Young Brewers getting taste of MLB camp

February 22nd, 2021

Outfield prospect Hedbert Perez and pitching prospect Antoine Kelly, two of the fastest risers in the Brewers’ player-development system, are among the 15 players getting a taste of big league Spring Training despite not having a spot on the camp roster.

Instead they are part of a Minor League mini-camp that is running concurrently, offering an opportunity for select players to see how their more experienced Major League counterparts prepare for a season. This year those invitations are more coveted than ever, since health and safety protocols include limits on how many players can be at training complexes.

Here’s the list of players taking part:

RHP Luke Barker
LHP Leo Crawford
RHP Bowden Francis
LHP Antoine Kelly
RHP Max Lazar
RHP Reese Olson
RHP Zach Vennaro
OF Micah Bello
3B Lucas Erceg
C/OF Cooper Hummel
C Nick Kahle
OF/1B Dustin Peterson
OF Hedbert Perez
INF/OF Jamie Westbrook
SS Freddy Zamora

Kelly, 21, is a hard-throwing left-hander drafted by the Brewers in the second round in 2019. Perez, who doesn’t turn 18 until April 3, was one of the Brewers’ 2019 international signings. Kelly is No. 7 and Perez is No. 9 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Brewers’ Top 30 prospects but could jump when an updated list is unveiled in early March.

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In an effort to prevent their development from stalling last season during the pandemic, the Brewers added Kelly and Perez to their 60-man player pool, allowing them to play at the alternate training site in Appleton, Wis.

“It’s great. I think we should be excited about these players. They are very young players, though,” manager Craig Counsell said. “Because of the way camp is structured, you may see these guys in a Spring Training game. I think it’s probable that you see them, because we just have fewer players here. So it will be a great experience.”

Another notable prospect on the list is Zamora, Milwaukee’s second-round Draft pick last year, who wasn’t ready for last fall’s instructional program because he was recovering from an injury to his left ACL. This camp is an opportunity for him to play catch-up.

The players in the mini-camp are in addition to the Top 30 prospects already in big league camp by virtue of an invitation or their status on the 40-man: Garrett Mitchell, Brice Turang, Ethan Small, Mario Feliciano, Tristen Lutz, Aaron Ashby, Corey Ray, Zack Brown, Payton Henry, Tyrone Taylor, Thomas Dillard, Alec Bettinger, Dylan File and Clayton Andrews.

Hader expects to stick in closer’s role

The rise of 2020 National League Rookie of the Year Devin Williams gives the Brewers another option as they mull how to best use left-handed relief ace Josh Hader, but Hader doesn’t expect any changes in 2021. He thinks he’ll stick in the more traditional closer role he filled the past two years.

“I think we have a really strong bullpen, especially last year adding Devin into that seventh-eighth role where I can piggyback right off him,” Hader said. “I think that's been a really good complement to the bullpen, where I've been able to just follow up behind Devin and continue to close out games. That's something that I'm preparing for and continuing to learn that role.”

Hader was the NL Reliever of the Year in 2018 and ’19 while making the transition from more of a multi-inning role to a closer in 2019, when he logged 37 saves. He remained the closer in 2020’s shortened campaign and led the NL with 13 saves while working with a more balanced repertoire of fastballs (67.7 percent) and sliders (32.3 percent). The year before, he was throwing 82.9 percent fastballs.

Counsell has yet to ponder bullpen roles in general, and Hader’s role specifically, but it’s a front-and-center topic as the Brewers and other clubs navigate the jump from 60 games to 162 games.

“It's certainly a question to think about and it's something that we'll have to answer, but something that we're not quite ready to put those plans together,” Counsell said. “Let's see what our bullpen looks like a little further down in the spring. There's some exciting options down there, some exciting possibilities of what we can do. I think we have a bullpen with players who can still move forward. But let's see where we're at when we get to the second half of March. I think it's a little premature to do that.”

Williams is scheduled to throw off a mound for the first time in camp on Tuesday during the Brewers’ first full-squad workout, Counsell said. Williams is a few days behind the other pitchers after his ’20 season ended prematurely because of an injured right shoulder.

“We scheduled him to be behind other guys, because we’re going to take it slow for him,” Counsell said. “He’s throwing off a mound [on Tuesday], so we’re in good shape. I would say a little behind, yes, but by design.”

Last call

• The Brewers formally announced their one-year deal with left-hander Brett Anderson on Monday (he reportedly will earn $2.5 million) to seal an agreement the two sides struck last week. The delay was procedural. The deal was pending a physical, and this year’s health and safety protocols mandate a quarantine period while a player awaits his results from a COVID-19 test. On top of that, Anderson’s travel was affected by the deep freeze in Texas, which wreaked havoc on the state’s infrastructure.

• The Brewers don’t plan to hold back Keston Hiura from the Cactus League slate to give him more time to learn first base. He’ll play in those games from the start, Counsell said.

• The Brewers’ first full-squad workout is on Tuesday at American Family Fields of Phoenix, and it will look a bit different. Position players will work out in the morning and pitchers in the afternoon, with an outdoor team meeting in the middle, during which Counsell and other club officials plan to address players to set the tone for the year.

“We’re anxious to get started,” Counsell said. “I think everybody’s thankful and grateful and just happy to be together.”