From 2000 through 2004, the Milwaukee Brewers were affiliated with the minor leagues' second-oldest franchise, the Indianapolis Indians. Founded in 1902, the Indians won the pennant of the American Association in their first season and have won an impressive twenty-one league titles to date. The team has played in both current Class AAA leagues, the International League and Pacific Coast League, but most of its history was made in the now-defunct American Association. In addition to flitting between leagues, the franchise also spent time as an affiliate of eight different big league clubs. Currently affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Indians have also been a minor league conduit for the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Braves, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos, and, of course, the Brewers.
The Indians play their home games at downtown Indianapolis' Victory Field. Opened in 1996, the field cost $20 million to build and can seat up to 15,000 fans. Much like Appleton, Wisconsin's Fox Cities Stadium, Victory Field hosts its home state's high school baseball championship. It's also within walking distance of the Colts' stadium and the Pacers' arena. Laid out in the quirky, old-time design reminiscent of new facilities like Coors Field and Camden Yards, Victory Field has drawn rave reviews from publications like Baseball America and Sports Illustrated.
Following the 2004 season, the Brewers and Pirates decided to swap AAA affiliates, with the Pirates heading north to Indianapolis and the Brewers setting up roots in Nashville. Interestingly, the Indians have performed better under Pittsburgh control than they did under Milwaukee control - their first three seasons have seen a tie for their division title, a second place finish, and a third place finish. Under Milwaukee control, the Indians finished first once, third three times, and fourth one time.
Obviously, that turnaround has something to do with the players at the AAA level of each major league franchise. Rather than look at the guys Pittsburgh brought in, however, I want to see where the top-level minor leaguers of the Brewers system in 2004 can be found today. Since it's only been a few years, some players are still in baseball, either as major leaguers or minor league veterans. A number of them, however, have called it a career and moved on to other pursuits. First up will be the regular lineup followed by the bench and/or rehabbing players. Watch for another post soon about the team's pitchers. Enjoy this trip back into the recent past. NOTE: BBRef links go to the player's MLB stats, Cube links go to his minor league stats.
C - Mark L. Johnson (2004 Age: 28) - Stats: BBRef Cube - A light-hitting big-league washout by the time he came to the Indians in 2004, the lefthanded-hitting catcher put up a .256/.358/.378 line with five home runs and 43 walks against 44 strikeouts in 324 plate appearances for the Indians. You may recall his brief cup of coffee with the big club in September 2004. I'm sure he remembers it as well, since it's the last time he was on a major league roster. He's spent the last few years as AAA depth with the Cubs and Diamondbacks and may currently be found in the dugout wherever the Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis' AAA club) are playing.
1B - Jeff Liefer (29) - Stats: BBRef Cube - A first baseman and corner outfielder, Liefer was a bench player for the White Sox, Expos, and Devil Rays before arriving in Indianapolis as a free agent. He was the offensive star of the Indians team, leading the club in home runs (20), RBI (83), OBP (.365), and slugging percentage (.519). He earned a month with the big club as a result of his hitting, but not before an infamous game-delaying incident involving a bathroom stall door. He left the Brewers organization as a free agent following the season and surfaced on the Indians roster the next year before spending a couple seasons in Japan. This year he's back in the White Sox system, playing for AAA Charlotte.
2B - Matt Erickson (28) - Stats: BBRef Cube – An Appleton, Wisconsin native, Erickson was drafted in the seventh round of the 1997 amateur draft by the Florida Marlins. He played in their system for seven seasons before signing with the Brewers as a free agent. In Indianapolis, he hit .271/.359/.358 while playing shortstop and third base in addition to his primary position at second base. He led the Indians in games played and caught stealings, but still found time to make his major league debut, going 1 for 6 in four games in mid-July. Unfortunately, he hasn't yet returned to the show, instead being stuck at AAA for the Brewers and Marlins in 2005 and the Diamondbacks each of the last two years. He's currently a minor league free agent.
SS - Steve Scarborough (26) - Stats: Cube – My enduring (and only) memory of Steve Scarborough is seeing a player with a really long name on his jersey during a spring training special a few years ago. A 18th round draft pick out of Texas A&M University, Scarborough spent his entire career with the Brewers organization but never made it to the majors. He put up a .246/.342/.383 line with the Indians in 2004 and even pitched in a couple games. He spent another season in the Brewers system before finishing his baseball career. If you think the Steve Scarborough on this page resembles the low quality picture of Steve Scarborough on this page and are willing to believe the fact both went to Texas A&M is more than just a coincidence, then he's currently a Lead Domestic Resource Manager for New Tech Engineering in Texas.
3B - Chris Coste (31) - Stats: BBRef Cube – Forget Gabe Kapler's comeback season, Chris Coste (pronounced coast) has had a feel-good career. He spent one season in the independent Pioneer League before playing four years for Fargo-Moorhead of the independent Northern League. He signed his first contract with an MLB organization (Pittsburgh) in 1998, but was released before the season began. At the age of 27, he signed with Cleveland and spent a few years shuttling between AA and AAA before departing as a free agent. He spent 2003 in the Red Sox system before signing with Milwaukee in November of that year. A catcher/infielder, Coste spent time at both third base and behind the plate for the Indians, hitting .294/.353/.405 with two home runs. He departed as a free agent after the season, eventually signing with the Phillies. After spending all of 2005 in AAA and part of 2006 in the same place, he finally made his major league debut at the age of 33 on May 26, 2006 against the Brewers. He is currently the backup catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and has written two books about his career to this point.
OF - Corey Hart (22) - Stats: BBRef Cube – Four solid seasons into his minor league career, Corey Hart found himself assigned to AAA Indianapolis. Thing is, he wasn't a third baseman or first baseman anymore. He was given the task of learning to play the outfield while facing AAA pitching as a 22-year-old. He handled the change well, hitting a respectable .281/.342/.485 while recording ten outfield assists in ninety-two games. He also made his major league debut on May 25, 2004, striking out in his only at bat. He spent most of the next season in Nashville, earning a late-season call-up. In 2006, he was used sparingly, much to the dismay of his growing legion of supporters. Following an injury (or disinformation from management, if you so believe) to start the 2007 season, he rebounded to have an eye-catching campaign. He's currently an integral part of the Brewers ballclub.
OF - Peter Bergeron (26) - Stats: BBRef Cube – Yet another major league washout, Bergeron was a centerfielder without much speed or power. A career OPS of .611 in 308 games with the Expos convinced Montreal to dump him on the Brewers in June 2004 with Saul Rivera (the current Nationals reliever) for two minor leaguers. Bergeron was immediately sent down to Indianapolis, where he continued his light-hitting ways, putting up a .271/.316/.379 line in 82 games for the Indians. Not surprisingly, the team didn't want him back and he left as a free agent. He's played for the Orioles and Pirates since 2004, but is currently out of work. InYork.com has a story about Bergeron, saying he hopes to sign with the York Revolution but, failing that, he could choose to run Michael Barrett's baseball academy.
OF - Chris Magruder (27) - Stats: BBRef Cube – Another guy who failed to impress in the majors, Magruder wisely chose the hapless Brewers in free agency before the 2004 season. In seventy-nine games with the Indians, he hit .272/.337/.413 with 6 home runs and 39 RBI before being called up to the big club in early July. He spent the 2005 season on the Brewers roster before becoming a free agent after that year. Somehow I doubt he's the same Chris Magruder that's the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District's community environmental liaison, but he was pretty sh--well, let's not go there. Seriously, though, I don't know what he's up to these days.
C - Alex Delgado (33) - Stats: BBRef Cube – An incredibly awful hitter (.619 minor league OPS), Delgado was signed in 2003 out of the Atlantic League after being part of the Red Sox, Marlins, Blue Jays, and Cardinals systems. Amazingly enough, he actually made the majors in 1996, going 5 for 20 in 26 games for Boston. Oh, to be a catcher, huh? For Indianapolis he hit .223/.248/.272 in 206 at bats and was granted free agency after the season. He hasn't played in the minors since then, but he did play for Venezuela in the Winter Caribbean Series last year.
1B - Brandon Gemoll (23) - Stats: Cube – Picked in the eighth round of the 2001 draft out of Fresno State, Gemoll flew up the minor league ladder. Primarily a first baseman who dabbled in the outfield, he hit .274/.313/.391 with 3 home runs in 248 at bats in his first season at AAA. Unfortunately, it was also his last season at AAA as he was sent back down to Huntsville the following season. Failure to develop a power stroke (33 career HR in 1889 minor league AB) and free swinging doomed his career. He spent one year at AA for the Phillies in 2006 before dropping out of the minors. If you want to kick a guy when he's down and out, go here. There's also a Facebook listing for a Brandon Gemoll in Phoenix, Arizona, and the picture looks like someone having trouble with an outfield wall, so it might be him.
