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09/05/08 9:50 PM ET

Jeffress' hard work paying off

Righty named Brewers' Minor League Pitcher of Year

MILWAUKEE -- Veteran outfielder Mike Cameron snuck up behind the young Brewers prospect and wrapped him in a bear hug.

"He's come a long way, man!" Cameron bellowed.

Cameron, 35, and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress, 20, were unlikely teammates in extended spring training earlier this year. Cameron was serving a 25-game suspension after testing positive for a banned stimulant, and Jeffress was banned 50 games for marijuana use.

Now, Cameron is one of the Brewers' hottest hitters and Jeffress was in town to be honored as the Brewers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He was on the field before Friday's game against the Padres at Miller Park, when Mat Gamel and Alcides Escobar were also recognized as the organization's Minor League co-players of the year.

"It's the greatest moment of my life right now," Jeffress said. "My heart is beating out of my chest right now. It's the greatest thing ever.

"It's a big honor. I've been through a lot at home and on the field. Getting through it, it can help you."

Jeffress, Milwaukee's first-round pick (16th overall) in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft who is armed with a fastball that reaches triple digits, went 6-7 with a 4.31 ERA at two Minor League stops this season. He posted a 4.08 ERA and struck out 102 batters vs. 41 walks in 79 1/3 innings at Class A Brevard County, then posted a 5.52 ERA and a 13-to-11 walks-to-strikeouts ratio at Double-A Huntsville.

He surrendered six earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in his last start of the season on Aug. 28.

"Better hitters, better pitchers," he said of the transition to the Double-A Southern League. "You have to work as hard as you can to stay a step ahead of everybody. It is a big jump. Guys come up there trying to do too much, but you can only do one thing, and that's play your game."

Jeffress will continue playing his game this year. Jeffress will head to Phoenix on Sunday to continue workouts in preparation for the prestigious Arizona Fall League. He has been nursing what he described as a minor back injury.

His work also continues off the field. Jeffress took part in counseling after receiving his suspension, and he credited Brewers farm director Reid Nichols and employee assistance program director Tim Hewes for aiding his resurgence.

"Those two guys stayed behind me through all my addictions," Jeffress said.

He didn't flinch when asked to identify the best lesson he learned from his off-the-field mistakes.

"It's not worth it," Jeffress said. "At the end of the day, what did it get you? It was a wakeup call, and Milwaukee stayed behind me."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.