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Introducing the Milwaukee Milkmen, the Cream City’s newest professional baseball team

There will be independent league baseball in southern Milwaukee county this summer!

The Milwaukee Brewers have been providing followers of professional baseball in the Cream City an outlet for their fandom for going on 50 years now. But beginning in 2019, Milwaukee-area residents have a new local nine competing professionally to root for on the county’s south side.

Introducing the Milwaukee Milkmen!

Mike Zimmerman, owner of ROC Ventures and The Rock Sports Complex in Franklin, has been working to bring another professional baseball team to the Milwaukee area going back the past several years. City officials approved $25 mil of public funding for his “Ballpark Commons” project back in 2016 and crews finally broke ground on the site last June, beginning construction on the new 4,000 seat baseball stadium as part of a larger, $125 mil development that will include businesses and retail shops, apartments, and a golf facility, among other active lifestyle features.

Routine Baseball, a merchandise company in Franklin, has purchased the naming rights for “Routine Field.” The stadium will become the home field for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s baseball team, in addition to the newest member of the American Association of Professional Baseball. The 12-team circuit, unaffiliated with Major League Baseball, began in 2005 and has expanded to include teams in 10 different states and Canada. Hundreds of players have had their contracts purchased by MLB teams and the AA boasts more than two dozen alumni that eventually made it to the game’s highest level, including current Brewers Junior Guerra and Aaron Wilkerson.

Teams in the American Association are allowed to have 23 players on the roster during the regular season and have only one disabled list slot to work with. The rules regarding player class are a little complicated. A minimum of five players on the roster must be “rookies” with less than one year of service time - defined as 75+ at-bats or 30+ innings pitched with either an affiliated or independent team or teams during the calendar year. For independent and short season/rookie league service, the first two years of service equals one National Association year. A maximum of five “veteran” players are permitted; that is, a player with six or more years of service time (and also at least 26; if a player has six or more years of service but has not reached the age of 26 by September 1st of that season, he will be considered an LS-4. If he has not reached the age of 24 by September 1st of that season, he will be considered an LS-3.). The rest of the slots are filled by players with more than one year but less than six years of service time:

  • LS-1: A player with less than two years of service.
  • LS-2: A player with less than three years of service.
  • LS-3: A player with less than four years of service.
  • LS-4: A player with less than five years of service. Two of the six LS-4 players may be an LS-5.
  • LS-5: A player with less than 6 years of service.

Teams are allowed to have as many as 28 players, regardless of service classification, under contract at any time during the preseason before trimming down to 23 by the deadline of two days before the start of the regular season. With that said, let’s take a look at the Opening Day roster of players for our Milwaukee Milkmen:

LHP Carlos Diaz (LS-4)

Diaz, 25, spent the last eight seasons pitching in the minors for the San Francisco Giants, making it as high as Double-A ball while amassing 202 appearances (45 starts) and 451.1 innings with a 3.43 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, and a measly 0.3 HR/9 rate. He split last season between Class A-Advanced and Double-A, posting a 2.72 ERA and 49:25 K/BB ratio in 56.1 innings.

LHP Cody Dickson (LS-4)

Dickson was a fourth-round pick of the Pirates back in 2013 and has previously ranked among their top-30 prospects thanks to a low-90s fastball that has brushed 95 MPH along with a changeup and curveball. He made it as high as Triple-A with Pittsburgh but was cut loose in Spring Training 2018 after posting a 5.23 ERA in 72.1 innings across two levels in 2017. He hooked on with Kansas City of the American Association briefly last season, making one start for the T-Bones.

RHP Zach Hartman (LS-2)

This UNLV product underwent Tommy John surgery in college and went undrafted, but spent 2015-2017 pitching in the minors for the Angels and Dodgers. He reached as high as Class A-Advanced while posting a 3.19 ERA and 142 strikeouts versus 42 walks in 132.2 innings, though while typically facing much younger competition. After the Dodgers released him following the 2017 season, Hartman split last year between two independent leagues - Southern Illinois of the Frontier League (20.1 IP, 0.44 ERA, 29:6 K/BB) and the Winnipeg of the AA (10.2 IP, 11.81 ERA, 10:5 K/BB).

RHP Kurt Heyer (LS-5)

A 6th-round pick of the Cardinals back in 2012, Heyer hung around affiliated ball until 2017 and reached as high as Triple-A, posting a 4.46 ERA across 462.0 innings covering 131 appearances (67 starts). After getting released early on during the 2017, Heyer split the season between Trois-Rivieres of the Can-Am League and the AA’s Sioux City squad. He made 19 starts and accumulated 104.2 innings with a 3.96 ERA and 88:19 K/BB ratio for Southern Illinois of the Frontier League in 2018 before heading to Australia to pitch for the Adelaide Bite, with whom he posted a 2.55 ERA and 27:5 K/BB in 35.1 innings.

LHP TJ House (Veteran)

A former big leaguer, House appeared in parts of four MLB seasons from 2014-17 with the Indians and Blue Jays, totaling 29 appearances (22 starts) and 119.2 innings with a 4.44 ERA and 90:35 K/BB ratio. The sinkerball specialist works in the upper-80s/low-90s and mixes in a curveball, slider, and changeup. He spent the first half of 2018 on a minors deal with the White Sox, but was released in June after working to a 6.81 ERA in nine starts and 39.2 innings.

RHP Krystien Johnson-Battilana (Rookie)

Johnson-Battilana, 24, went undrafted after this past summer after his senior season at Davenport University. In 13 appearances (7 starts) in 2018, the right-hander posted a 4.96 ERA across 49.0 innings with 38 strikeouts against 24 walks. This will be Johnson-Battilana’s first attempt to hack it as a pro.

RHP Tanner Keist (Rookie)

Keist began his career at age 19 when he signed after being selected in the 28th round of the 2014 draft by the Phillies. After two unremarkable seasons in rookie ball (totaling more walks than strikeouts in fewer than 25 total innings), Keist was released and suspended for 50 games for twice failing a test for a drug of abuse. He bounced around three independent leagues in 2016, then posted a 3.43 ERA and 78:35 K/BB in 42.0 innings (10 games) in the USPBL in 2017 to earn a shot back at affiliated ball with the Twins in 2018. Unfortunately his lack of control (14 BB in 14.2 IP) led to a midseason release. His fastball has apparently registered as high as 99 MPH.

LHP Kevin Matthews (LS-1)

A first-round pick by the Rangers as a prep pitcher in 2011, Matthews is capable of throwing in the mid-90s from the left side but an injury cost him all of the 2013 season and eventually derailed his affiliated career. He was let go by Texas following a 6.48 ERA in A-ball in 2015, didn’t pitch in 2016, and then posted a 4.81 ERA across three levels in Atlanta’s system in 2017. He split last year between the Frontier League and the United Shore Professional Baseball League, struggling with Normal (6.09 ERA, 28:26 K/BB in 34 IP) but pitching well for Birmingham-Bloomfield (3.24 ERA, 49:22 K/BB in 33.1 IP).

LHP Michael Scimanico (Rookie)

Undrafted out of Shenandoah University in Virginia, Scimanico began his career with Roswell of the Pecos League in 2016. After 75.1 innings of 4.66 ERA baseball across two seasons, the southpaw matriculated to the USPBL for the end of 2017 and all of 2018. He posted a 2.08 ERA for the Utica Unicorns last year, saving 7 games in 31 appearances and 34.2 innings. He walked 25 batters, but allowed only 17 hits and punched out *71* opposing hitters with his high-octane stuff.

RHP Myles Smith (LS-4)

Smith was a fourth-round pick of the Red Sox back in 2013 and was dealt to Arizona the following winter, ultimately spending four years pitching in the affiliated minors between the two franchises. He briefly reached Triple-A, but was sent packing during Spring Training 2017 after posting a 5.05 ERA across 57 innings at three different levels in 2016. Since then he’s become one of the top relievers in the American Association. He hooked on with Kansas City for 2017 and worked to a 3.38 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 50.2 innings, then spent 2018 with the Railcats of Gary Southshore and fashioned a sterling 1.36 ERA with 51 strikeouts against 15 walks in 46.1 innings. He’s been clocked as high as 97 MPH and his changeup has been called a plus pitch at times during his career.

