A Very Special Interview

I took some time today to get to know...myself. Here is what I was able to learn from piquing....my own brain, about some recent topics.

Bud Selig's statue was unveiled at Miller Park yesterday, what are your thoughts?

Giving Bud his own statue is definitely something that the Brewers organization needed to do, but the timing is off. They should have waited until after his term as commissioner has expired in 2012. Maybe they are just concerned they won't be able to honor Selig before the world ends, I don't know. Regardless, it is a well deserved statue to the man who brought baseball back to Milwaukee, the man who founded the very Brewers we love, the man who helped bring Miller Park into existence which ensured Milwaukee would have Major League Baseball for many years. Yes, those three things are enough to warrant a statue. Don't give me none of that "Steroid Era" nonsense, as it means little to the connection between Milwaukee, the Brewers, and Bud Selig.

Is there anything that Brewers fans can still take out of the 2010 season?
Sure, that we're better than the Cubs, and that Lo-Cain and Jonathon Lucroy are going to be pretty good ball players. Also, we have a good chance at a winning season, and that is something to cheer for. Come September, fans should watch to see the call ups, aka, the future of the organization. Unlike the aforementioned Cubs, the Brewers have some players in the farm, ready to step up to fill some voids. Lucroy and Cain have already proven they can fill two of the Crew's most pressing needs (C and CF), which essentially leaves the biggest need, starting pitching. I think we all know Prince Fielder is in the showcase window with a pricetag of "young starting pitcher of ace caliber" hanging from his jersey. 2011 can shape up quite nicely, so there is still plenty of optimism to be had.

You were adamant on trading Corey Hart, how do you feel about the Brewers signing him?
I love it! Listen, losing both Prince and Hart would have been a definite blow to the offense. I wanted to trade Hart because I had always got the impression that he didn't want to be in Milwaukee in the past. As the trade deadline neared this year, it was pretty evident that he wanted to be a Brewer (as opposed to the team's first baseman), and for that, I'm happy to have him. Some people are worried about repeating a lesson learned from Bill Hall, but really, Corey has had a longer sample size of success. He can be streaky, but I see more good than bad from Corey and am excited to watch him play for the next couple of years.

So, if Prince is traded in the offseason, like many think he will, who covers first?
Yes, Who will cover first.

That's what I asked.
*sighs* nevermind, you obviously don't get a joke. Mat Gamel will cover first most likely. Though it is curious that he continues to play both RF and 1B in AAA. I suppose that leaves the option that Corey Hart can play first, he was drafted as a first baseman after all. Hart's length would help the other fielders (think Derrek Lee), and Gamel has a canon for an arm, so I wouldn't rule it out. I still think Gamel is your 2011 first baseman.

Who will be managing the Brewers next season?
Willie Randolph...and I'm done explaining myself, your guess is as good as mine. Though I fully intend to gloat if I'm right.

Let's move on to football. So...

...So Brett Favre is back, yo...
Sure is

...Your opinion on that.
Minnesota is paying an awful lot of money for a QB who is going to be what 41? 54? Too old to drive? I say let them. He won't be the same guy who put up career numbers in 2009 (I hope), something has to give. I mean, there is a lot of responsibility on someone who is playing QB, coaching, and taking care of GM duties. But seriously, who is running that team? Sure, Brett Favre hurt me as a Packer fan, and I realized that he is a selfish man but I've moved on. To me though, there is no story here, we all knew he would be coming back. The real story is how Brett likes to be comfortable, whether it is comfort while wearing Wranglers playing backyard football or comfort wearing Crocs while allegedly....well, you know the story by now I'm sure. The man likes comfort, including the comfort of having an entire football team/coaching staff grovel for his return.

There has been a lot of talk of Superbowl for the Packers this year, some think it may get into the player's minds by setting the bar too high.
I love that the Packers are being hyped. I also love how the players themselves are talking about it. It isn't the goal going into training camp, to be the Conference or Division champs, it is to be Superbowl champions. All of the other teams want and feel the same thing, and I applaud the Packers for embracing it and being honest. For example, Bret Bielema's, "1-0" approach every week is a bunch of nonsense, the players know damn well what their record is and where they stand in the Big Ten. Back on the Pack though. The thing is, they have a talented enough team to be Superbowl favorites, coupled along with the fact that the Packers are one of the Nation's most popular teams, means the media is going to hype the hell out of them. Let's have fun with it!

You used to write a lot for this blog, and many of those posts used to be funny. Now, you barely post anything and well, you resort to weird tactics like interviewing yourself, what's up with that?
This summer has been a fantastic. The weather has been great, and I've been doing a lot of fun stuff. So, just back off of me. Also, I seem to have lost my funny. This can be evidenced by my lack of funny twitterings as well (follow my personal account at @diddy05). I have some theories for this, but most of my theories involve a nun, a priest, and a rabbi. Although I did make a funny joke: Jesus walks into a bar and orders a water. The bartender looks at Jesus and says, "not this time Jesus, you are getting a wine and paying for it"

Seen any good movies this summer?
I saw Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (true story), but, I wouldn't really call it good. I expected crazier from Nick Nolte's voice. Date Night was hilarious, but I have to say Meet the Schmucks was quite a letdown. I went into Kickass with different expectations than what it actually was, so I want to give it another try. To answer your question....no, not really.

You spoke on Twitter during the Bucks playoff run about Milwaukee getting an NHL team. Expand on that.
"Expand on that"...what is this, Larry King? Yes, I've never been a big hockey buff, especially of the NHL, but I love going to games, and really, I want to become a fan. Part of this comes from my dislike of the NBA and my need for some sort of sport to follow other than NCAA hoops. I really think Milwaukee would be a good NHL town, especially compared to some of the cities down south that don't care about hockey in the slightest. Of course, Milwaukee couldn't support both an NBA and an NHL team, so the likelihood of it happening are slim to none. Live hockey games are the best, and I have started going to more Admirals games, but it isn't the same. I'm not sure there is another sport that has such nonstop, hard-hitting action. I'm not sure there is anything quite as exciting as playoff hockey, and I feel like I'm missing out on it. It's an absolutely wonderful game that I need to learn more about.

Do you have any Fantasy Football tips for your readers?
Nope. Well, just one tip: If you draft Brett Favre you are a traitor to mankind.

How about instead of interviewing yourself, you get real questions from readers or friends?
That's a great idea! If you have a question you want answered, be it about: sports, current events, beer, the weather, etc... then write us at wisconsinsportstap@gmail.com or send us a question via twitter at @WI_SportsTap. You can always leave a comment on the message board as well.


September Calling

The long grind of the major league baseball season is in it's stretch run with labor day drawing closer. Contending teams watch the waiver wire for that last veteran piece to help secure a spot in the post season. The rest of the league? Just playing for pride, which leaves fans less than interested in the September goings on.

But there will be a reason to watch Milwaukee come September, roster expansion. With the team out of contention there should be prospects aplenty in the Crew's dugout this year. For a change, this group of call-ups could feature a look at some of the team's top pitching prospects instead of the hitters seen in recent years.

The Sure Things

Carlos Villanueva - RP - Almost forgot he was still on the Brewers didn't you? Villa can help the team, if only to eat innings. He's pitched in six games since his demotion, sporting a 3.86 ERA. Boring, but he'll be back.

Mat Gamel - 3B/RF/1B - The third baseman/first baseman/right fielder had better be promoted. He's hit .319 with a .394 OBP and sits second on the team with 59 RBIs despite only playing in 71 games. Not to mention the fact that he could be the opening day first baseman in 2011.

Carlos Gomez - CF - That the Brewers are considering burning one of Gomez two remaining option years to keep him in the minors until rosters expand tells you how unimpressive he has been this season. He'll be with the big club before the season is up, it's just a matter of whether or not that is before the September expansion.

Mitch Stetter - RP - He certainly hasn't pitched well at all this year, a 7.50 ERA in the minors and a 14.73 ERA in the minors, which is precisely why he should get a call-up this September. Bring Stetter up to see if he can be effective in the big leagues at all, if he can he stays on the 40-man and gets a chance to win a roster spot next spring. If he can't, he is wasting a 40-man spot that the team could easily use on someone else.

