The season put together by Ronnie Belliard in 1998 at Class AAA Louisville is one of the few seasons in the Top Hitters series that did not lose points for a ‘hitter’s ballpark’ influence. Belliard also gained points for being quite young in the league (23 vs 26.4 average) at the time.
Belliard, a short, stocky (5’9″, 210#) New York City-born prospect was drafted in the eighth round by Milwaukee in the 1994 MLB June Draft out of Miami (FL) Central HS.
After reporting to the Brewers Rookie team in the Arizona League, Belliard performed well at each level, moving to A ball and AA ball in successive years before starting play at AAA Tucson in 1997. He had a solid year, slashing .282/.379/.406 in 523 plate appearances, including leading the Toros in runs, hits, doubles, and walks.
But he would return to AAA the following year, this time at Louisville for the first of two seasons that the Brewers affiliate would play in Kentucky at that high level.
And Ronnie Belliard made it a great season, earning him one of the top hitting seasons in Milwaukee Brewers minor league history.
#11 Ronnie Belliard, 1998 Louisville (AAA)
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Belliard fared well in the league despite playing at ‘hitter-neutral’ Cardinal Stadium, leading the International League in runs scored (114), placing second with 163 base hits, taking fourth with 36 two-baggers, and tying for fifth-best with 33 stolen bases.
The second baseman led his team to an I.L. Western Division title with his play, earning the league All-Star nod at the keystone. The Redbirds lost in the first round as they were swept by the Durham Bulls in three games.
Belliard would get called up to Milwaukee the day after the Redbirds were dispatched in the playoffs and would play in eight games for Milwaukee, going 1-for-5 in his ‘Cup of Joe’ debut for the Brewers.
The following season, Belliard would start the year at Louisville and although he struggled early on, would get the call from Milwaukee in mid-May and would spend most of the next 12 years in the bigs, including four more years for the Brewers.
He was granted free agency after the 2002 season and signed with Colorado in February 2003.
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Belliard played one season with the Rockies before moving to Cleveland, where his two and one-half years including his only All-Star appearance (2004).
He also spent time with St. Louis, Washington, and Los Angeles (Dodgers) before becoming a free agent after the 2010 season. His solid major league career ended with a slash line of .273/.338/.415 in over 5,600 plate appearances, with 1,377 hits and 114 home runs.
In early 2011, Belliard signed with the Yankees during Spring Training but was released six weeks later. He signed with Philadelphia in early April but after two months at AAA Lehigh Valley, retired for good from baseball.