Pierce hoping to make it with hometown team
Former UWM pitcher starting with Helena in Pioneer League
MILWAUKEE -- Chad Pierce came to grips with his odds of making it to the Major Leagues two years ago.
After undergoing a position change from catcher to pitcher and transferring from the University of Arkansas to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Fond du Lac, Wisc., native said his playing days were numbered.
"If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't it, doesn't," Pierce said. "I was going to play my last year of college baseball, and if I was given the chance to get drafted, I'd take it as long as it lasts."
Much to the approval of Pierce's family and friends, he gained some attention from big league scouts during his senior season, and the right-handed pitcher was drafted by Milwaukee in the 38th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Pierce was assigned to the Helena Brewers, where he will pitch every fifth day.
The odds of Wisconsin-born pitchers coming up through the Brewers' farm system and making it to the top aren't exactly in Pierce's favor. The last Wisconsin-born pitcher to appear with the Brewers was Bob Wickman in 2000, and the last Wisconsin-born player drafted by the Brewers to eventually pitch for them was Jerry Augustine, a 15th-round pick in 1974. Augustine went on to play with the Brewers for 10 seasons and went 55-59 as a starter.
The odds of becoming the next Wisconsin-born pitcher to make it to the big league club haven't deterred Pierce just yet.
"It is a dream come true," he said. "I know that I'm a long ways away from the hometown team and playing for them, but playing in their organization, growing up and watching and cheering for them daily and everything like that, and now you're given the opportunity to play in that organization and hopefully advance up to that top club, it's surreal."
The 23-year-old pitcher watched Wickman toe the rubber for the Brewers during his childhood, but said he's trying not to get too far ahead of himself. Pierce said he's well aware it's going to take time for him to advance through the system, which is something Augustine didn't have to worry about.
"I never thought of it as being Wisconsin born, I always thought about it as being my dream to pitch in the big leagues," said Augustine, who's now an analyst for FS Wisconsin. "I made it so quick. I was born in Wisconsin, I was drafted in the 15th round in 1974, and by the end of '75, I was pitching in the big leagues. ... I think I was in the right place, with the right organization, at the right time."
The Brewers made it clear after selecting Pierce that they weren't doing the hometown player any favors. Milwaukee was interested in Pierce since his high school days when he attended the pre-Draft workout as a catcher. After not hearing his name called during the 2007 Draft, Pierce went to play baseball at Arkansas, where he was asked to switch positions and become a pitcher.
With three Arkansas pitchers selected in the first two rounds of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Pierce spent his freshman year buried on the depth chart. Things didn't get much better for him as a sophomore, as his time dwindled and he switched back and forth between pitcher and catcher. He finished his two-year career with the Razorbacks with appearances in 13 games, a 1-0 record and 12 strikeouts during 13 2/3 innings of work.
"He kept falling down lower and lower on the charts, and after not getting much time, he then decided to go back to catcher and he wanted a change," Chad's father, Tim Pierce said. "Not everything always works out the way you want it to work, and he didn't have a lot of options at that point."
The move to play for UWM eventually proved beneficial, though Pierce had to sit out the 2009 season due to NCAA transfer rules. He went 13-9 during his final two seasons with the Panthers and was an everyday player in the field.
He realized not many scouts were willing to look at a player from a small school like UWM, who before Pierce's selection had produced just 15 Draft picks. Pierce was rated as high as the No. 5 prospect in the state during his high school days, but as a fifth-year senior, he thought his opportunity to get drafted was all but gone.
Pierce accepted an invitation to attend the Brewers' pre-Draft workout yet again, and this time, he faced five or six batters after going through the standard exercises held inside Miller Park. Pierce said he felt he did enough to open some eyes during his inning of work, but he wasn't about to sit around during the Draft and wait to hear his name called in the later rounds.
Pierce was so prepared to move on to pursue his middle childhood education degree -- where he aspires to one day teach math -- that he was purchasing a textbook for a summer class during the third day of this year's Draft. Not wanting to sit through the selections again like he did in high school, Pierce was surprised when his brother called him and told him the Brewers picked him.
"You got to give it everything you got, and I think that's what's going to help me on this journey that I've never been on before," Pierce said. "Making sure that every time I go out and pitch that I do it to the best of my ability and that I give 100 percent will be huge."
Since arriving in Helena, Pierce said he's worked on expanding his predominant repertoire (fastball and changeup) to include a slider and a curveball that he started learning during his final season at UWM. Dealing with, the down time in between starts is also something he's unfamiliar with since UWM used him every day, but Pierce is quick to point out he has no complaints.
Hoping for a quick rise through the Brewers' system like Augustine, both Wisconsin-born pitchers point out that it's hard to put into words what it means to represent their hometown organizations.
"It's so hard to tell people why I made it," said Augustine, who also helped mentor Wickman during the pitcher's time at Wisconsin-Whitewater. "It's something that's inside you that you just don't want to be denied. ... When I would cross the line and come on to the mound, I was not afraid. And did I have great stuff? No. But I just had no fear and I didn't care who was up there, but I was going up there to challenge and meet that challenge."
Nearly 1,400 miles away in Helena, Pierce is waiting for his shot at a similar challenge.
"I can't even explain how awesome it is to be in this situation," he said. "It's pretty sweet."
Audrey Snyder is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.