That Wouldn't be Surprising

Luis Cruz - SS/2B - Signed primarily to provide depth, Cruz has had a nice season for Nashville. He's hit .281 and sits second on the team with 171 total bases. If the Brewers do decide to move Craig Counsell then a Cruz call up would be certain and wouldn't wait until September.

Josh Butler - SP - Not that Butler has pitched all that effectively this year, but the team still seems to have faith in him. Since he is already on the 40-man roster it would seem a waste to not bring him up and let him make a few spot starts in place of a Chris Narveson or Manny Parra. Because he struggled with injuries early in the season, inning counts would not be a concern either.

Jeremy Jeffress - RP - This one could help the team and reward Jeffress for *seemingly* turning his life around. He's shown marked improvement in his command while pitching out of the bullpen for Wisconsin, Brevard County and Huntsville this year. For the Crew's Double-A affiliate Jeffress has struck out 10 batters in 10 innings while only walking one, he has yet to allow a run.

Brett Lawrie - 2B/3B - His defense may not be impressive, but his offense is. I don't think the Brewers should call-up the Canuck, but his play at Double-A this year would certainly warrant it. Whether it's the 34 doubles, 15 triples or 77 runs scored (all of which lead the team), Lawrie's bat has been as advertised. The Brewers do have a history of giving good performers at Double-A a promotion as well (Mat Gamel, Alcides Escobar). Lawrie is not currently on the 40-man roster though, maybe he would take Counsell's spot?

Brandon Kintzler - RP - Think "John Axford." Kintzler was a cast off, but has showed impressive command with Huntsville and Nashville this year. In the 42.1 innings he's pitched, the righty has struckout 39 batters and only walked four. Not too shabby and the type of player the Brewers like to reward, though he is not on the 40-man yet.

They should, but probably won't

Mark Rogers - SP - Whether Rogers future with Milwaukee is as a reliever or a starter, that future is getting very close. He is a ground ball pitcher with very good stuff and the Crew should bring him up to alleviate an overworked Kameron Loe. Give him a few chances in the bullpen this September because he will be knocking at the big league door in 2011.

Amaury Rivas - SP - Last year's minor league pitcher of the year, there is a fairly strong case to be made for that award to be bestowed on Rivas again in 2010. If Rivas is to be considered for a spot in the rotation next season, why not give him a look? He has better stuff than Dave Bush and should be at least as effective as Narveson, but the Brewers patience will likely keep him out of the bigs until next year.

Think outside the box

Brendan Katin - RF - An all or nothing hitter with a cannon for an arm and country-mile power, why not give Katin a look? Despite being hurt for a big chunk of the beginning of the season, Ryan Braun's former teammate is having one of his best all-around years. He's hitting .272 with a .374 OBP, both of which would be career highs in Triple A. Maybe he's turned a corner? Either way, fans love the guys who just swing for it.

Cody Scarpetta - SP - Had his season been terrible, I would say Scarpetta shouldn't get a glimpse. But since he will reach the major leagues before he can put in an extended period of time in the minors, Scarpetta's second half should earn him a spot in September call-ups. After the all-star break, Scarpetta has a 1.98 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 59 innings. That's pretty good. In the perfect world he wouldn't be on the 40-man roster yet, but he is - so why not take advantage of that? A-ball to the majors is a big jump but a September race for third place doesn't have much pressure involved.

Will all these players get a look at the majors in 2010? No. There will also be surprises, players that nobody saw coming. But when you look at some of the names that could get a look, you have to be excited for the future of the club. It turns out there is something to watch for on the Brewers in September.


The Brightest of the Stars

There is one undisputed truth about the Milwaukee Brewers farm system since the Doug Melvin era began: this is an organization that has not struggled to produce home grown hitters. The names abound on the big league club - Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks. All Stars and league leaders. But all of them seemed to come through the minors at different times, never once did all four of those players play a minor league game together.

