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by Josh Boyd
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--The Brewers farm system has improved by leaps and bounds over the last three years, due in large part to scouting director Jack Zduriencik. Two of the organization's premium draft picks, Dave Krynzel and Brad Nelson, are in the Arizona Fall League working out kinks in their swings that contributed to second-half struggles.
The Brewers have them under the careful watch of Double-A Huntsville manager Frank Kremblas, who is piloting the Peoria Saguaros in the AFL.
Krynzel, whose average dipped from .314 heading into the Futures Game break to .267 by the end of the season for Huntsville, admits he was drifting slightly into the pitch, which was throwing his timing off and preventing him from getting a good look at pitches. He hit .237 in July and just .137 in August.
"I got in some bad habits at the plate," Krynzel said.
He took about 10 days to regroup following Huntsville's exit in the Southern League playoffs before heading to the AFL. Krynzel made the adjustment and is staying behind the ball and driving it with more regularity again.
"He has his hands in a better position to hit from," Kremblas said. "He's not getting his hands stuck behind him. It's a ripple effect; he's swinging the bat better and he is more confident."
After a hot start, Krynzel, who dropped 15 pounds during the season, was hitting .254-1-8 for Peoria Saguaros.
Nelson got out of sync at the plate after a broken hamate kept him sidelined for most of the first half in high Class A High Desert. When he returned, he wasn't hitting for power but kept his head above water with a lofty average and earned a promotion to Huntsville for the rest of the season.
Nelson, like Krynzel, also struggled down the stretch in Double-A, hitting .210-1-14 in 143 at-bats. Kremblas said Nelson is also working on finding a comfort zone with his hands.
"He does some funny things with his hands and it gets him trouble," Kremblas said. "He tends to get started real late. When he is staying up the middle and hits the ball from right-center to left-center, he's at his best and hits the ball better."
Nelson, who was rated the Brewers' top prospect heading into this season, hit 49 doubles and 20 home runs in 2002 between low Class A Beloit and High Desert. The 20-year-old hit 21 doubles and saw his home run output plummet to two, due in large part to the hamate injury. He hasn't discovered that power stroke yet in the fall league and was hitting .226 with one double and 17 strikeouts in 53 at-bats.
• Devil Rays righty Dewon Brazelton has been one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the Fall League, rebounding from a rocky season. After starting the season in Triple-A Durham (2-2, 4.21) he reached Tampa Bay, but was dropped to high Class A Bakersfield with the idea of reconstructing his mechanics after posting a 6.89 ERA in 10 big league starts. "He's one of the only guys I've seen here who could pitch in the big leagues next year," an American League scout said. "He has always had the changeup and fastball, but he has really improved his breaking ball." Brazelton is 4-0, 1.50 with 13 hits allowed in 24 innings for the Mesa Solar Sox.
• Pirates lefthander Mike Johnston didn't attract much attention in the Double-A Altoona bullpen, but he limited hitters to a .199 average during his first full season in relief. In 72 innings, he surrendered just 49 hits. The 24-year-old brought his 92-94 mph heat, sweeping breaking ball and changeup to the Fall League. In 11 innings, he's given up nine hits and four walks while fanning eight. An impressive showing will help put him in place to contribute in a relief role next spring.
• The only hit Yankees righthander Ramon Ramirez allowed during his five-inning stint on Wednesday was a ground ball through the right side of the infield. He's been consistently clocked at 89-92 mph with a hard slider, while posting a 2-2, 1.80 record for the Grand Canyon Rafters in the AFL. He's walked two with 18 strikeouts in 20 innings.
• Already armed with a live low-90s fastball, good curveball and changeup, Mets righthander Matt Peterson is adding a slider to his repertoire. He's 2-1, 5.06 with 10 strikeouts in 16 innings. He's allowed 19 hits and four walks.
• Indians third baseman Corey Smith, rated the organization's top prospect prior to the 2002 season, has hit some speed bumps in his development path. Still just 21, he's working on improving his defense, as questions about his ability at third abound. After committing 45 errors during the regular season for Double-A Akron, Smith has made five in 19 games, but has been impressing scouts with his body control and lateral mobility. He has a strong arm and has been working on his fielding mechanics to hone his accuracy.
• After stealing 48 bases between Double-A and Triple-A this season, Pirates outfielder Rich Thompson, acquired from the Blue Jays this summer for journeyman righthander John Wasdin, is making an impression in the fall league with his plus-plus speed. At a wiry 6-foot-3, 179 pounds, Thompson collected just 14 extra-base hits during the season, but he has displayed the ability to turn on balls in Arizona and has ripped three doubles, four triples and a home run in 71 at-bats. Thursday, Thompson beat out an infield single by sliding head-first into the bag and then yanked a triple down the right-field line. He made the turn at first at a blazing 4.11 seconds (well above-average from the left side of the plate) and was motoring between first and third. His swing isn't tailored for power, but he understands his limitations at the plate and tries to hit the ball on the ground and slap balls to left field.
• Royals 2003 fourth-rounder Miguel Vega experimented with switch-hitting during instructional league, but he will continue to hit exclusively from the his natural right side next season. Vega, a shortstop, hit .222-2-11 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League this summer.