Cain proving able with Javelinas
A look at Brewers' prospects in the Arizona Fall League
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The trickle-down effect of the July 7 trade between the Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians that sent ace southpaw CC Sabathia to the Indians was felt all the way to the 2008 Arizona Fall League's Peoria Javelinas squad.
When the original deal was struck, it saw Sabathia come over to Milwaukee for outfielder Matt LaPorta, right-hander Rob Bryson and lefty Zach Jackson, plus the ever-popular player to be named later.
Initially, a few names were bandied about, among them third baseman Taylor Green and outfielders Michael Brantley and Lorenzo Cain.
Green, the Brewers' 25th-round pick in 2005 out of Cypress College in California, was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2007 when he hit .327 with 14 homers and 86 RBIs at Class A West Virginia. He batted .289 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs in 2008 at Class A Advanced Brevard County, making the midseason Florida State League All-Star team for the host Manatees and finishing runner-up in the Home Run Derby.
Cain, a 2004 17th-round pick who signed as a draft-and-follow in 2005 out of Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College, played all three outfield positions in 2008 between Brevard and Double-A Huntsville, combining to hit .279 with 11 homers, 60 RBIs, 31 doubles and 25 steals.
Brantley, the son of former big leaguer and coach Mickey Brantley, batted .319 with 28 steals this season at Huntsville at age 21.
When the official announcement was made Oct. 3 that the Indians had acquired Brantley to complete the trade, it set off a sequence of roster moves that affected the Javelinas, just four days before the AFL got started.
Green immediately was added to the roster to replace injured third baseman Mat Gamel, and Cain took the spot that would have gone to Brantley had he remained with Milwaukee.
While the Brewers are loaded with talent in their system, Cain is one of their most intriguing sleepers. In his pro debut in the Arizona League in 2005, he was named the circuit's MVP after hitting .356 with five homers, 37 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.
The next summer, his first full season, he batted .307 with 34 steals at West Virginia and led the South Atlantic League with 162 hits. In 2007 at Brevard County, he hit .276 with 24 steals.
He was continuing to refine his game at Brevard County when news of the Sabathia trade came down, and with it the whispered rumors that both he and Green were on the short list to become future Indians.
"At first, my agent was telling me I was in the trade talks, so it was kind of shocking, but things like that happen, so I was ready to deal with it no matter what," said the 22-year-old, who has been playing left field for the Javs. "Right before I moved up to Huntsville, I found out that I was out of the trade talks and I was happy. I just focused on baseball and tried to go out and play hard every day."
In fact, Cain already was back home in Madison, Fla., just south of the Georgia border, relaxing and recovering from a mild hamstring strain that had shut him down in mid-August when the deal was finalized. Almost immediately, the Brewers called him to see if he'd be able to join them in Arizona on such short notice.
"They gave me a choice and I said I was ready to go," he said. "At first, I wasn't supposed to do anything over the offseason except go home, work out, get stronger and gain a little weight. But we felt this would be the best thing for me, and since my hamstring healed I've been doing well so I'd say it's been working out."
A little understatement from the soft-spoken Cain.
After spending about a week working with trainer Tommy Craig to make sure the hamstring was good to go, Cain got into the lineup on Oct. 13 and has been one of the Javelinas' most feared hitters since then. He's hitting .375 with four homers, 10 RBIs and three steals in 14 games.
Green's AFL story doesn't have quite as happy an ending.
His campaign ended abruptly on Oct. 21 when, facing the Peoria Saguaros, St. Louis Cardinals prospect Tyler Norrick came inside with a pitch that hit Green in the face, breaking his nose.
The story didn't end right there, though it would have for most players.
Green, a Canadian whose biggest boosters especially love his "hockey mentality," was ready to trot down to first base and stay in the game with that broken nose. Even after he was held out for a few days and diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture, he was taking infield, ready to play, when a bad hop bouncer hit him -- where else -- in the nose.
"We were taking infield and the ball popped up and hit him in the nose," Cain recalled. "It was like, 'Wow, of all things, that ball had to hit him there.'"