That's not always the case though. Just two years ago one Milwaukee affiliate was flush with Major League talent: the 2008 Huntsville Stars. Over the course of that season the Stars featured a remarkable six prospects who now seem poised to have productive major league careers.

The Heir Apparent

The most clearly visible member of the team to current Brewer fans, Alcides Escobar was manning short for Huntsville that year. He finished second on the team with 237 total bases and batted a stellar .328. Escobar's 179 hits led the Southern League, he was an All-Star and he drove in 76 runs - more than 20 over his previous career high.

Escobar spent a fair amount of time batting towards the top of the order, leading the team with 34 stolen bases and finishing second with 95 runs scored. He would spend the entire season in Double-A before receiving a call-up to the big club in September.

He now finds himself as the starting shortstop for the Brew Crew, batting a rookie acceptable .253 and playing everyday. Escobar will be the shortstop for years to come in Milwaukee and it wouldn't be a stretch to point to 2008 as his breakout offensive season.

The Slugger

He was the biggest name on the roster when the season started, a college hitter with light-tower power. Matt LaPorta definitely made his mark on the franchise, even though he may never play a game for the Brewers.

Batting in the middle of the Star's lineup, LaPorta just hit. He slugged 20 home runs and sported a .402 OBP, which was the best among everyday players. LaPorta managed to lead the team in home runs despite playing in only 84 games for the Stars.

And why did LaPorta play in only 84 games? Because he was the centerpiece of the C.C. Sabathia trade, a trade that gave Milwaukee it's first playoff appearance since 1982. After moving into the Cleveland system LaPorta finished out 2008 quietly. He hit .233 with only two home runs in his final 17 games.

Now LaPorta finds himself entrenched with big club, getting his chance to play every day for the Indians. His numbers haven't impressed yet, in 124 big league games between this season and last he has 14 home runs and is batting only .254. But power like that doesn't just go away and somehow I doubt LaPorta will either.

The Role Player

Not everyone can steal the headlines or a pivotal piece of a season changing trade. Sometimes there are players who just produce, year in and year out. The role player, the consistent at-bat. For Huntsville in 2008, that was Cole Gillespie.

When all eyes were focused on Matt LaPorta and the flashy Alcides Escobar, Gillespie did what he did every year - put up a solid but not spectacular season. He very quietly finished second with 79 RBIs, first in walks and doubles; all while batting a very nice .281.

He would spend all of 2008 with Huntsville and ultimately be traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009 for Felipe Lopez. Now Gillespie finds himself on the cusp of the major leagues, having seen time with the D-Backs early in the season. He's hitting .304 for the club's triple-A affiliate and seems poised to earn at least a backup role come 2011.

Gillespie wasn't the star for Huntsville in 2008. But he produced, he filled a role.

The Speedster

There was a lot of speed in the Star's lineup in 2008. The player Milwaukee fans recognize with that speed was Escobar. But the fans of Cleveland have their eyes on a different burner, Michael Brantley.

The "Player to Be Named Later" in the Sabathia deal, Brantley was far from a throw-in. The son of a former big-leaguer, he was the quintessential leadoff hitter for the 2008 Stars. He hit .319 with a .395 OBP and rarely struck out, only 27 times in 420 at-bats. Brantley finished third on the team with 80 runs scored and second with 28 stolen bases.

There are some that believe he will have a better major league career than his partner in the trade, LaPorta, but that has yet to materialize. Brantley has seen playing time with the Indians in parts of 2009 and 2010 and has managed only a .243 batting average in 58 games.

But Brantley has speed, he's a lefty bat and he is hitting .319 for Triple-A this season. He has a very bright future.

The Lefty

If there was a hitter in the lineup more dominant than Matt LaPorta, it was his like-named third baseman. Mat Gamel didn't have a good year for the 2008 Huntsville Stars, he had a spectacular year.

The season prior Gamel had committed 53 errors and seen his power production dip to only nine home runs. There were two directions he could go - up or down. He went up, way up. Gamel led the team with 96 runs scored, 96 driven in and 273 total bases. He was second with 19 home runs and 35 doubles.

He became the organizations top prospect after that season and still remains in most top five lists of Milwaukee prospects. After an up and down 2009 and early 2010 Gamel seems ready to capture a big league spot next season.

The Replacement

The C.C. Sabathia trade may have been the turning point in the Brewers playoff run, but it decimated Huntsville's starting outfield. LaPorta in right field? Gone. Brantley in center field? Gone. Two-thirds of a starting outfield suddenly needing to be replaced but who would fill the hole?

Enter Lorenzo Cain, the five-tool outfielder who had been on the radar of farm reports everywhere since he was named MVP of the Arizona rookie league as a 19-year-old first year professional.

Cain stepped into Center field and performed admirably for the season's remainder. He played in 40 games for Huntsville batting .277 with 21 extra-base hits. Cain saw time at three different levels for the Brewers that year, Low A, Triple-A and finished the season with the Huntsville Stars.

It was a lost 2009 for Cain though, as a knee injury derailed him early and kept him from really hitting his stride. Prior to the injury there was a great deal of talk about Cain winning the opening day center field job in 2010, but instead he wound up back with Huntsville. There he raked, batting .324 before a promotion to Nashville where he *only* hit .299.

Now? Cain finds himself the starting center fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers. A replacement yet again. In his first 19 at-bats he's managed nine hits and impressed with his defense and approach at the plate. Replacement doesn't mean bad.

The Story

At the helm of the 2008 Huntsville Stars was former Brewer Don Money, who now manages the Nashville Sounds. Money's boys jumped out to a very fine first half, finishing 41-29 in a tie for first place. However the team they tied with, West Tennessee, beat them in a one game playoff (winner takes the division and locks up a spot in the Southern League post-season). That meant no playoff birth based on the first half performance.

In the second half, promotions and the Sabathia trade paid it's toll on Huntsville. The team finished just 32-38, in third place in the division and failing to make the postseason. Statistically though, there wasn't a better offense in the southern league.

Despite having the youngest average age for hitters in the league, the Stars scored more runs, had more hits, more total bases, a higher batting average and OPS than the rest of the league. They finished second in home runs, third in triples and fourth in doubles. All of this while striking out less than seven of the leagues nine other teams.

It's rare to see an offense click so consistently and impressively at any level of baseball and those fans that did see the Stars play in 2008 were treated to a terrific showing. But the role of the minor league affiliate is to help the big club and between trades and promotions this impressive group of prospects never really stood a chance to stay together.

But wouldn't it be something if they did?


Gamel's Wild Ride

There is a growing consensus regarding the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2011 season: Prince Fielder will be traded. Which means there will be an opening at first base, an opening that can - and should - be filled by the prodigal son of hitting prospects.

That would be Mat Gamel and does he ever deserve it this time.

Gamel's path to the big leagues seemed like a foregone conclusion during 2008, when he hit an impressive .329 with 19 home runs for Double-A Huntsville. But even that season was marred by questionable decision making. Gamel had been hitting over .360 at the midpoint of that season but struggled mightily down the stretch run, only after the season was over did he reveal he had been playing with an elbow injury.

Then came spring training... eventually. For a rookie to show up on time he must show up early, it's a sign of commitment and willingness to put in the extra work to make yourself the player you want to be. Only Gamel didn't show up early, he showed up right on time, which did little to ingratiate himself to his teammates and the front office.

But then the season started and he swung a bat that made you forget about all that. He raked early on, earning himself a call-up to play Designated Hitter for interleague play. Gamel made a strong impression early on too, in his second appearance he hit a three-run homer against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But then Rickie Weeks got hurt and Gamel stayed with the club despite a lack of consistent at-bats, in essence he rotted on the bench. Gamel developed a hole in his swing inside and off the plate and it was exploited - he struck out nine times in his final 13 at-bats before being sent back down to Triple-A.

His struggles continued when he returned to Nashville, despite playing everyday. In 75 minor league games he struck out 89 times and hit .278 (a good mark by itself but not considering his start to the season).

There it was, when Mat Gamel got close to the precipice of being a major leaguer he finished two straight minor league seasons not with a bang, but a whimper. Add in some decisions and there were questions about his commitment to the game. Not about the talent, not about his offense, but about his willingness to do what he had to if he wanted to live up to his talent level.

And then came 2010. When Gamel was one of the first players to appear in camp in the spring. When he worked harder than ever at his major weakness - defense. Management was back in his corner, it appeared that the lefty had turned a corner, he was ready to live up to his top prospect billing.

But the baseball gods had one more test for him. In mid-March an MRI revealed that Gamel had a torn muscle in his shoulder and he would be out of commission for six weeks. Some were ready to write him off as yet another high-ceilinged prospect who wasn't going to pan out.

Gamel didn't make his first appearance with Nashville until June. He was alright that month, hitting .284 with 16 RBIs in 27 games. July was a different story, Gamel showed why he was considered one of the organization's top prospects. He hit six home runs while batting .300 and driving in 28 runs.

Now it's August, a month that has not treated him well in recent seasons. So how will Gamel finish out this season? Another quiet fade of the numbers and the return of questions about his unsustained success? Not so fast. Through Wednesday Gamel is on fire, batting .444 in August. That includes going nine for his last 14 with five doubles.

Mat Gamel is back, Mat Gamel is hitting and there will likely be a glaring hole on the right side of the Brewers infield in 2011. He deserves the chance to fill that hole and this time - he's earned it.


Milwaukee's got Hart

There is a core and it will stay intact for at least a few more seasons. With the contract extension signed by Corey Hart on Monday, a reported three year deal worth $26.5 million, the Milwaukee Brewers have kept the core of the team together for a few more seasons.

Yes, a Prince Fielder trade now becomes almost a sure thing. But there is a fairly high likelihood that the team will now sign Rickie Weeks to an extension which would mean the group of Weeks-Gallardo-Braun-Hart will stay together.

Why did this deal have to be done? Why does keeping Corey Hart give the Brewers a better chance in 2011? Offense, offense, offense. At some point it became assumed that the Brewers would be trading Corey Hart and Prince Fielder in the next six to eight months, but why? That would have meant trading away the team's top two home run hitters and roughly a quarter of the run production, a ton of offense to give up for a team that already struggles to score runs consistently.

Sure that could be replaced by stopgap veteran players players like Aubrey Huff or Derrek Lee in 2011, but Brewer fans had enough of journeyman players in the previous decade and early part of the 2000's. Hart's deal is an affordable one for the Crew, with the final year paying $10 million, worthwhile if he can manage at least his average offensive season.

But that's the real question isn't it? The immediate comparison to this deal is the one Bill Hall signed, be it for the comparable money and years or the fact that both deals came when the signing players were performing at their best.

That said, Corey Hart is not Bill Hall. Hall's power production in the big leagues went 9 - 17 - 35, he received his extension after hitting almost as many homers in one season as he did in his entire minor league career (he had 37 in the minors). Hart has always had a consistent power stroke, over his five full minor league seasons he averaged 16 home runs per season, something Hall never approached.

Even in the big leagues Hart's numbers have been fairly consistent, in three of his four seasons as a starter he has hit 20 or more home runs. He's a career .275 hitter and at 6'6" there is no reason to think the power couldn't improve.

So how does this effect the rest of the franchise though? An extension for Hart will likely spell the end of the Prince Fielder era in Milwaukee. The combined cost of Hart and Weeks will be less than a single year of what Prince Fielder is hoping to get on the free agent market, with a shorter time commitment as well.

Prospect Mat Gamel was going to see time in right field and first base, expect that to be almost exclusively first base now. Gamel should get his chance playing first base in the big leagues in 2011, that needs to happen. With Brett Lawrie also expected to see play some at third base the organization must believe they can find two big league starters for the infield corners between Lawrie, Gamel and the incumbent third baseman Casey McGehee.

Once Doug Melvin and Co. looked at the trade market for Corey Hart they made a value judgement. Corey Hart is worth more to the Brewers than the value he would bring back in return. If no team is willing to part with a player that makes Milwaukee substantially better (asking for Jonathan Sanchez was not too much) and Hart was open to an agreeable extension it just makes sense to make that deal.