10/25/12 5:45 PM ET
Kjeldgaard, fellow Minor Leaguers hone skills in AFL
By Jim Gintonio / Special to MLB.com
As a 34th-round pick (1,015th overall) in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound pitcher had a long climb. He also had another hurdle to overcome two years later when he was moved off the mound, initially to first base, before settling in right field.
The toughest struggle of the two, said Kjeldgaard, who is playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League, was changing positions. He was drafted by the Brewers out of junior college; he had a chance to re-enter the Draft but opted to sign, and he received a roller-coaster welcome to pro ball.
As for the physical and mental adjustments he had to make, Kjeldgaard said it was a challenge.
"It's an ongoing process," Kjeldgaard said. "Not to say it's gotten easier, but I'm starting to find a little bit more of a groove the last couple of years. The first couple of years were tough, but I was lucky enough to have enough success to keep going.
"Obviously, there's a lot of guys drafted ahead of you, so I had something to prove, and I came into pro ball just trying to prove myself."
Kjeldgaard came to the Brewers with an impressive pitching resume. He helped the Canadian national team win a gold medal in the 2011 Pan American Games, and was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year.
In his two seasons as a pitcher with Short-Season Class A Helena in the Pioneer League, Kjeldgaard appeared in 33 games, starting nine with a 1-3 record and a 5.53 ERA. In his first year as a position player, he hit .278 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs. He struck out frequently in his first three seasons -- 113, 172 and 175 times, respectively -- but he has worked hard to lower those totals.
Kjeldgaard has shown a lot so far in the Fall League. He had four home runs in his first five games with six RBIs, a .947 slugging percentage and a .316 batting average. Those numbers overshadow his seven strikeouts in 19 at-bats.
Phoenix manager Aaron Holbert said just because a player is drafted in a late round does not mean there is a lack of pressure to perform.
"You could look at it that way," Holbert said. "He wants to come out and play and show the scouts and the organization, 'I should have gone higher and I'm someone to be recognized as well.'
"So all around, all these guys are out here competing, they're trying to show what they can do. They're trying to impress, and I think it's a good atmosphere for all of them to be able to do that."
With the effects of transitioning to a new position long since gone, Kjeldgaard, playing right field this fall, is setting his sights on the Brewers.
"The obvious goal is to make it to the big leagues and to stay there, so hopefully I can put together a good Fall League here," Kjeldgaard said. "There's a few more eyes down here. You get people seeing you, and it's a good atmosphere."
Brewers hitters in the Fall League
Khris Davis jumped from the rookie league to Triple-A this season, hitting .310 in 32 games with Nashville of the Pacific Coast League. He had 16 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs. The outfield prospect was a seventh-round choice (226th overall) in the 2009 draft. Davis showed glimpses of power in Class A, with 22 home runs and 72 RBIs, but he struck out 120 times in 128 games. He has made adjustments and cut down on that dramatically.
First baseman Hunter Morris helped lead Team USA to a silver medal in the 2006 World Junior Championships in Cuba, and he used that as a springboard to later set Auburn single-season records for home runs (23) and RBIs (76). He was selected by the Brewers in the fourth round (129th overall) in 2010. In a full season of Double-A ball this summer, he hit .303 with 28 home runs and 113 RBIs.
Josh Prince was tabbed by the Brewers in the third round (113th overall) in the 2012 Draft. He progressed to Double-A with Huntsville, appearing in 137 games this summer and hitting .251 with 74 runs and 55 RBIs while making the transition from shortstop to center field. His two brothers played college ball, and his grandfather, R.E. Prince Jr., played in the St. Louis organization.
Brewers pitchers in the Fall League
Nick Bucci, a right-handed pitcher, was chosen in the 2008 Draft by the Brewers in the 18th round (548th overall). Outside of a brief stint (three games) in Double-A in 2009, he has not moved past Class A Advanced. As a starting pitcher, he has a 24-17 Minor League record and a 2.76 ERA. Bucci won a gold medal in the 2011 Pan American Games, and was also inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Kyle Heckathorn is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound righty who was selected in the compensatory round (47th overall) of the 2009 Draft. He has not had a winning record in four seasons in the Minors. In Double-A this season with Huntsville, he was 5-11 with a 4.75 ERA. He was the 2005 North Georgia player of the year.
Johnny Hellweg, at 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds, is an imposing figure on the mound. The righty, a 16th-round Draft pick of the Angels in 2008, pitched for Arkansas (Angels) and Huntsville in Double-A this season. In his five Minor League seasons, he has 341 strikeouts in 325 1/3 innings. He was traded to the Brewers as part of the Zack Greinke deal.
Santo Manzanillo signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 16. He has spent seven years in the Brewers organization, missing the 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery. He has an 8-13 record, a 5.59 ERA and 20 saves. The right-hander's fastball was rated the best in the farm system by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2011. Manzanillo played in the AFL last season with Peoria.
Jim Nelson was a second-round pick (64th overall) in the 2010 Draft. He progressed through rookie ball and Class A and pitched part of the 2012 season with Double-A Huntsville, posting a 2-4 record with a 3.91 ERA. In 46 innings over 10 games, he recorded 42 strikeouts. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound right-hander was used exclusively as a starter this summer.
Jim Gintonio is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.