John Axford's emergence out of the hyperbolic "nowhere" last year has already reached legendary status. The Yankees took notice of the former Notre Dame prospect while pitching in an Ontario Independent League. They signed and then released him due to control issues. So, Axford returned home, tended bar and continued pitching at a nearby gym or so the story goes. Brewers scout Jay Lapp followed a hunch and organized a workout in Missaussaga, Ontario. That was in 2008.
Will the Axford gold mine lead to more Brewer scouts digging through Independent dirt in search of the team's most pressing needs? As Brewer fans pick through scraps for a shortstop solution, Melvin may be stirring up plans D and E way under the radar.
The jump from the anonymous, bumpy bus ride to a spot on a major league roster is nothing new. The stories are often short lived, but nonetheless heart warming. Last year on June 12, Daniel Nava became only the fourth major leaguer to hit a grand slam in his first ever at bat. Nova earned MVP honors in 2007 as a member of the Chico Outlaws in the Golden Independent League. If you missed his moment, here it is again.
What if Brewer scouts located a solid fielding shortstop with a knack for taking a walk? It would cost next to nothing to invite him to spring training and the message would be loud and clear. Shortstop is still up for grabs.
The following comes from Bob Wirz's Independent Baseball Insider:
Non-Roster Invitations Rolling In
With the holidays in the rear view mirror, the pace of major league teams issuing spring training invitations has started picking up. We know of 10 former Independent players with opportunities to shine in front of major league brass already, and the number could triple. This is what we know at the moment, including their previous Indy teams and the leagues they were in at the time:
PITCHERS (7): Gabe DeHoyos, Oakland (Schaumburg, IL, Northern League); Mark DiFelice, Milwaukee (Somerset, NJ, and Camden, NJ, Atlantic League); Mike O’Connor, New York-NL (Southern Maryland, Waldorf, Atlantic); Mark Prior, New York-AL (Orange County, Fullerton, CA, Golden League); R. J. Swindle, Tampa Bay (Schaumburg and Newark, NJ, Atlantic); Raul Valdes, St. Louis (New Jersey, Little Falls, and Nashua, NH, Can-Am League); Randy Williams, Boston (Edinburg, TX, Central League).
CATCHER (1): Cody Clark, Kansas City (San Diego, CA, Golden).
*Played first professional game in an Independent league
A shuffling of the infield deck is another possibility and somewhat of a Milwaukee Brewers tradition. Paul Molitor was drafted in the first round as a shortstop. Blocked by Robin Yount he moved over to second...and then in 1982 out to center field and shortly thereafter, third base. Yount followed a few years later with his switch to centerfield. And then there's Bill Hall, the Brewers all time vagabond. And most recently, Ryan Braun.
Casey McGehee started 20 games at second base for the Brewers in 2009. If he took over second and the curtains opened for Mat Gamel at third, could Rickie Weeks play SS? Is it even possible to project how much his +2 UZR at second could weaken with a move to the other side of the bag? Would it be worse then Betancourt's -10?
It would be a huge risk at an extremely challenging position and something Weeks could very well veto with his new status. Nonetheless, the thought of Gamel's left handed promise in the every game lineup and Betancourt removed trumps the solace of knowing he played SS in the final 71 games of Greinke's Cy Young season.