Determined Yoho advances despite setbacks

June 11th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Adam McCalvy's Brewers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MILWAUKEE -- One of the hottest names in Milwaukee’s Minor League system switched from shortstop to bullpen ace and went 1,082 days between collegiate appearances before the Brewers made him an eighth-round Draft pick last year.

Craig Yoho is making the most of the opportunity.

Already promoted from High-A Wisconsin to Double-A Biloxi last month, the 24-year-old right-hander leads the Brewers’ farm system (min. 10 innings) with a 50.5 percent strikeout rate. In his first 26 innings, Yoho surrendered only 10 hits and one earned run.

“Maybe the best part of this job is finding players who you can’t help but believe in, and it’s even more fun when it lines up on Draft day,” said Brewers area scout Ginger Poulson. “Getting to call him and ask if he wanted to be a Brewer was a moment that I won’t forget.”

Yoho went undrafted out of Fishers (Ind.) High School before heading to the University of Houston in 2019, only to see his freshman season cut short by injury after eight games. His '20 season was wiped out by the pandemic, and after a transfer home to Indiana University, elbow and knee injuries cost him all of ‘21 and ‘22.

In 2023, at age 23, Yoho qualified for freshman All-American honors after posting a 3.41 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 37 innings for the Hoosiers. The Brewers signed him on July 19 for $10,000, a part of a larger strategy that helped the club land some Draft steals in other rounds.

“Just knowing his history tells you that he is a grinder and simply perseveres,” said Brewers VP of player operations and baseball administration Tom Flanagan. “He battled multiple injuries, missed the COVID season and converted to a pitcher. Yet here he is. That’s all on Craig for working hard to get healthy and putting himself in this position to perform.”

Poulson pushed for the pick after seeing Yoho make huge strides with his changeup between Indiana’s scout day in the fall of 2022 and another visit early in the spring of ‘23. The 94 mph fastball and good feel for a breaking ball had put Yoho on Poulson’s radar.

Now she saw a special strikeout pitch.

“To see that kind of a jump in four months from someone who had zero college innings under his belt immediately caught my attention,” she said. “It was a bit of a crazy feeling to have that kind of conviction in someone who was an older college pitcher without a track record, but I kept saying to myself, ‘If this isn’t big league stuff, I don’t know what is.’”

The intangibles were just as impressive. Poulson dug into Yoho’s support system, which includes his wife, Sydni, a former University of Houston soccer player.

If Yoho persevered through three years of a pandemic and multiple surgeries, it said something about his commitment to baseball.

“He absolutely deserved and earned the opportunity he has now and it was humbling to be part of his journey,” Poulson said. “I have a feeling this is only the beginning.”

With another assist from the Brewers’ Daniel Crooks, here are some highlights from Milwaukee’s full-season affiliates.

Triple-A Nashville
As the Brewers dig deep into their stable of pitching depth, it’s worth keeping an eye on 25-year-old right-hander Chad Patrick, acquired from the A’s last November for infielder Abraham Toro. Patrick threw a season-high seven innings in Nashville’s 14-3 win over Louisville on Sunday, allowing two runs on four hits with no walks and nine strikeouts. Patrick is 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA (42 innings, nine earned runs) and 46 strikeouts over his last seven appearances, including six starts. Patrick leads the International League in ERA and ranks among leaders in opponent batting average (fourth, .221), WHIP (eighth, 1.14) and strikeouts (tied for eighth, 61).

Double-A Biloxi
Shane Smith was named Brewers Minor League pitcher of the month for May after posting a 2.86 ERA (22 innings, seven earned runs) with 29 strikeouts over six appearances (three starts) for Biloxi last month while holding opponents to a .220 average. He began May in the Biloxi bullpen, but his final three appearances were starts, capping the month with five scoreless innings on May 29 vs. Pensacola. Smith was signed by the Brewers as a non-drafted free agent out of Wake Forest University in 2021.

High-A Wisconsin
Second baseman Dylan O'Rae (Brewers' No. 20 prospect) went 3-for-5 with two RBIs, a run scored and a stolen base in Wisconsin's 6-5, walk-off win over Quad Cities on Sunday to extend his on-base streak to 21 games. Over this run, O'Rae is batting .311/.463/.324 with 19 runs, 15 walks and 13 stolen bases. He leads the Midwest League with 30 stolen bases and ranks among leaders in runs (tied for first, 49), walks (second, 39) and on-base percentage (ninth, .416).

Single- A Carolina
Shortstop Cooper Pratt (Brewers' No. 8 prospect) went 1-for-4 with an RBI, a run and a stolen base in Carolina's 6-3 win over Charleston on Sunday to extend his on-base streak to 19 games. Named Brewers Minor League Player of the Month for May, Pratt is batting .361/.434/.458 (26-for-72) with four doubles, a home run, 10 RBIs, 12 runs and eight walks during the streak and has hit safely in 20 of his last 22 games, including a current seven-game hitting streak.