RHP Angel Ventura (LS-5)

Ventura’s name might sound familiar to some fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, because he spent eight seasons pitching in the organization’s minor leagues. He reached as high as Triple-A and recorded a 4.11 ERA across 562.2 innings, but he was released last summer after posting a 6.91 earned run average between Biloxi and Colorado Springs. He finished the year with San Rafael of the Pacific Association and in five starts and 25.0 innings, the now 26 year old compiled a 2.88 ERA and 35:9 K/BB ratio.

RHP Zac Westcott (LS-3)

An alumni of Nova Southeastern (where Mike Fiers went to school), Westcott was undrafted out of college and has spent the last four years tooling around the independent leagues, including three different American Association stops. He spent most of last year with Windy City of the Frontier League (132.1 innings, 3.67 ERA, 121:36 K/BB), but also logged three appearances for Southern Maryland of the Atlantic League.

C Manuel Boscan (LS-2)

Signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela back in 2010, Boscan spent parts of four seasons in the lower minors with the Indians. He topped out at low-A ball though with a .218/.264/.262 slash in 112 games before getting cut loose. He’s spent the last several years playing in the Colombian League.

C Christ Conley (Rookie)

Undrafted out of Canisius College in New York, Conley began his professional career in the USPBL last season. In 25 games and 82 at-bats for Utica, the 24 year old hit a robust .305/.458/.402 with a homer and five doubles.

IF Garrett Copeland (LS-1)

Copeland began his career as a 30th-round pick by the Orioles out of Austin Peay University in 2016 and spent two seasons with the org, topping out by playing a single game at Class A-Advanced. He was released in spring 2018 after batting .248/.355/.331 in 362 plate appearances in the low minors and hooked on with the AA’s Gary Southshore Railcats. He showed some defensive versatility by playing at first, second, third, and left field, but managed to hit only .193/.304/.294 in 64 games during his first season in the American Association.

IF Sam Dexter (LS-1)

A slap-hitting middle infielder from the University of Southern Maine, Dexter was a 23rd round pick by the White Sox in 2016. He made it from rookie ball to Class A-Advanced during his two years in the system, but was released after hitting .248/.321/.344 in 287 plate appearances. He spent last year with the Trois-Rivieres Aigles of the CanAm League, playing shortstop and batting .287/.351/.367 with 3 homers and 6 steals in 386 plate appearances.

IF Jose Rosario (Veteran)

The 27 year old Rosario began his career all the way back in 2009, when he debuted for the Yankees’ Dominican Summer League team. He spent eight years in the minors with New York and another season with Boston, topping out at Triple-A while hitting .261/.311/.358 in nearly 2,000 trips to the plate. The Red Sox cut him loose in 2017 and he spent some time with the Dominican team in the CanAm League, hitting .317/.388/.500 in 16 games. Rosario has logged significant time all over the diamond, mostly at second and shortstop as well as third, left, center, and right. Rosario did not play anywhere in 2018.

IF Cesar Valera (Veteran)

Another longtime veteran pro, the Venezuelan native started off with the Cardinals’ rookie league team back in 2009 and was once even ranked among their top-30 org prospects. He spent six years with St. Louis but never advanced past high-A ball and he was released in spring 2015 with a career .237/.304/.301 slash in 367 games. He’s found second life in the American Association, though, spending most of the last three years with the Lincoln Saltdogs while playing second, third, and short. He’s a .297/.376/.398 hitter with 11 homers and 25 steals in 1,100+ trips to bat since joining the circuit.

IF Dan Ward (Rookie)

The Ohio native’s background is the stuff that has spawned a legend. A 6’4”, 215 lb behemoth built to demolish baseballs, he developed a reputation in high school for crushing 400+ foot homers as well as hitting 95 MPH off the mound. But some reported character and maturity issues kept him on the board until the 47th round in the 2010 draft, so he chose not to sign and instead landed a baseball scholarship at Ohio University. He left school after his freshman year (when he slugged .465 and launched 8 homers in 50 games) to return home and help his family and a sister with addiction problems. He took a full-time job driving a bus for the elderly in Cleveland, giving money to his family and helping keep his sister on the straight-and-narrow. Once his family life was squared away, Ward landed at Tennessee Wesleyan and launched 21 homers in 56 games during his ‘senior’ season. His pro career began in 2018 with Utica of the USPBL and the power stroke continued to shine through; he hit .293/.374/.532 with 12 dingers in 188 at-bats, topping the league in round-trippers.