2B - Keith Ginter [rehab] (28) - Stats: BBRef Cube – One of two players to be named later acquired for Mark Loretta (the other was Wayne Franklin) spent most of the 2004 season on the Brewers roster. In early August, however, he was placed on the disabled list and later that month appeared in four games for the Indians, going 3 for 14 with a home run. He was activated from the disabled list on August 28 and finished the season with the big club. He was traded to Oakland following the season for Nelson Cruz and Justin Lehr and now spends his time in Pawtucket as a member of the AAA Red Sox.
3B - Scott Sheldon (35) - Stats: BBRef Cube – Another ex-major leaguer, Sheldon was firmly in the downswing of his career when the Brewers signed him in January 2004. Five home runs in 113 at bats wasn't enough to make up for his otherwise abysmal hitting and he was released in June. Picked up by the Pirates, he didn't do much better and called it quits after the season. I'm not sure when this story was written, but in it he briefly discusses his baseball career and how he found God. He currently is the general manager of the Big League Dreams sports park in League City, Texas.
3B - Wes Helms [rehab] (28) - Stats: BBRef Cube – Helms was acquired from the Braves with John Foster for reliever Ray King in December 2002. He spent three seasons in Milwaukee but, like Keith Ginter, was hurt for a month in 2004 and rehabbed as a member of the Indians. Helms went 6 for 19 in his six games in Indianapolis and hasn't been back to the minors since. He now plays occasionally for the Florida Marlins.
SS - J.J. Hardy (21) - Stats: BBRef Cube – A second round draft pick out of Sabino High School in Tucson, Arizona, Hardy made his AAA debut at the tender age of 21. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury necessitating surgery ended his 2004 campaign after only 26 games. Nevertheless, he was in the Brewers' Opening Day lineup the following year, becoming only the fifth Brewers player ever to debut in such a fashion.
IF - Luis Figueroa (30) - Stats: BBRef Cube – Incidentally, he's former Brewers All-Star Jose Hernandez's cousin. That likely had nothing to do with the team signing him in 2004, but it does make him a more interesting player. A run-of-the-mill minor league infielder, he filled the utility infielder role for the Indians in 2004 while hitting .272/.314/.347 with five home runs and only twenty-four strikeouts in 383 at bats. That wasn't enough to keep him around and he continues his minor league journey today, playing for the Iowa Cubs in his eighth organization since 2001.
IF - Trent Durrington (28) - Stats: BBRef Cube – An amateur free agent from Australia signed by the California Angels in 1994, Durrington spent ten seasons in the Angels system, making a couple brief trips to the majors. In 2004 he decided to move on and joined the Brewers organization. He opened the season in Milwaukee but was sent down to Indianapolis in mid-June. He played in fifty-one games for the Indians before being recalled to the majors despite hitting an awful .222/.298/.247. He spent 2005 in the Brewers organization as well before opting for free agency after the season. He spent 2006 with the Pawtucket Red Sox and 2007 with the AAA Buffalo Bisons. He held a baseball training camp for Australian youths in December 2006 and is currently a minor league free agent.
OF - Jon Nunnally (32) - Stats: BBRef Cube – Nunnally played in the majors for four different franchise before signing with the Brewers. He hit a home run in his first MLB at bat (allowing him to score his second MLB run) and finished eighth in the 1995 Rookie of the Year voting. His career went downward from there, however, as he struggled for playing time and bounced around the league despite good AAA numbers. His career was winding down by 2004 and he hit rather poorly for the Indians. The Brewers didn't offer him a contract and he wound up in Indianapolis again the next year as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He currently is the hitting coach for the Advanced Class A Kinston Indians.
OF - Dave Krynzel (22) - Stats: BBRef Cube – Once a big prospect getting knowledgeable Brewers fans excited, Krynzel made it all the way to AAA by the age of 22. He hit pretty well for his first trip through that level, putting up a .276/.332/.416 line with six home runs and four triples. He earned a September call-up that year but swung too freely and generally failed to impress. Stagnating at AAA the next two seasons coupled with a clumsy attempt to cover up a motorcycle crash pushed him out of favor with the club. He was part of the Doug Davis/Johnny Estrada deal prior to the 2007 season and hit poorly again at AAA Tucson. He appeared in four games for Tucson this season but was released on April 8.
OF - Ryan Knox (27) - Stats: Cube – A 24th round pick in 1999 out of Illinois State, Knox slowly worked his way through the Brewers minor league system, losing offense as he climbed. Splitting time in 2004 between AA Huntsville and AAA Indianapolis, he barely managed a .700 OPS, though he did hit a home run off Ricardo Rincon in Major League Spring Training. He spent 2005 with Nashville but headed off to the Devil Rays organization for 2006 where he, predictably, flopped. He now is an assistant baseball coach at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois.