GOODYEAR, Ariz.—When asked what he wants to work on throughout the rest of his time in the fall instructional league, Nathan Kirby had a simple answer.
“One word, man: Repetitions.”
Given what he’s gone through over the past two seasons since the Brewers drafted him in the supplemental first round out of Virginia in 2015, that’s understandable. A pair of surgeries on his left elbow—one Tommy John and another to rearrange the ulnar ligament—has limited him just 12.2 innings in his pro career and none since 2015.
In the meantime, he’s spent the bulk of his career at the Brewers’ minor league complex in Maryvale, Ariz., rehabbing, rehabbing and then rehabbing some more. He’s spent so much time in the desert that he can very quickly rattle off the best places to eat around the area.
It would be understandable if Kirby were to feel bad for himself for being stuck in neutral while most of the rest of his teammates were spread out all over the country doing what they can to further their careers. Baseball has plenty of down moments, and two consecutive seasons spent exclusively on the disabled list certainly qualifies.
But farm director Tom Flanagan hasn’t seen that kind of attitude from his lefthander, who remains a wild card in one of baseball’s most robust farm systems.
“He’s very mentally tough. He was a guy who, to his credit, as soon he had the first surgery he basically had his mind on when ‘Opening Day’ was. I think he had that goal in mind,” Flanagan said. “Obviously he had the ulnar nerve issue, but that’s taken care of. That’s fairly common. I think now it’s a matter of accumulating those innings and knowing you’re not going to throw 50 innings in an outing. He’s never going to make up for all those innings (at once), but he’s going about it the right way.”
Kirby was back on the mound on Wednesday for his fourth start this fall—two of which came against his teammates in intrasquad settings—on the road against the Reds. He gave up two runs in his one inning, but none of that mattered. He was pitching to hitters in different uniforms, a victory in and of itself.
“It’s awesome, man. It’s just good to be healthy,” he said. “It’s been an up-and-down year with more ups and than downs and I’m hoping to finish on a high note, and it looks to be that way.”
Stuff-wise, he obviously wasn’t quite the same guy who finished off Vanderbilt in the 2015 College World Series. His fastball sat between 88-90 and touched 91 once, a tick down from the low-90s heater that occasionally touched 94 mph in college. He got swings-and-misses on both of his offspeed pitches—a low-80s changeup and a mid-70s hook—but, understandably, neither was particularly consistent.
“I think the big thing to remember is how long he’s been off,” Flanagan said. “He’s throwing and bullpens and with hitting dummies and things of that nature and going through his progressions in game situations. There’s a lot of things going on. But I think as he goes out there longer you’ll see (his stuff) tick up quite a bit.”
The Brewers break camp for the winter on Oct. 13. For Kirby, that means just six months will remain before his first true Opening Day since he was in college. Compared to these last two years, waiting for April should be a breeze.
Beer & Fish In Carolina League
The Brewers finalized their purchase of the Carolina Mudcats—the team’s high Class A affiliate in the Carolina League—on Wednesday. The deal had been in the works since spring training, and the two parties used the first few weeks of the offseason to make sure everything was in order.
Milwaukee had only affiliated with Carolina for one season but had seen enough to know it was attractive enough to be a long-term option. Beyond the stability that comes with owning a franchise and thus avoiding the tedium of the bi-annual Affiliation Shuffle, the Brewers liked the relative neutrality the Carolina League provided in contrast two the other two high Class A leagues.
“It’s a good facility in terms of the ballpark, clubhouse and cages, which I think is really nice. But the league is very neutral, park factor-wise, and it’s a good developmental league with a lot of good organizations,” Flanagan said. “For us, we had never been in that league before, so being through it for the year just added to our in confidence in how much we liked that league. I think it’s just a good setup, a good fit for the organization.”
Now that they own the team, they’ll take the time to make a few alterations to what they believe is an already-stellar setup at Five County Stadium.
“There’s certainly a great footprint already in place and a great facility already in place,” Flanagan said. “But knowing that you’re going to be there enables us to do some things that you may be restricted on doing at other places because you’re not sure (how long you’re going to be there) in terms of technology and things of that nature.”
Greene Is Gold
The obvious star of the Reds instructional league roster is Hunter Greene. The second overall pick in this year’s draft was such an attraction in the Pioneer League that opposing teams sent out press releases notifying the media when Greene was slated to pitch at their ballpark. That kind of treatment is usually only reserved for big league rehab assignments and Tim Tebow.
His numbers with Billings weren’t particularly pretty—0-1, 12.46 over 4.1 innings—but Reds farm director Jeff Graupe was still pleased with Greene’s early work.
“He’s been outstanding,” Graupe said. “He’s done a nice job. There’s some things that we’re working on now, so we’re not really focused on the ERAs or strikeouts or all that kind of stuff. He’s really been good. He’s taken to it well. He’s got a good routine going, and I think this camp will really springboard him into 2018.”
Specifically, Graupe said the Reds are working with Greene on his extension and finishing his breaking ball better, as well as continuing to develop his changeup and other small things that don’t come into play when you’re a dominant pitcher in high school.
Greene probably has one or two more outings before instructional league concludes and he can put a bow on his first taste of professional baseball.
And Finally . . .
Brewers farmhand Payton Henry learned the hard way about some very stingy ground rules at the Reds’ minor league complex. The sixth-rounder out in the 2016 draft drilled a ball about 40 feet up the massive batter’s eye in dead center field, which at most other parks would be a home run. Here? Just a double. Responding to the murmurs in the scout section about the oddity, Reds great Eric Davis, an instructor in camp, quipped: “We’re not just giving away home runs around here.”