This time, Green was shut down and underwent surgery. He will, of course, be back to his usual scrappy self in time for Spring Training.
But it certainly was an eventful year for the converted third baseman, who did all he could to stay focused on his job at hand and not the possible change of address.
"At first, I was kind of on the verge of wanting to know, but after a bit I got used to it," he said. "I was happy to see Michael get a great opportunity and wish the best of luck to him."
Over the first two weeks of the season, Green was concentrating primarily on the shift from second base to third, though with the Brewers' glut of infielders, his future down the road could be as a do-it-all utility infielder.
"It's a great opportunity," said Green, who was batting .333 in seven games when he was shut down, "and you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get."
IF Brent Brewer, who may have one of the most appropriate names in the game, was added to the Javelinas roster to replace Green. But Milwaukee didn't make the speedy shortstop a second-round pick in 2006 just because of his moniker. While his bat is coming around, he's a serious threat on the basepaths with 42 steals in 2007 at West Virginia and 31 this season between West Virginia and Brevard County. Though he hit just .213 to start the season with the Power, he batted .251 with the Manatees down the stretch. With Peoria, he was hitting .188 in five games.
RHP Alex Periard, known to his teammates and coaches as "Frenchy," hails from Montreal and was a 16th-round pick out of high school in 2004. He was 11-10 with a 4.06 ERA over 150 2/3 innings this season between Brevard County and Huntsville, tying for third in the system in wins and eighth in ERA. At Peoria, he was 0-2 with a 9.42 ERA and 11 strikeouts against 11 walks over 14 2/3 innings.
RHP Omar Aguilar could emerge as one of the top closer prospects in the organization and was showing why in Peoria as he'd yet to allow an earned run in nine games, fanning eight in 9 2/3 innings. His 17 saves between Brevard County and Huntsville ranked second in the system, and he combined for a 1.98 ERA and .177 opponents' average. After posting an 0.35 ERA for the Manatees, the 30th-round draft-and-follow sign from 2005 moved up to Huntsville, where he boasted a respectable 3.08 ERA.
LHP David Welch, an Australia-born starter, was 11-4 with a 3.90 ERA at Huntsville in 2008, ranking second in the Southern League in wins and sixth in the Brewers system in ERA. He had a 3.43 ERA at Brevard County in 2007 and a 2.41 mark at West Virginia in 2006, so he's moved steadily and effectively up the ladder. With Peoria, he has a 5.40 ERA in 13 1/3 innings over 10 games.
LHP Brae Wright has been on the taxi squad at Peoria after throwing 170 2/3 innings for Huntsville in 2008. His 3.59 ERA was fourth in the organization and seventh in the Southern League. A 2006 sixth-round pick out of Oklahoma State, he was second among Brewers pitchers with 120 strikeouts. At Peoria, he was shut down after seven games with a 5.87 ERA.
C Lou Palmisano also began the year on the Javelinas' taxi squad, though he saw more active time as he filled in for missing or injured catchers both with the Javs and Mesa. He finally was activated for good when Angel Salome went home with a sore shoulder after just one game. Palmisano is on the comeback trail from knee surgery that cost him most of 2008, as he hit .297 with two homers in 27 games. He batted .256 with 11 homers and 63 RBIs at Huntsville in 2007 before the injury. Overall in Arizona, he was putting himself back on the map with a .324 average in 12 games.
RHP Jeremy Jeffress was shut down with shoulder fatigue after his third AFL outing on Oct. 21, having posted a 12.83 ERA (though that more than doubled in the rough final outing in which he gave up six runs in less than an inning). The Brewers' 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, he struck out 115 over 94 innings with a 4.31 ERA, mostly at Brevard but with a brief promotion to Huntsville. The club's top pick in 2006 out of high school in Virginia, his fastball is consistently clocked in the mid- to high-90s and sometimes triple digits. He's been working on his curveball and changeup to offset that heat while coming back from the onus of a few suspensions for non-performance-enhancing substances. He's just 21 and has a huge upside.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.