Rolling Manatees

Anundsen and Gindl keep team hot

Brevard County had one of the best first halves in the minors this season, and at 40-24 (.625) the Brewers affiliate posted the best record in the Florida State League and clinched a playoff berth.

"I think it's surprising that they've got the best record," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "It's not surprising that they're doing well, because in spring training we said this would be a fun team to watch."

"It's been impressive to see how much these kids have improved in half a year," Brevard County manager Mike Guererro said. "We have the ability to do everything on the ball field."

Seven players represented the Manatees at the Florida State League all-star game in Fort Myers. The list was highlighted by a pair of emerging Brewers prospects who have played key roles in the Manatees' success: righthander Evan Anundsen and right fielder Caleb Gindl.

A Grounded Approach

A fourth-round pick in 2006 from Columbine High in Littleton, Colo., Anundsen has been the Manatees' ace. Through 14 starts. he was 7-4, 1.99 with 78 strikeouts and 24 walks in 81 innings and had yet to surrender a home run. But the 21-year-old Anundsen's most notable achievement was the nine-inning no-hitter he twirled against Daytona on April 28.

The game's first pitch was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. following a late night for the team. It was a quick turnaround and Anundsen had some simple thoughts before he took the mound.

"I need to get through the game and take my nap," Anundsen said. "I never had (a no-hitter) ever before. It was the first time ever for me. I was trying to get through the game as quickly as I could. It ended up being the game of my life."

Nichols credits the hard work the 6-foot-3, 210-pound righthander has invested toward getting into better shape as a reason for his success.

"Anundsen has gotten bigger," Nichols said. "He's matured physically. He's another guy who was in our winter program two years ago. He was really kind of non-athletic then. The program helped him get on the right track with becoming a better athlete."

Anundsen's fastball can touch average velocity, but he usually wins with a below-average fastball and great command. And he keeps the ball on the ground, as over half of the balls put in play against him have been on the ground.

"He's that sinkerballer that has great command," Guerrero said. "He's the type of guy you can face and think you'll get four hits against but go 0-for-4. He's working at a good pace and the command of all his pitches has been outstanding. He knows what he's doing out there and he knows how to pitch."A telling point in Anundsen's development, and his future, will come when he reaches Double-A.

"At Double-A, you never know," Nichols said. "It's the make-or-break year for a lot of players."

Anundsen has also drawn comparisons to two very successful big league pitchers.

"He's a mix of Derek Lowe and Brandon Webb," Guererro said. "He's in between those two guys. He might not have Derek Lowe's fastball velocity at this time but he has four different pitches. He's young enough to grow into his body."

"They have paved the way for sinkerballers," Anundsen said. "It's nice if I'm compared to them. It's a huge honor. They are the idols of sinker guys. That would be the best thing I could do if I was a (Derek) Lowe in the major leagues."

Gindl, a fifth-round pick in 2007 from Pace High in Milton, Fla., has continued to hit for impressive power. The lefthanded hitter was batting .296/.374/.468 with nine home runs. "We projected him to do that," Nichols said. "I always thought he'd be a good hitter. He's got that sweet swing that's going to produce."

"A lot of good players have come through my hand and he's (Gindl) around that upper-tier of players," Guererro said. "The ball jumps differently off his bat. That's the difference between (average and great) hitters. The ball just sounds different off the bat. . . . The kid has one of the best bats that I have seen in a long time."

The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Gindl has drawn comparisons to Brian Giles.

"If you picture him he looks like Brian Giles," Guererro said. "They have the same type of body. I think at one point Gindl is going to be a better hitter than him. And we are talking about an established big league ballplayer (Giles)."

No Place Like Home

The Florida State League has earned its reputation as a pitcher's paradise, and on top of that, the Manatees play in a home park that is especially depressing for offenses. To that, Brevard County owes some of its success, Nichols said.

"I remember when we were analyzing ballparks (we concluded that) good teams normally play in a defensive park and have good pitching and defense," he said. "This team fits that mold."

The Manatees have scored only scored 128 runs in 35 home games, compared to 173 runs in 38 road games. Their collective on-base plus slugging is .669 at home and .722 on the road.

"I can't stand hitting at our field," said Gindl, who backs up the proclamation with a .234/.323/.351 home average compared to a .336/.404/.545 road mark. Seven of Gindl's nine home runs and 15 of his 22 extra-base hits have come on the road.

"It's tough with the wind. The grass is also a factor. The grass is so thick in our infield that you have really got to hit the ball hard to get it through (the infield)."

Anundsen doesn't mind the advantage of pitching at home. Perhaps that thicker infield grass has helped him with all those groundball outs, though he actually has a better ERA on the road (1.81) than at home (2.21) in a similiar amount of innings pitched.

"In this league most parks are pitchers' parks," Anundsen said. "I'm a ground ball guy. The field has helped me. To be honest I can't say it's had a huge affect on my game. I haven't changed my approach at all because of it. It's only helped me when I've pitched badly."