473 ABs.
So far in 2014 at AA Huntsville, Haniger’s line is down a little bit at 263/324/428, but has cut down on his whiffs while showing improving power numbers, a good sign for a young prospect. He is rated #3 on Baseball America’s Brewers Top 10 Prospects and is rated as having the best outfield arm in the minor league organization while splitting time between RF and CF.
The 6’2, 215# fly chaser bats right and throws right and if not included in a deal by the Brewers at mid-season, could be a productive player for many years in Milwaukee, possibly as soon as the 2015 season.