PHOENIX -- Darkness lies beyond the outfield wall at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, N.C., home of the Low-A Carolina Mudcats. It's such that most of Joey Wiemer’s home runs in 2021 had the effect of disappearing.
And then there was the night the baseball appeared back on the field.
“We're like, 'Did that just hit the light tower?'” said Brenton Del Chiaro, who happened to be in town in his capacity as the Brewers’ assistant Minor League hitting coordinator. Del Chiaro has since been promoted to the top job.
“We went back and looked at the video, and it did,” Del Chiaro said. “You know, we're all trying to speculate, 'How far would it have gone?' That’s a special talent.”
Del Chiaro couldn’t help but conjure the crescendo of "The Natural," the Robert Redford film in which the hero, Roy Hobbs, smashes a walk-off home run into the stadium lights and circles the bases while sparks fall to the ground. Wiemer’s was a walk-off as well. And while it lacked the pyrotechnics, it did come amid a stretch that had all the makings of a Hollywood film.
The fourth of five players selected by the Brewers in the shortened 2020 Draft, Wiemer is a throwback to the “see the ball, hit the ball” style that preceded today’s technology-cultivated style of hitting, drawing comparisons to gangly former All-Star Hunter Pence. Wiemer was struggling to find his power last season at Carolina and was coming off one particularly disheartening 0-for-5 when he got a tip from a teammate, Zavier Warren, to try sitting lower in his stance. Wiemer promptly went on a tear, culminating in a magical opening week of August.
On Aug. 5, Wiemer played Roy Hobbs minus the homemade bat, hitting his walk-off two-run home run off the light tower in the 11th inning. The next night, he homered twice more and drove in six runs. The night after that, Wiemer drove in four more runs, reached safely five times and hit yet another walk-off home run, this time a three-run shot in the 12th. One more multihit game followed, then a well-earned promotion to High-A Wisconsin, where Wiemer slugged five more home runs in his first eight games for the Timber Rattlers.
“To hear people in Zebulon chanting his name every time he comes up, you just don't hear that in Low-A baseball, you know?” Del Chiaro said. “He became just this superstar there. And you saw the confidence continue to grow. I think the most shocking thing was that they were still throwing him strikes.”
All told, Wiemer hit .295 with 18 doubles, 27 home runs and 77 RBIs in 109 games between Carolina and Wisconsin. After his promotion, he hit .336/.428/.719 with 14 homers in 34 games at the higher level. He earned a spot in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, which historically has been a harbinger of making it to the Major Leagues.
And the Brewers named Wiemer, a relatively unheralded prospect going into the year who was just outside MLB Pipeline’s preseason list of Milwaukee’s Top 30, the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year. (Pipeline now ranks him No. 21 in the system.)
Wiemer, who turned 23 on Feb. 11, spent the offseason in Cincinnati, where he attended college. He’s one of 10 outfielders in the Brewers’ early “Build-Up Camp” for prospects not on the 40-man roster, six of whom are among Milwaukee’s Top 30 prospects: Sal Frelick, Hedbert Perez, Joe Gray Jr., Carlos Rodriguez, Wiemer and Tristen Lutz.
For Wiemer, the challenge is sustaining his power output in 2022.
“I think it’s completely sustainable,” Wiemer said. “It was nice to finally start to tap into that power potential that I’ve known I’ve always had. It’s just [about] getting to it in a game. It feels good now. I’m just trying to keep it going.”
Wiemer described his philosophy of hitting as “try to stay out of your own head,” which Del Chiaro and Brewers assistant Minor League hitting coordinator Eric Theisen know all about. Theisen (pronounced TY-son) joined the Mudcats' coaching staff several weeks into last season and worked extensively with Wiemer.
“You ask him, ‘What do you want to do today?’” Theisen said. “[Wiemer responds,] ‘I just want to be an athlete,’ where a lot of guys might handcuff themselves by getting really mechanical about it. He does a good job of remaining athletic. ‘Unorthodox’ is a good word, but everything I’ve seen on him, he’s been that way for a long time. So I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily unorthodox to him, if that makes sense. What you think of as traditional might be unorthodox to him.”
Del Chiaro further explained it this way: “The attention to go up there and do damage at the plate is remarkable. It's something that we want all of our hitters to do -- obviously not swing the way he does, but his intent to swing the bat fast is critical to who he is.”
Theisen was asked for his favorite Wiemer highlight from last season, and his answer echoed his colleague Del Chairo's.
“The ball he hit off the lights,” Theisen said. “That was impressive. It’s hard to miss that one.”