OF Nolan Earley (LS-3)

A native of Anderson, Indiana, the left-handed hitting right fielder was a 22nd round pick by the White Sox in 2013. He showed a decent bat in four minor league seasons while hitting .283/.368/.387 in 703 plate appearances, though he was always quite a bit old for his levels. After his release in 2016, Earley hooked on with the Frontier League’s Southern Illinois Miners, where he spent the last three seasons. He compiled a .274/.372/.442 slash with 33 long balls in 286 games before joining Milwaukee for this season.

OF Teodoro Martinez (LS-5)

A native of Venezuela (and winter ball teammate of Junior Guerra for La Guaira), Martinez began his professional career for the Rangers’ DOSL affiliate back in 2009. He spent six seasons in the Texas org and another with the Yankees, compiling a .268/.316/.364 slash but washing out after a .288 OPS in the low minors with New York in 2015. He’s been touring various Indy ball circuits and playing in the Venezuelan Winter League since then, spending time with Rockford of the Frontier League, Durango of the Mexican League, and last season, Southern Maryland of the Atlantic League. He hit .285/.318/.333 in 87 games for the Blue Crabs last season while swiping 18 bags.

OF Adam Brett Walker (Veteran)

Walker is probably a familiar name, as the local product starred for Milwaukee Lutheran High School on the north side before a collegiate career at Jacksonville University and a third-round draft selection by the Twins in 2012. Well-known for his prodigious power, he crushed 124 home runs in his first five professional seasons while rising to the Triple-A level. But strikeout issues halted his ascent to the big leagues; he punched out 907 times in 704 minor league games. Walker rode the waiver wire during the winter of 2016-17 — including a brief stop on the Brewers’ 40 man — and saw time on the field with four different organizations during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. His final affiliated stop was with 41 games in Double-A for the Nationals last year, and after his summer release, he spent a few games with the AA’s Kansas City squad. He returns home to Milwaukee this season to play left field for the Milkmen and figures to delight his local fanbase with plenty of balls over the fence at Routine Field.

OF Jonathan Reynoso (Veteran)

Reynoso was ranked as a top-20 prospect for a few seasons early on in his career after signing with the Reds out of the Dominican Republic back in 2010, lauded for his speed and arm strength while being referred to as “toolsy.” While he’s managed to remain a legitimate center fielder, the hit tool never developed for Cincinnati, and he hit .261/.309/.329 in eight seasons before becoming a minor league free agent at the end of 2017. He didn’t suit up for anyone during the 2018 regular season, and he is on the Disabled List to begin the 2019 season with Milwaukee.

Opening Day for the expansion Milkmen came on the road in St. Paul against the Saints on the first day of the American Association season on Thursday. Milwaukee’s newest professional team began their history with a 5-4 victory in a 13-inning affair. The team’s first “home game” is scheduled for May 24th, but that will take place in Kokomo, Indiana, as will the rest of Milwaukee’s home contests for the first month of the season. The wacky winter weather forced construction delays on Routine Field, and the opening of the new complex has been delayed until June 24th. The Milkmen are scheduled to play their true home opening tilt that night at 7:05 PM central against Gary Southshore. Single game tickets for the home opener — as well as any Milkmen game — can be found through their website for as little as $8 a pop, and there is an attractive nine-game season ticket package available as well. The Milkmen also feature an extensive promotional schedule, including myriad bobble head giveaways, a Stranger Things Night, and a Millenial Night, among other events. Locals can also fill out this form if they are interested in becoming a host family for any of the players on the roster.

American Association teams play a 100 game schedule from May through September. Be sure to get out to Routine Field this summer and support Milwaukee’s newest local nine!

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference