When you’re a fledgling independent baseball franchise, it is not a bad idea to establish a connection to the local Major League Baseball team in your market. So far, our Milwaukee Milkmen have done a pretty good job linking themselves with the Brewers. Even before beginning play during their inaugural season of 2019, the very first contract that the Milkmen sold to an MLB organization was that of catcher Skyler Ewing to the Brew Crew. He wound up spending the 2019 season splitting time between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A San Antonio. In addition, the top starting pitcher for the Milkmen in 2019 — and one of the best starters in the American Association — was former Brewer farmhand Angel Ventura, who finished with a 2.76 ERA in 130.2 innings pitched.
Ventura is currently slated to return and lead the Milkmen rotation once again during the upcoming season, and this time he’ll be joined by two other hurlers who might be recognizable to followers of the Brewers minor league system — right-handed pitcher Victor Diaz and lefty Wilfred Salaman.
Salaman, who just recently turned 22, originally signed with the Brewers as an undrafted free agent out of Puerto Rico in June of 2016. He spent his professional season pitching in the Dominican Summer League then began 2017 back in the DOSL before jumping stateside and finishing out his year in the Arizona League. Salaman started 2018 in the advanced rookie-level Pioneer League but after stifling opposing batters for eight starts, he was bumped up to pitch for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers to conclude the campaign. He spent all of 2019 back with Wisconsin and proved to be a valuable swingman for the pitching staff, appearing in 32 games with five starts and six games finished while accumulating 62.2 innings. The southpaw posted a 4.16 ERA with 47 strikeouts versus 27 walks, and allowed only five home runs all year long.
Per noted #BrewersTwitter scout Toby Harraman of Brewerfan.net, Salaman works off a cutter/splitter/curveball repertoire, with each pitch living in a different velocity band. His “heat” tops out only around the upper-80s, with his split coming in around 80 MPH and then the Uncle Charlie at about 72 MPH. He starts his delivery out of somewhat of a closed stance and doesn’t have too many moving parts before releasing the ball from a relatively standard high three-quarters arm slot.
For his affiliated minor league career, Salaman owns a 4.01 ERA and 4.42 FIP in 217.2 innings with marks of 7.15 K/9, 4.22 BB/9, and a minuscule 0.50 HR/9 rate. Opponents batted .256 against him, but a numbers game in the lower levels caused the Brewers to cut him loose after the conclusion of the 2019 season. Per new Milkmen manager Anthony Barone, “Salaman can be used in various roles as a lefty. It wouldn’t shock me to see Salaman get picked up by another [MLB] organization during season.” As the roster is currently constructed, he’ll likely begin the year in the bullpen.
Victor Diaz, who just recently turned 26, inked his first professional contract with the Brewers as an international free agent out of Venezuela back in 2012. He thrived during his first two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, which convinced the Milwaukee’s front office to skip him over the AZL and Pioneer Leagues and straight to Class-A Wisconsin in 2014. He posted a 4.86 ERA in 87.0 innings as a tandem starter during his first year of full-season ball, then reported back to Wisconsin again to begin the 2015 season.
Unfortunately it didn’t long before he was afflicted with a sore elbow after getting off to a 2.28 ERA start through his first 23.2 frames. That eventually led to Tommy John surgery, which held him out for the rest of 2015 and most of 2016, limiting him to a total of just 43 innings during the two seasons. Diaz struggled in his first full, healthy season back after his ligament repair in 2017, but was a serviceable tandem starter for the Class A-Advanced Carolina Mudcats in 2018, finishing with a 4.42 ERA and 4.45 FIP in a career-high 126.1 innings pitched.
Diaz qualified for minor league free agency after the 2018 campaign, and when no affiliated teams came calling, he took his talents overseas to pitch for the Paderborn Untouchables in Germany. There he posted a 2.18 earned run average in six starts and 33.0 innings, including one complete game. He punched out 43 batters against only eight walks. That led into what has so far been a stellar showing for Tiburones de La Guaira of the Venezuelan Winter League, where Diaz currently owns a 2.49 ERA and 18:4 K/BB ratio in 21.2 frames.
Diaz will join the starting rotation for the Milkmen, and Barone is a big fan of his upside in that role. “I think Victor Diaz was a big acquisition to be a starter for us. [We are] hoping he can burden the [Jordan] Kraus loss (who was traded to Sioux Falls for outfielder Brett Vertigan).” Diaz professes that he considers himself a “good teammate, a guy willing to work every day and ready to compete in any situation.” The right-hander has sort of an old-school delivery — at least compared to most of his peers — as he begins by facing the batter before stepping and taking the glove up over his head. He then uses a big leg kick before driving towards home and releasing the baseball. His fastball generally sits in the 90-93 MPH range, and he also throws an 82-85 MPH changeup and an upper-70s curveball.
Pitching was the strength of Franklin’s professional nine during their debut season last summer, and that should once again be the case in 2020. Diaz and Salaman join other notable offseason additions Taylor Ahearn, Jack Charleston, Karch Kowalczyk, and Jeremy Ovalle, and along with a host of new offensive talent, the Milwaukee Milkmen are looking ahead towards trying to secure their first-ever American Association playoff berth during the upcoming year.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs