Friday, April 18, 2008

Carlos Villanueva article by John Sickels

Not a Rookie: Carlos Villanueva
by John Sickels on Apr 17, 2008 1:30 PM EDT

Carlos Villanueva was signed by the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2002. He made his pro debut with the AZL Giants that year at age 18, posting an 0.59 ERA and a 23/3 K/BB ratio in 30.1 innings. His command was obviously outstanding, but his mediocre stuff kept him off most prospect lists, including mine, pending higher level data. I would have given him a Grade C.

Villanueva returned to the Arizona Rookie League in 2003 and became a starter, going 3-6, 3.97 with a 67/13 K/BB in 59 innings with 64 hits allowed. Again the strong K/BB stood out, but as a league-repeater he needed to prove out at higher levels to move past Grade C.

The Giants traded him to the Brewers in March, 2004. Milwaukee sent him to Beloit in the Midwest League where he had a solid season in the rotation, making 21 starts with a 3.77 ERA and a 113/30 K/BB in 115 innings. HIs only negative stat was 20 homers allowed. By this time he'd boosted his velocity a bit into the 88-92 range. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2005 book, pointing him out as a sleeper if he could get the home run tendency under control.

The Brewers sent him to the Florida State League to begin 2005. He did great, posting a 2.32 ERA in 21 starts with a 124/32 K/BB in 112 innings. A late promotion to Double-A resulted in a 7.40 ERA in four starts with a 14/9 K/BB in 21 innings with 21 hits allowed. His fastball was back to the 87-88 range at the end of the year, and scouts indicated that Double-A hitters weren't as easily fooled by his arsenal, granted the sample was small. I lowered him to Grade C in the '06 book, noting however that he deserved more chances and that he still had some sleeper potential.

Villanueva opened 2006 in Double-A and pitched well; he continued pitching well in Triple-A, then ended the season with 53.2 strong innings for the Brewers. Last year he pitched 114 innings for Milwaukee with a 3.94 ERA. In 168 career innings entering 2008, Villanueva has a 138/64 K/BB with 144 hits allowed and a 3.86 ERA.

What does the future hold?

PECOTA seems to hate him, giving him a collapse rate of 60% entering 2008. His comparables list includes scary comps like Todd Van Poppel and Ken Cloude, but also a few more successful guys like Mudcat Grant and Moe Drabowsky. Although in the rotation right now, my personal belief is that he is best utilized in the long relief/spot starter role, and that as a full-time starter he would be more likely to get overexposed and fail.

Villanueva is a Grade C/C+ prospect made good, and I tend to root for guys like this. If he stays healthy I think he will have a mixture of good and bad seasons, the kind of guy who will post a 6.00 ERA in a bad year, drift to another team, then turn things around quickly and post a 3.00 mark in a limited role, before being overexposed and struggling again. In the end I think Villanueva balances out as an average major league pitcher overall, but that's not an insult, and he gives hope to every guy in Double-A who has average stuff and is looking for a break.

I tend to agree w/Sickels for the most part on this one. I think Carlos is more of a pitcher than a thrower. He seems to have some polish and knows what he's doing out on the mound. Being a little smaller in stature than an ideal sized pitcher, he tends to wear down much more over the course of a season. I don't think it helped him last year either that he was yo-yo'd around as a long reliever, setup man, spot starter, and then starting pitcher. He may not have actually pitched a career high in innings, but his arm took more abuse due to being warmed up, sat down, etc. in the bullpen when he had never pitched in relief before.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Memorabilia Pic

Here's a picture of some recent bobbleheads I've obtained. From left to right...

- 2008 Prince Fielder Milwaukee Brewers SGA retro version (1 / 5,000) - 2008 Ryan Braun Forever Collectibles ROY version (487 / 504) - 2007 Don Sutton Milwaukee Brewers SGA regular version (1/40,000) - Bernie Mac Mr. 3,000 movie promo - Rickie Weeks Forever Collectibles 'On Field' version (355 / 2,008)

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Article on former Brewers draft pick & brother of Rickie, Jemile Weeks

With Weeks in the lineup, Miami is once again a CWS contender

By Heather Dinich

March 18, 2008

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Three years ago, Jemile Weeks walked slowly across campus at the University of Miami, prolonging his arrival at his first class as a freshman. The small but speedy second baseman couldn't quite cross the threshold into the classroom -- not yet.

His father, Richard, was in the midst of negotiating Jemile's value with the Milwaukee Brewers. Once his son actually stepped into class, all deals were off.

Jemile Weeks shined during his first trip to the NCAA tournament in 2006.

Weeks' cell phone rang. It was his dad, with an update.

"I said, 'Well, Jemile, they went from 850 [thousand] to 855,'" Richard Weeks recalled. "It's not moving where we want.'"

"Well, should I go to class?" Jemile asked.

"No, not yet, not yet," Richard said. "We're still at the table. I'll call you back."

Jemile Weeks, who was drafted out of high school by Milwaukee in the eighth round, likely would have gone had the Brewers upped the ante to $1 million.

Instead, he went to class.

At 18, Jemile turned down mega money and the opportunity to join his older brother, Rickie Weeks, who is currently the Brewers' second baseman. Skipping college for a lucrative baseball contract is a decision many elite high school baseball players make, but for Weeks, the favorable odds of winning a College World Series at Miami and time to further develop as a player outweighed Milwaukee's offer and the chance to play with his brother.

"My family, they knew I was going to make the right decision, whichever decision I made," Weeks said. "My brother told me I've got two great choices in front of me. Do what you feel is best."

Now, with Weeks in the lineup as a junior, the No. 6-ranked Hurricanes (13-2, 5-1 ACC) have a legitimate shot to return to Omaha and win it all. For Weeks, who intends to pursue his major league dream again after this season, it's probably his last chance at the title.

"This year, the way we started off, if we can stay consistent, I think this team can go real far and maybe win a national championship," Weeks said. "I want to be a part of that. That was one of the biggest things that influenced me to come here. … I wanted to be a part of a great team, and I thought Miami was that place."


By choosing Miami, Jemile wound up where his brother wanted to go.

Rickie Weeks had hoped to play for the Hurricanes, but wasn't recruited by Miami. Coach Jim Morris admitted he "made a mistake," but wasn't about to make it twice.

"The first time I met Jemile, I told his dad, 'We're not messing this up again,'" Morris said with a smile. "'Let's sign this one.'"

Jemile Weeks had the chance to follow his brother Rickie into the Brewers' organization.

Weeks' teammates wondered, though, if he would ever show up.

"Before I even knew him, we came to school a couple days early, and Jemile wasn't here yet," outfielder Blake Tekotte said. "We were like, 'Hopefully he comes.'"

Weeks was still weighing his options. He was a scrappy 155 pounds coming out of Lake Brantley High School - a factor that probably caused the Brewers to pause during negotiations. But Weeks also knew he had room to grow. He turned to his brother, who played at Southern University and was drafted in 2003, for advice.

"You try to give him the pros and cons of it," said Rickie Weeks, who was in the minors at the time. "I told him if you were to come out, you'd have some money in your pocket and you'd be able to start your career off early, being a young guy, try to work your way up. Then again, going to college, you have some experience under your belt, getting older, mature, stronger, which is only going to help you out in the long run."

After a few prayers (his mother, Valeria, is a pastor at a church in Orlando) and some more thinking, Jemile arrived at Miami. Milwaukee's unwillingness to budge financially made the decision final.

"The day before school started I see him rolling up at night," Tekotte said. "I was like, 'Oh, thank God.'"

They've been roommates ever since.


Weeks wasted no time showcasing why more pro scouts were looking at him than college recruiters. As a freshman in the College World Series, Weeks had a .308 average and scored three runs. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Lincoln Regional for hitting .583 (7-for-120) with eight runs, four doubles, three walks and four RBIs. And in the Oxford Super Regional, Weeks hit .500 with three home runs, eight RBIs, five runs and two intentional walks.

"He lit it up when it counted," Morris said. "He's shown us what he can do."

Weeks' career was derailed last season, though, with a hamstring/groin injury that kept him out for 11 games. The Hurricanes missed the quickest bat in their lineup.

Draft eligible this year, this season could be Jemile Weeks' last chance to win a CWS title.

"It's hard to replace a guy like that in the 2-hole," outfielder/pitcher Dennis Raben said. "He's got speed, power, he gets on base. He plays great defense. It's hard to replace anyone like that, but especially him. He's like a sparkplug in the lineup."

Weeks took off the whole summer and turned down a spot on the U.S. National team to rehab.

"It built my desire back so much to come out here and just give it all this season, give it all I got," he said. "You never know when it's done."

According to Morris, it might just be the beginning for Weeks, who is batting .345 and already has 10 hits, seven RBIs and two home runs in seven games.

"We're expecting him, to be honest, to be even better than his freshman year," Morris said. "It's two years later, he matured, is getting stronger. I'm expecting really good things."

So are his teammates.

"He's fast and he's got some explosiveness for being a little guy," Tekotte said. "It's huge having him healthy and having his legs healthy under him. He's going to be a huge part of our success early this season."


No doubt his entire family will be watching -- and listening.

The elderly blind man who sits in the stands next to Richard Weeks at Mark Light Stadium is the patriarch of baseball in the Weeks family. Victor Weeks, Jemile's grandfather, was an outfielder for the Negro League's Newark Eagles in the late 1940s. Last Christmas, Jemile and his brother unwrapped books on the history of the Negro League.

"He's a real inspiration to me," Jemile said. "Just having that in your background, and understanding and listening to the stories, it inspires you even more."

For more than 30 years, Jemile's grandfather has been able to see only shadows because of his severe glaucoma, but that hasn't stopped him from following every pitch. Even when Victor can't make it to the games, Richard gives him the play-by-play from his cell phone.

"Strike 3," he said while on the phone during the series opener against Florida. "Changeup, inside corner."

Richard Weeks played, too, as an outfielder at Seton Hall and Stetson. He taught his sons the game early, and would throw them batting practice in their house with a balled-up sock.

"Baseball has been around me all my life," Jemile said.

"He was born for it," his father said.

There's always still the possibility he winds up playing with his brother again.

"I hope one day we do," Rickie Weeks said.

It's just not time to leave the classroom -- yet.

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Article on Brewers Scouting Director, Jack Zduriencik

Scouting a scout at the National Classic
Jim Seimas, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Jack Zduriencik, 57, rattles off names with excitement, like he's a youngster flipping through his collection of baseball cards: "Paul Snyder, Huey Alexander, Howard Haak, George Genovese, Larry Doughty ..."

All five men are a part of a predominantly unknown but important fraternity -- they are or were baseball scouts, the behind-the-scenes men who help assemble the talent fans see in Major League Baseball.

"A lot of those guys are past now, but they are legends in the scout world," said Zduriencik, the Milwaukee Brewers' special assistant to the general manager for player personnel. "There are a lot of good scouts in this industry. And there's a lot of good scouts who have passed away who left their mark on baseball."

Zduriencik, who has held a front office job with the Brewers the past eight years, is now in his 25th year of scouting. And he's one of the game's greats.

Last year, Baseball America magazine named him the Major League Executive of the Year, marking the first time the publication has given the award to a non-GM. Zduriencik is one of dozens of scouts in Los Angeles this week to scout talent at the 16-team National Classic, which features five of the nation's top-25 ranked teams by Baseball America, as well as local powerhouse Aptos High.

Zduriencik, his balding head cleanly shaven, looks like a regular fan at the National Classic. He's decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, blue jeans and running shoes. He chews tobacco as he exchanges tales with a swarm of coaches from Seminole Ridge High in Florida, a state he recently visited while on a scouting excursion. He doesn't carry a radar gun, but he's got a Blackberry, and it seemingly never stops ringing. Once it's his wife, other times its other Brewers area scouts giving him updates and clarifying their schedules.

Zduriencik will see dozens of games over a four-day span here. Zduriencik doesn't need to comb through a media guide to know which players he wants to see. When he watches Aptos play, he already knows about pitcher/infielder Kevin Eichhorn, speedy center fielder Bobby Crocker and several other stars on other teams -- he saw them at the Area Code Games in Southern California last summer. Or maybe at another showcase, like the AFLAC All-American Game.

Zduriencik was an international scout with the Los Angels Dodgers and now works as a national scout, flying all over the country.

"I was in Atlanta over the weekend, in Tennessee prior to that, Florida prior to that," he said.

One of his many duties is to coordinate schedules with his regional scouts. Regional scouts mostly drive and they rack up anywhere from 25,000-35,000 miles a year attending high school and college games.

He was once one of them, and is also a former minor league player and high school and college coach. Most scouts have a baseball background. Their pay is based off their experience level, and scouting salaries start around $35,000 and can reach six figures. Zduriencik is now a higher-level guy.

The National Classic is being staged at four ballparks, and Zduriencik will visit them all in one day and repeat this trend for the entire tournament. There are plenty of pro prospects to see. Orange Lutheran pitcher Garrit Cole, an AFLAC All-American pitcher who throws in the high 90-mph range, is among those competing in the event. He's projected to be a first-round pick.

"I started at 8:30 a.m. and I'll probably get back to the hotel at 10:30 p.m.," he said. This is a daily ritual, and after the tournament he'll head off to another and repeat the cycle.

And on the rare occurrence he makes it back home to Milwaukee to be with his family, he'll bring his work home with him. It's a job that keeps him busy nearly year-round. "I have a very understanding wife, Debbie," said Zduriencik, who has been married 25 years. "She's tremendous. She understands what the job is all about and when we got married she knew I was a baseball guy.

"But she's a baseball fan, When she sits in Miller Park [in Milwaukee] and the players run on the field, she realizes her husband had some responsibility for these guys. It's kind of exciting for her as well."

The Brewers are on the rise, and look to be contenders for the National League Central Division title. Zduriencik and his scouts are a key factor in the Brewers' rise. They helped single out the players who display big-league potential. Just look at the Brewers' youth-laden roster of stars: outfielder Corey Hart [11th round of 2000], shortstop J.J. Hardy [second round of 2001], first baseman Prince Fielder [first round of 2002], second baseman Rickie Weeks [first round of 2003], budding ace Yovani Gallardo [second round of 2004] and third baseman Ryan Braun [first round of 2005].

The goal is to single out and evaluate talent as much and often as possible. And the wear and tear it puts on the body is fierce, Zduriencik said. "When I get home I'm excited, but I'm also very tired," he said. Sometimes sleep is compromised. Other times, it's a healthy diet that falls by the wayside.

"You have to be careful, and quite honestly most of us aren't," he said. "We get absorbed in this thing and it's kind of addicting. You want to see and get to the next player and see as many players as you can. When the day is said and done, you have to be smart on how you do things."

Zduriencik comes and goes from his perch along the first base line while the Mariners play. Few scouts often stay for the duration of a game -- there's too many games and players to see.

They fill out charts on specific players and document their skills based on the positions they play.

"Players are what they are," he said. "Just because a guy is 6-foot-5, doesn't mean he's going to be better than a guy whose 5-11. Players are players and all you're asking them to do is go out and show what they can do. Whatever their skill sets are regarding the positions they play, it's our job to project how they're going to be major leaguers down the road somewhere."

Evaluating high school and college players is a different process, he said. "When you look at these kids, you have to realize they're an unfinished product. It's not like looking at a kid whose in his third or fourth year of college. When you look at a high school kid, there's more room to project because, chances are, three, four, five years from now he's going to be considerably larger than at this time."

Scouts usually band together at games. When looking at pitchers, most are perched behind home plate with radar guns in hand. But a pitcher's velocity is one of many things scouts are looking at.

"Size is important, arm action, velocity ..." Zduriencik said, trying to play down the velocity thing. "As youngsters, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were registering at 93 mph. They became great big league players because they had a breaking ball. They had great command, learned how to spot things, stayed healthy ... What is pitching? Pitching is upsetting hitting. If a pitcher has other things he can do to upset timing, that's very important."

On position players, scouts look at size, arm strength, fielding ability, and quickness he said. They're also looking for guys who can swing the bat. But they always don't get big results when checking out highly-rated prospects. "If a guy strikes out three times, what does that mean?" Zduriencik said. "He's a bad player? No, he had a bad day. So you go back to your area scout and he may tell you [later on] that he's going off like crazy."

A team will try and get as many looks at the same player as it can leading up to the June draft.

Often, scouts from rival organizations are at the same events. While they band together at games and socialize with each other, they never mention who they're looking at or what they think of a player.

It's like the movie "Fight Club." First rule of scouting -- never mention who you scouting.

"I'm not going to talk about players," Zduriencik said. "We all do what we can to get the edge and beat the other guy. That's what it is, a very friendly, competitive natured business, if you will."

And Zduriencik is one of the best at it in the game.


New Approach

I think I'm going to try and take a new approach to this site. It's fairly obvious that I don't really update this all too often. I think I am going to start posting news articles that I find interesting that aren't necessarily about the Brewers results game after game, or daily news reports.

Also, I am a huge fan of collecting Milwaukee Brewers & Milwaukee Braves memorabilia. I also dabble in Penn State, Wisconsin, Marquette, and Green Bay Packers items as well. I think I'm going to start cataloging it and will post pictures of what I've acquired over the years on here as well. It'll be my way of keeping track of what I've got.