Inside Pitch: Braun boosts Brewers
Rookie adds final piece to outstanding young infield
When Milwaukee called up Ryan Braun from the Minor Leagues on May 24 and installed him at third base, it was a move designed to spark the Brewers offense. But Braun's arrival, in addition to any immediate dividends his production will mean, also means the final piece is in place of what should be an outstanding Brewers infield for many years to come.
Braun, 23, was the fifth overall pick in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, and he was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2006. The converted shortstop is an extremely talented hitter with above-average power, and he joins the three other 20-somethings with All-Star potential in the Brewers infield, including National League Player of the Month for May Prince Fielder, 23, a first-round pick (seventh overall) in 2002, second baseman Rickie Weeks, 24, (first round, second overall in 2003) and shortstop J.J. Hardy, 24, (second round, 2001).
So many high draft picks playing together on the same infield doesn't happen very often.
"It is unusual, but it's the result of a lot of hard work from our scouting staff; they made it work," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "You can pick a No. 1 pick and you never hear from them again. Our scouting staff has done a great job getting these kids, and our development staff has done a great job of getting them developed and getting them here. And they're special players."
So special that if all stay healthy and continue their current career tracks, the Brewers should be well set on the infield for at least the remainder of the decade.
"There's some luck involved in it, too," Yost admitted. "Because there's always that essence, unless you've lived with the kid and know the kid, there's always that essence of the unknown and that little factor there that determines if he's a thoroughbred or not, and that's hard to read."
What's happening in Milwaukee this season is not without precedent. In the early 1970s, the Dodgers put together a 20-something infield built through the Draft.
Steve Garvey, a first-round pick of the 1968 Draft (13th overall) was installed as the starting first baseman in 1973 at the tender age of 24. That same year, the Dodgers made Davey Lopes, a second-round pick in the '68 Draft, the starter at second base. The 28-year-old Lopes had been up for 27 games in 1972. Also in 1973, third baseman Ron Cey, a third-round pick in the '68 Draft, became the starter at the hot corner as a 25-year-old.
Those three joined the only holdover from the infield, shortstop Bill Russell, a ninth-round pick of the '66 Draft, who succeeded Maury Wills as the starter in 1972. Russell was 23 at the time.
Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey went on to comprise the starting infield for the Dodgers for nine consecutive years (1973-81), and they were integral in the franchise's four pennants and one World Series title during their time together on the Dodgers infield.
This Brewers infield hasn't won anything yet, but it is hard not to watch their individual production (Fielder leads the National league in home runs, just ahead of Hardy, while Weeks and Braun have displayed flashes of their incredible talent) at such a young age and not wonder what kind of numbers these four will put up in the years ahead -- and what it could mean for this organization's future.
Pearls from the diamond
The Yankees may not catch the Red Sox in the American League East race, but the AL Wild Card is another possibility. As of June 1, the Yankees were 7 1/2 games behind Detroit in the Wild Card race, and since the leagues added a fourth playoff team in 1995, only three teams have overcome bigger deficits to claim the Wild Card: Oakland in 2001 and Florida in 2003 were both eight games back, and the 2005 Astros overcame a 10 1/2-game deficit.
The Mets have the best record in the National League, which makes you wonder what their record would be had Barry Zito signed with them, instead of the Giants, during the offseason. The Mets, you may recall, offered a five-year deal to the free-agent lefty, but lost out to the Giants, who signed Zito to a seven-year, $126 million contract.
Look for some team to take a chance on Jose Mesa, released by Detroit over the weekend. The right-hander's velocity is decent, and he could possibly help a team in the right situational role. "I think just the little bit that I got to pitch here, I didn't do my job," Mesa said. "Plain and simple."
Teams have called Texas inquiring about reliever Eric Gagne. Gagne, 1-0 with an 0.75 ERA in 13 games, including 4-for-4 in save opportunities, will draw plenty of interest should the Rangers decide to make the right-hander available. One possibility is Cleveland. The Indians were one of the teams interested in Gagne last winter before he signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Rangers.
After giving up 12 runs in two starts, Milwaukee right-hander Dave Bush made some mechanical adjustments, which seemed to do the trick, as he allowed one run in seven innings against Atlanta. "Nothing major, just some minor things with my delivery that helped my command a little bit," Bush said. If Bush can get turned around, the Brewers will be in even better shape. He is the only Brewers starter with an ERA over 5.00; the other four -- Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan, Chris Capuano and Claudio Vargas -- all have ERAs under 4.00.
Patience is a rare virtue, especially in baseball, but every now and then teams are rewarded for staying the course. Two current examples are Boston, which stuck with Dustin Pedroia when the rookie second baseman slumped badly in April, and San Diego, which stayed with third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff despite a dismal start. Pedroia was named AL Rookie of the Month and Player of the Week after hitting .609 last week. After batting .182 in April, Pedroia hit .415 during May. Kouzmanoff got off to a 8-for-71 (.113) start, before hitting .303 in May.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.