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11/25/09 10:00 AM ET

Brewers farm still looking for balance

Club looking to bolster its pitching concerns via Draft

The Milwaukee Brewers have long been known for the depth and scope of their farm system when it comes to position players, so much so that even other organizations' farm directors will still reference a team like the 2008 Huntsville Stars when looking for the perfect example of a club that featured that rare "legitimate prospect at every position."

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AL East

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That depth is still very much in evidence, but now the Brewers have been making a concerted effort to focus on balancing the list with strong arms via the Draft.

"Starting with this past Draft, our emphasis seems to have been on big physical pitchers with [first-round pick Eric] Arnett and [supplemental first-rounder Kyle] Heckathorn leading the pack," said Reid Nichols, the Brewers' special assistant to the GM and the man in charge of player development,

That pair, selected out of Indiana and Kennesaw State respectively, both signed quickly and made their pro debuts at short-season rookie league Helena. Arnett, 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, posted a 4.41 ERA, striking out 35 in 34 2/3 innings and limiting hitters to a .228 average. Heckathorn, a 6-foot-6 235-pounder who signed a bit later, fanned 15 while walking four in 22 1/3 innings over six games.

Meanwhile, off the mound, the club continued to boast particular depth in the outfield and behind the plate.

Roaming the outfield, the Draft added a pair of polished and athletic big college players in Kentrail Davis (supplemental first-round pick out of Tennessee) and D'Vontrey Richardson (fifth round out of Florida State), both of whom signed late and will make their pro debuts in 2010. They add to depth that already exists in the form of Lorenzo Cain, Caleb Gindl, Lee Haydel and Florida State League batting champion Logan Schafer.

But it's at the hard-to-fill premium position of catcher that the Brewers really shine, with four legitimate prospects: Angel Salome, the 5-foot-7 cannon-armed "Pocket Pudge" who started at Triple-A Nashville; Double-A Huntsville's Jonathan Lucroy; second-round pick Cameron Garfield, who headed right to Helena out of high school in Murrieta, Calif.; and the sleeper among them, defensive whiz Martin Maldonado, whose arm rates the maximum 8s on the scouting scale.

It's not surprising that the catching corp is as strong as it is, since most of them got to work closely with veteran Charlie Greene, a former catcher and the organization's former roving catching coordinator.

Now that Greene has taken over as the Brewers' field coordinator, all of the players, instead of just the catchers, get to benefit from his passion for the game and high energy level.

He's also been fundamental, along with the rest of the coordinators and instructors, in emphasizing aggressive play.

"During the season we were pushing our players to be aggressive but under control, with the foundation of our system structured on teaching, and Charlie Greene has done a good job of keeping everyone on task," Nichols said. "Our instructional league was very good, with the emphasis on situational game hitting, pitching and aggressively running the bases."

The 2009 Brewers continued to reap the benefits of both the homegrown talent and the pro scouting that brought in underutilized young players from elsewhere, with third baseman Casey McGehee a perfect example of the latter.

After six years and a total of nine big league at-bats with the Chicago Cubs, McGehee was claimed off waivers by the Brewers in October 2008 and, after taking over the starting third-base job in mid-May, hit .301 with 16 homers and 66 RBIs as their regular third baseman, finishing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

They could have another top contender for those honors in homegrown shortstop Alcides Escobar, who hit .304 in 38 games with Milwaukee in 2009 and is widely regarded as one of the top shortstop prospects in the Minors. With the trade of incumbent J.J. Hardy to the Twins for outfielder Carlos Gomez, it's clear that the job is Escobar's to lose.

"Escobar has been trying to show us this kind of play since he has been with us, playing up a level every year," Nichols said. "His defense will be the talk across the league. When you can move a player like Hardy to make room for him to play, you know he is good."

On the field in the Minors, the Brewers combined for a 332-348 record (.488), 22nd overall, with Advanced Class A Brevard (79-48) and Nashville (75-69) finishing over .500. Despite a sub-.500 record at 63-75, Huntsville made it to the Southern League playoffs thanks to a split-season format.


MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Lorenzo Cain, OF: Though he didn't start playing baseball until midway through high school, Cain's tools and makeup have made him a popular guy in the organization and he was just added to the 40-man roster despite having missed most of this season with a knee injury. He is one of the best defensive outfielders in the system and, when healthy, combines speed and power potential. In 60 games, mostly at Huntsville, he batted .218 with four homers and 19 RBIs and made up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League.

Jeremy Jeffress, RHP: The former first-round pick, with the fastball that has been clocked at 100 mph, was suspended for the third time for "drugs of abuse" and continues to undergo counseling this offseason. The Brewers hope he will turn things around and return to Spring Training with his dominating pitch repertoire and a new lease on life and career. Though he'd been scuffling at Huntsville with a 7.57 ERA in eight games, he'd been his old self at Brevard, with a 2.18 ERA, before his mid-June suspension.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Eric Farris, 2B: The 2007 fourth-rounder out of Loyola Marymount ranked among the Minor League leaders with 70 stolen bases at Brevard and, perhaps even more impressive, was caught just six times. He batted .298 with seven homers and 49 RBIs for the Manatees, and ranked third in the Florida State League with 141 hits, while leading the Minors with 26 sacrifice bunts. He is also a fine defensive second baseman.

Evan Anundsen, RHP: Anundsen got off to a hot start when he tossed a no-hitter for Brevard County on April 28, striking out 10. He finished the summer with a 10-8 record and 2.69 ERA while limiting batters to a .216 average in 130 1/3 innings. His offspeed stuff is his bread and butter and he just needs to be more consistent with his repertoire to continue to move up the system.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.