MILWAUKEE -- During his first month in the Majors, Brewers rookie outfielder (and one-time hockey player) Sal Frelick made leaping, diving, wall-banging catches so routinely that the team’s primary outfield instructor, Quintin Berry, has already developed a routine for those harrowing moments.
He doesn’t watch.
“The first weeks, he almost lost his head every play,” said Berry -- speaking in literal terms, not figuratively. “The plays in his debut. The play in Atlanta, a play in Washington, the play where he and Brice [Turang] almost ran into each other. The play at the White Sox when he ran into a chair. Sal sells out for every play.
“It’s refreshing to see, but it’s also a little nerve-wracking. You don’t want him to mess around and get hurt, but that’s what makes Sal so special. He sees a ball, he’s going to go to the ball and get it. I know his pitchers appreciate that, too.
“Any time he’s going really hard one way or the other, especially if Joey [Wiemer] is involved, I usually put my head down. I’ll find out what happened after.”
There have been plenty of highlights for Berry to view after, most recently on Saturday night in Texas when Frelick made a nifty catch at the center-field wall to end the middle game of the Brewers’ sweep. But no play was as dangerous as the one Frelick made earlier on the trip in Chicago, when he crossed the foul line and leaped into the stands down the right-field line to make a sensational catch in the netting at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I knew I had to catch it before it hit the net,” Frelick said.
Frelick chalked up that play, and most of his notable plays so far, to instincts. But there’s also preparation involved. Besides studying up on all of the new pitchers they are encountering this season, rookies Frelick and Wiemer must learn the outfield intricacies of each ballpark they visit, while Turang and Andruw Monasterio perform a similar study of the speed of each infield.
It was that work in batting practice that helped Frelick make the play in Chicago -- along with the help of a fan. It happened so fast that you might have missed it, but a man on the other side of the net actually provided a helpful shove with his elbow, propelling Frelick back onto the field so he could get the baseball back to the infield.
Look even closer, and you’ll see the man was wearing a Brewers jersey.
“I flung back out,” Frelick said. “Great assist.”
“I didn’t notice that,” Berry said of the play. “I just saw him pop out real smooth and get the ball back in.”
Frelick said he spends most of his time prior to a series studying the wall to determine how a ball might carom. His new home ballpark, American Family Field, is one of the tougher venues for that, especially in right field at the party area with its alternating padding and chain-link fence.
Each day, he said, is a learning experience. And rather than study scouting reports or video, he’s a player who learns by doing.
“Every player is different but I’ve always been on the low end of information wanted,” Frelick said. “There’s so much. I’m still learning what works for me, and I want less than more as I figure that out. It’s more instincts. That’s always how it’s always been.”
He’s quickly gaining experience. Tuesday’s series opener against the Twins marks one month since Frelick was promoted to the Majors, and he’ll graduate from MLB Pipeline prospect status -- he’s No. 2 in the Brewers’ Top 30, and No. 22 overall at the moment -- when he surpasses 45 days of MLB service.
So far, so good. Frelick has an .809 OPS through his first 98 plate appearances, with most of the damage coming at home. He has 1.208 OPS, and six of his seven extra-base hits so far have come at American Family Field. The Brewers play 21 of their final 37 regular-season games at home.
“You can see in his at-bats, those are seasoned at-bats,” Berry said. “Those are not the at-bats of a dude who has a year and a half [of pro baseball] under his belt. He has an approach, he stays in the approach, he never looks overmatched.”