Apr 1, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Former players David Wells, and Brian Giles and Mark Loretta throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres at Petco Park. The Dodgers defeated the Padres 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Fielding-USA TODAY Sports
Six 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 #14 team on my list:
"#14 El Paso Diablos, 1994"
The 1982 version of this team was featured last week at the #15 spot. The ’94 team won both halves and finished with a record of 88-48. They outranked the Jackson Generals in the Texas League championship series to grab the AA loop title. The Diablos grabbed three league titles in their history, hoisting trophies every eight years (1978, 1986, 1994).
The Diablos moved to Cohen Field in 1990, where the stadium held over 9,700 people. El Paso drew over 327,000 fans during their final championship season.
Tim Ireland managed the team in 1994, the middle season of his three campaigns in the west Texas city. He would go on to perform as team skipper for 12 years in the minors, but none of those seasons would be as successful as the ’94 season.
The Diablos performed well in their hitter’s park, ranking first in the league in runs scored (833) and batting average (.283). On the pitching side–as expected–they were middling, ranking fifth in home runs allowed (83) and sixth in ERA (4.21) and WHIP (1.485). The Diablos caught the ball well, posting a .972 fielding average, finishing in the runner-up spot in the league. (Fielding average–can you tell I’m an old school stat guy?)
Although the majority of the future major leaguers saw little success in the bigs, three of them had long, solid careers.
Surhoff played for 19 years–nine with Milwaukee–and tagged 2,326 hits in 2,313 games, including 188 home runs. His batting line read a steady 282/332/413. He played in the 1999 All-Star game for Baltimore.
Mark Loretta started at shortstop and played in just 77 games before moving up to AAA New Orleans. He hit 315/369/397 in 302 ABs for the Diablos. His major league career spanned 15 seasons with eight in Milwaukee. He averaged nearly a hit per game in over 1700 games, was a two-time All Star, and hit 295/360/395.
Henry only threw 23 innings between El Paso and New Orleans during his injury recovery stint. In eleven big league seasons he appeared in 582 games–all in relief–and recorded 82 saves. In 1992 he notched 29 saves for the Brewers and polled eighth in the 1991 Rookie of the Year award voting in the American League.
Southpaw Scott Karl started eight games on his way to being called up to AAA, winning five of six with a 2.96 ERA. In six years in the majors, he recorded a 54-56 win/loss record with an ERA of 4.81.
Jose Mercedes pitched at three levels in 1994 (AA, AAA, Majors) and played in eight season in the bigs. He notched a 33-39 record with an ERA of 4.75.
Bobby Hughes was a big (6-4, 237), strong-armed catcher who split time between Advanced A Stockton and El Paso. In two years with the Brewers, he played in 133 games and smacked 12 homers, with a batting line of 238/287/392.
Third baseman Tim Unroe led the 1994 Texas League in RBIs with 103 and had a slash line of 310/366/511. He played parts of five seasons in the majors–three with Milwaukee and appeared in 79 games.
HR: Scott Talanoa (28)
RBI: Tim Unroe (103)
BA: Rodney Lofton (.331)
SB: Rodney Lofton (21)
C: Mike Stefanski
1B: Scott Talanoa
2B: Rodney Lofton
3B: Tim Unroe
SS: Mark Loretta/Jim Byrd
OF: Michael Harris
OF: Danny Perez
OF: Todd Samples
SP: Francisco Gamez
SP: Ron Gerstein
SP: Sid Roberson
SP: Steve Peck
SP: Kevin Kloek/Scott Karl/Chris George
CL: Mike Thomas
Best Prospect to Fall Short of the Bigs: Antone Williamson, INF
Anthony Joseph Williamson was the fourth player drafted overall in the 1994 June Draft by the Brewers. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, he never lived up to the hype.
He was ranked as the 64th best prospect by Baseball America after the 1994 season.
In 185 games at Arizona State, he slashed to the tune of 357/436/599, including 33 HRs and 203 RBIs.
He signed with the Brewers and was assigned to Helena of the Pioneer League. He collected 11 hits in 26 ABs and was moved up to Advanced A Stockton, where he struggled a bit in 85 ABs, hitting only .224, but was bumped up to AA El Paso anyway. He hit .250 in 14 games to end his rookie season in professional ball.
In 1995 he returned to El Paso, where he had an excellent season, slashing 309/383/469 in 392 ABs. I’m guessing he was injured, because he only appeared in 104 of 136 games for the Diablos.
The next season he reported to AAA New Orleans, but played in only 55 games, hitting .261 in limited play.
Same deal in 1997, when he played for new AAA entry Tucson. He played slightly more than a half-season, hitting 286/389/434 in 83 games and earned a trip to Milwaukee. In 24 games with the big club, Williamson hit 204/254/259, and that would be the extent of his major league career.
In 1998, he was sent back to the minors and his season at AAA Louisville was limited to 29 games and he hit a Mendoza-like .204 in 103 at-bats.
The following season, he bumped down to AA Huntsville and hit .342 in in 38 ABs and earned another shot at AAA Louisville, where he hit .239 in 68 games.
His 2000 season–which would be his last in professional ball–was played at Greenville in the Texas/Louisiana League (Independent), where he hit only .226 in 44 games.
Williamson was one of thousands of players in big league history that ‘killed’ in college or the minors, but just couldn’t translate that talent to ‘The Show.’