Crew takes a chance on smooth SS from Miami

June 12th, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- Fifteen years after bringing Ryan Braun to Milwaukee, the Brewers began Day 2 of the 2020 Draft by selecting another shortstop from the University of Miami.

Braun was already in the process of shifting to third base when he was drafted, and then subsequently to the outfield. But the Brewers will give Thursday’s pick, Freddy Zamora, a chance to stick in the middle of the infield. Zamora went to the Brewers at No. 53 overall in the second round.

A slick-fielding, strong-armed player ranked No. 100 by MLB Pipeline and No. 74 by Baseball America going into the Draft, Zamora does carry some risk. He hit .300 with 24 doubles, seven home runs, 74 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 104 games, all starts, in his first two seasons at Miami before being suspended by the Hurricanes for the start of 2019 for skipping class. Days later, the school announced he would miss the season because of a right ACL injury suffered in a collision at first base during practice. As of Thursday, Zamora was about three months into a projected nine-month rehab.

And of course, that season was never played because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s honestly been a crazy 2020, starting with my injury and then the season going down,” Zamora said. “It was definitely shocking at first. It was tragic how the season ended. I’m just trying to get better from this, one day at a time, and not worrying about tomorrow. Just worrying about what I can control.”

The pick continued a trend for the Brewers of taking a chance on players who fell down the Draft board due to injury. Keston Hiura in 2017, Drew Rasmussen in 2018 and David Hamilton in 2019 all were similarly available. Hiura was Milwaukee’s top prospect before graduating to the Majors last year, and Rasmussen is now one of the organization’s top pitching prospects.

“We feel like if the injury isn’t something that’s going to impact them significantly long-term,” said Brewers scouting director Tod Johnson, “and we’re happy with the medical prognosis and the way it was done and where they are in their rehab and that kind of stuff, then we’re comfortable taking on that risk and potentially getting a guy that would have gone at least somewhat higher in the Draft. In Freddy’s case specifically, I think he would have definitely gone at least some number of picks higher if he hadn’t been hurt there.”

Zamora was born in Nicaragua and learned baseball from his father, Freddy Zamora Sr., who played professionally as an outfielder. The family moved to Miami when Freddy Jr. was 5 years old, and he has lived there ever since. The Brewers brought him up to Miller Park three years ago for a pre-Draft workout when Zamora was coming out of Miami Killian High School, but he wasn’t drafted.

Asked what lessons he learned from his dad, Zamora pointed to baserunning. And it was Freddy Sr. who made his son into an infielder.

“My dad, when I started playing baseball, my dad wanted me to play shortstop, and I just went with it,” the younger Zamora said. “Throughout the years and the hard work and stuff I put in, I think it just came natural to me. It was nothing that I had to really go through a struggle, I would say.”

Zamora was the first of four Brewers selections on Day 2 of this year’s five-round Draft. At the conclusion of Thursday’s picks, there will be a two-day quiet period before teams are allowed to sign undrafted free agents; they can sign as many players as they wish, but signing bonuses for undrafted players cannot exceed $20,000 apiece.

Here is a rundown of the Brewers' 2020 Draft picks:

Round 1 (20th overall)
Garrett Mitchell, OF UCLA

A toolsy, left-handed-hitting outfielder whom the Brewers believe will grow into more power, Mitchell has played with Type 1 diabetes since the third grade. He said he views the condition not as detrimental but as a positive, since he’s forced to listen to his body more than other athletes his age.

Round 2 (53rd overall)
Freddy Zamora, SS, University of Miami

Round 3 (92nd overall)
Zavier Warren, C, Central Michigan University

The Brewers love up-the-middle position players and they love positional versatility. The switch-hitting Warren provides a dose of both, having played catcher in high school, shortstop in 2019 at Central Michigan to fill a team need, and he saw some time at third base in the Cape Cod League. The Brewers drafted him as a catcher. Warren’s clear strength, according to prospect guru Jim Callis, is his bat. In 78 games over the past two springs at Central Michigan, Warren batted .355 with a .492 on-base percentage, a 1.028 OPS, nine home runs, 79 RBIs, 90 runs scored and 74 walks.

“Most people were just intrigued with my bat,” Warren said. “Some teams were higher on the catching part. Most teams, honestly, just wanted to get me and see where I could fill in from there. Most people said I probably wouldn’t stick at shortstop. Maybe third [base] or second. And obviously, some catching.”

Which position is his favorite?

“I really just like hitting the most,” Warren said.

Round 4 (121st overall)
Joey Wiemer, OF, University of Cincinnati

Wiemer’s 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame drew a comparison to Hunter Pence during MLB Network’s coverage of the Draft on Thursday, though Wiemer will have to show he can handle a wood bat to live up to that profile. He certainly has the arm for the outfield; Wiemer throws so hard that the Bearcats tried him at closer this spring before baseball was shut down, but control issues scuttled the experiment.

“Everyone looks at him and thinks he’s a little more raw, but actually if you look at the performance, he’s been able to pretty consistently control the strike zone there,” Johnson said. “He will flash some swing and miss, but that’s because he’s trying to hit the ball really far sometimes -- and he will. There’s big power there. It was just an exciting combination of tools and solid performance that we thought was a good buy in the fourth round.”

Wiemer would have been a lock to be drafted in the first 10 rounds in a “normal” year, but the shortened Draft created some stress. Going into Thursday, he wasn’t sure he’d hear his name called.

“I’m not usually a worry wart. I don’t stress a ton,” Wiemer said. “I’m not a super emotional guy, but I woke up at 5 o’clock this morning and I was like, ‘Why can’t I go back to sleep?’ It was just not really anxiety, but just stressed. Good stress, positive stress, and really excited for the day. When I got the call, I told myself I wasn’t going to cry, but I couldn’t help it there.”

Round 5 (151st overall)
Hayden Cantrelle, SS, Louisiana-Lafayette

Five picks, five Division 1 college hitters after the Brewers used their final 2020 selection on Cantrelle, who was No. 118 on MLB Pipeline’s pre-Draft prospects list. Like Warren, he’s a switch-hitter, and like all of Milwaukee’s picks, he plays an up-the-middle defensive position. Louisiana-Lafayette is the same school that produced All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy, the Brewers’ third-round Draft pick in 2007.

Cantrelle fell on some prospect lists because of a pedestrian start to his shortened season. Here’s one theory from his coaches, according to Johnson: Cantrelle is typically a slow starter, and the pandemic denied him the chance to get going later in the year.

“We thought that was another situation where a guy is a pretty exciting player and has the tools to stick ‘on the dirt,’” Johnson said. “He can run, there’s some pop in there occasionally, [he] was pushed down by circumstances that weren’t necessarily directly related to his talent. We felt like that was a good opportunity to buy there.”