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Brewers Top 10 Prospects
By Drew Olson
Though the sometimes leaky roof above Miller Park was a source of embarrassment and frustration, it was no match for what went happened on the field: 106 losses, a 10th straight losing season, two managerial changes, an All-Star Game debacle and the unpopular decision to sit shortstop Jose Hernandez in the final week to avoid having him set the major league record for strikeouts.
Under those bleak circumstances, positive reports about minor leaguers provided a welcome diversion. They werent enough, however, to prevent a sweeping organizational overhaul. During the final week of the regular season, Wendy Selig-Prieb, the daughter of commissioner Bud Selig, stepped down as club president and was replaced by Ulice Payne Jr. On the same day, general manager Dean Taylor was fired and replaced by former Rangers GM Doug Melvin, who later brought assistant Gord Ash and farm director Reid Nichols along as aides in his attempt to turn things around.
The first two years of Taylors tenure coincided with the final year in County Stadium and the first year at Miller Park, which meant he faced pressure to win immediately while trying to rebuild a farm system haunted by first-round busts such as Antone Williamson and Chad Green. That double play is virtually impossible to turn.
Taylors most positive legacy is that the farm system is in better shape than when he came aboard in 1999. Thats thanks primarily to scouting director Jack Zduriencik, who was retained by Melvin. Taylor also peddled veterans in the weeks before his exit, adding prospects such as lefthanders Wayne Franklin and Shane Nance, righthanders Ben Diggins and Pedro Liriano, infielders Keith Ginter and Johnny Raburn, and outfielder Chris Morris.
Under Taylor, the Brewers also aggressively promoted their top prospects. In order to show disgruntled fans a youth movement indeed was under way, he promoted a handful of young players to the big leagues in September. By then, it was too late.
With a four-year contract and a solid track record in player development, Melvin may choose to let players develop at a slower pace. If he succeeds, he may owe a debt to Taylor and the glaring reality that Brewers fortunes cant sink much lower.
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 220. Drafted: HSAlgona, Iowa, 2001 (4th round). Signed by: Harvey Kuenn Jr./Larry Doughty.
Background: Nelson was considered one of the top high school power hitters in 2001, and he put on an impressive batting-practice display during a predraft workout for the Brewers. He also excelled at various talent showcases, even showing a low-90s fastball from the mound, but he nevertheless lasted until the fourth round of the draft. He failed to homer in 105 at-bats in Rookie ball that summer. Well, his adjustment to wood bats is over. A strong Iowa farmboy, Nelson led the minors with 49 doubles and 116 RBIs. He punished pitchers throughout the season, though he seemed to run out of gas a little after he was promoted to high Class A High Desert at age 19.
Strengths: Nelson is the best all-around hitter in the system. He has good actions at the plate and has earned comparisons to Sean Casey, though Nelson should hit for more power. Managers rated Nelson, and not Marlins slugger Jason Stokes, as the top power hitter in the low Class A Midwest League. While scouts disagreed, they said Nelson had better pop to the opposite field. Few players can drive the ball as far the other way as Nelson can. His willingness to use the entire field enabled him to put up a strong first full season despite his youth and experience against inferior high school competition. Nelsons arm remains strong and he has good hands, though each is less of an asset at first base than it was when he played third base as an amateur. Class A Beloit manager Don Money considered Nelson a favorite because of his attitude and work ethic.
Weaknesses: Pitchers will be loathe to challenge Nelson, so Money encouraged him to work the strike zone and take more walks. That lesson hasnt taken yet, at least not to the extent needed. Nelson lacks speed and range, which prompted his move from the hot corner and makes him no more than an ordinary defender. He has a thick body and will have to work to stay in shape, though no one questions his willingness to do so.
The Future: Nelson probably will return to the California League at the start of 2003 and could reach Miller Park as early as 2005. The big question is where hell fit into Milwaukees lineup. A move to left field could be in Nelsons future.
Click here for prospects 2-10.