Healthy Black leads Brewers in the Fall League

October 12th, 2022

Tyler Black unfortunately already had some experience in the injury department. The Toronto native suffered an ankle injury as a high-school junior that set him back slightly before he headed to Wright State. With the Raiders, he underwent right labrum surgery in spring 2020 to fix up a nagging problem from the previous fall.

So when a fractured left scapula in July knocked the Brewers No. 6 prospect out for the remaining two months of his first full season, he wasn’t worried about how he’d come out on the other side.

“I’d been through it,” Black said of rehab processes, “and that really helped me to stay positive.”

On the other side: an assignment to the Arizona Fall League as the top prospect in the Brewers’ group playing for Glendale.

Milwaukee originally drafted Black with the 33rd overall pick in 2021 on the strength of his overall approach and plus hit tool from the left side after he hit .383/.496/.683 with 13 homers as a Wright State junior.

That same bat looked like it had come to play in the early going at High-A Wisconsin. The 22-year-old produced a .281/.406/.424 line over 283 plate appearances, but perhaps most notably, he walked more times (45) than he struck out (44) in that span. That made him one of only seven High-A batters with a BB/K ratio above 1/1 over 250 plate appearances or more. That’s seven out of 257 eligible batters.

“I think a lot of times people try to overcomplicate it,” Black said. “For me, the bottom line is swing at strikes, take balls. Every time I stand at the plate, I'm swinging at something I can do damage on. The more I focus in on that, hone in on that on the little things -- even front toss, flips, whatever -- it helps me.”

Because the former hockey player is so locked in offensively, his defensive work in the AFL will take even more precedence. The Brewers gave Black time at second, center and even a little third base during his time in the Midwest League, and while his arm made him a more traditional second baseman in college, Milwaukee still wants to take advantage of his athleticism with more looks in center with Glendale. True to that plan, three of Black’s first four defensive starts with the Desert Dogs have been in the middle of the grass.

The key point is that both player and organization are excited that he’s returned healthy enough to experiment defensively again and potentially add to a loaded outfield group in the Brewers pipeline that already boasts Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer, Garrett Mitchell and Esteury Ruiz.

“There are a lot of good players here [in the AFL],” Black said. “I’m just trying to see where I stack up and go into the offseason and see what I can do.”

Brewers hitters in the Fall League

Jeferson Quero, C (No. 7): One of the youngest players in this year’s Fall League, Quero just turned 20 on Oct. 7 but is already off to a strong start in the desert, both at the plate and behind it. The right-handed slugger hit .286/.342/.439 with 10 homers in 95 games between Single-A Carolina and High-A Wisconsin in his first taste of full-season ball, all while throwing out 30.6 percent of attempted basestealers.

Zavier Warren, INF: A former catcher himself, Warren stuck strictly to the corner-infield spots with Wisconsin and Double-A Biloxi this summer, but his bat wasn’t quite up to snuff for the moves with a .226/.307/.374 line and 12 homers in 128 games. The 23-year-old switch-hitter is at his best when he’s working counts and driving balls to the gaps with a short swing from either side of the plate, and the Fall League will afford him more chances to achieve that type of offensive impact.

Je’Von Ward, OF: No one in the Brewers contingent needs to make up games more than Ward, who missed the start of the season with an elbow problem and then suffered a left-knee injury that required surgery while rehabbing at extended spring training. He last played for High-A Wisconsin in 2021, hitting .259/.312/.387 with five homers and nine steals in 75 games.

Brewers pitchers in the Fall League

Russell Smith, LHP (No. 20): The 2021 51st overall pick was limited to 68 1/3 innings at High-A this season due to left elbow inflammation, meaning the AFL will be a good chance to make up for lost innings. Listed at 6-foot-7, Smith shows good control for his size and earns above-average grades for his 89-93 mph fastball with riding life and mid-80s fading changeup.

Logan Henderson, RHP (No. 24): A 2021 fourth-rounder out of a Texas junior college, Henderson underwent elbow surgery before his first full season could begin, though he returned to seven appearances split between the Arizona Complex and Carolina Leagues. The 5-foot-11 right-hander’s best pitch is a low-80s changeup that tumbles well out of his hand, while his fastball and curveball are more average offerings. His AFL debut has been delayed by soreness, and he’ll report to Glendale if and when that subsides.

Abner Uribe, RHP (No. 26): There’s a good chance Uribe could have seen the Milwaukee Major League bullpen this year, if not for a torn meniscus in his left knee that limited him to two appearances with Biloxi in April. The 22-year-old right-hander’s velocity has already returned in the Fall League, where he’s touching triple digits again, and his upper-80s slider can be the more controllable of his two promising pitches. Uribe’s ability to pitch in the zone semi-occasionally will determine just how prominent a relief role he’ll have in the Majors.

Luis Contreras, RHP: Milwaukee signed the Venezuela native out of the independent United Shore League in 2019, and three years later, he’s knocking on the big club’s door. The 26-year-old posted a 3.88 ERA with 73 strikeouts and 30 walks in 51 innings at Double-A and Triple-A during the regular season. He brings a low-90s fastball with good riding life, a promising 76-78 mph curveball and a mid-80s slider.

Ryan Middendorf, RHP: Another indy-ball signing -- this time out of the Frontier League -- Middendorf joined the organization on June 14 and proceeded to climb four levels, topping out at Double-A. He finished with a 2.34 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 13 walks in 42 1/3 innings in his first taste of affiliated play. The 6-foot-6 right-hander throws from a tough sidearm slot and can elevate a low-90s fastball or drop in a change, but his specialty is a sweeping slider.