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Your 2008 Helena Brewers -- Latest: Reliever Garrett Sherrill

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Brewers land in Queen City

By JEFF WINDMUELLER - Helena Independent Record

Jason Ranger came running across the airport hall shouting, "they're here, they're here, they're here!" The vocal alarm signaled the dozen or so fans, house families and media personnel awaiting the arrival of the Helena Brewers Saturday afternoon.

As the Pioneer League ballclub - an affiliate of the major league team in Milwaukee that shares their namesake - made their way into the open, one player was mobbed by a few familiar faces.

Jason, 4, and his older brother Josh, 6, immediately swarmed to Efrain Nieves, an 18-year-old pitcher from Caguas, Puerto Rico. Nieves flashed them a quick smile and hugged the two boys.

The boys of summer had officially returned.

"It's a great feeling to be out here again," said Nieves, who will spend his second season with the Brewers. "I didn't even expect it. I thought we were going from here straight to the ballpark. But now, I see the family, it's good to have them here."

Nieves is returning to Helena after a short stint on the mound last summer, playing as the Brewers season began to wind down. He'll join the Rangers once again and their mother, Kim, loves the addition.

"I had him for about a month last year," Kim said. "He's very laid back. He has younger siblings so he's used to family."

The Rangers visited the players at spring training and asked Nieves if he would be returning. When he told them he would, he also asked if he could stay with them again.

"We said, 'Well, we'll think about it.' We like to joke around with him," Kim said. "The boys knew in March that he would be coming back here."

From their response, it seems they couldn't wait.

A number of the 23 players that arrived in the afternoon will be making their first stop in Helena, eight of them jumping up from the Arizona Rookie League team.

Guiding them to their new home is manager Rene Gonzales. A 13-year veteran in the majors, it will be his second year as skipper with the Milwaukee organization, having coached in Arizona last year.

He'll be spending his first year in Helena after filling the vacancy left by Jeff Isom, who was promoted as the Field Manager for West Virginia Power (Milwaukee's Single A Affiliate in the South Atlantic League).

"I'm very excited to be here. That spring training and extended spring training in Arizona can get pretty long, and of course you know about the heat," Gonzales said. "I've been looking forward to it. And the flight in here, just looking at the area, aesthetically, it's just beautiful."

The team hopped onto a bus and left for their new home for the summer, Kindrick Legion Field. Upon arrival, the players looked over the freshly cut grass, the well-kept diamond and then to the stands.

For many, it was a relief to see so many seats after playing in Arizona where only a few risers, and even fewer fans, graced the fences. There was little shade to duck beneath.

"We just came from Arizona from minicamp, and to tell you the truth the weather feels perfect right now. It feels a lot better here than it did there," said pitcher Evan Frederickson, a Brewers first-round draft pick out of the University of San Francisco.

With the sun shining and cool breeze tempting thermometers to dip below 70, few could deny the perfect weather. If only they had been here earlier in the week when it snowed.

The sight of white mountain peaks mesmerized the six or seven Latin American players that hung just outside the doors of the ballclub.

"The sun, the weather," said Puerto Rican pitcher Jorge Crespo, speaking of Arizona, "120, no bueno."

Then looking around, "So, so exciting."

Nieves said it was important for many of the Latino players to get together and get their bearings.

"It's important for the first time and first couple of days," he said. "We'll teach the other players some Spanish and get together."

They'll have some help getting around with Nieves and former pitcher Brock Kjeldgaard, who's returning for his third season, this time as a first baseman.

"For me, it's a little bit different, but it's always good to come back here," Kjeldgaard said. "The first two years I've come here as a pitcher. I'm coming here as a first baseman now, so I'm pretty excited."

The Brewers will have just a few days to get used to their new surroundings. After a long flight that began in Arizona and made stops in Seattle and Great Falls before finally reaching their destination, Gonzales decided to call off practice Saturday.

They have just two days now until their opening day. They'll host Great Falls on Tuesday with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 PM (8:05 Central).


Photo by Lisa Kunkel, IR staff photographer - Helena Brewers' Efrain Nieves, a pitcher, points out other players to 4-year-old Jason Collins of Helena after the team arrived at the Helena Regional Airport Saturday afternoon. Collins' family was Nieves' host family for one month last year and will be his host family again for this season. The Helena Brewers face the Great Falls Voyagers in their home opener Tuesday.



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New manager ready for stint in Helena

By JEFF WINDMUELLER - Helena Independent Record

Rene Gonzales has a wealth of experience in Major League Baseball, and he plans to use it well this season.

Gonzales, a 13-year veteran in the majors, arrived in Helena Saturday as the new manager for the Brewers minor league baseball team. He'll be taking over for Jeff Isom who was promoted as the Field Manager for West Virginia Power.

Gonzales spent last year managing the Arizona Rookie League team. It was his first year guiding a ballclub and was able to improve the team's record from .250 to .429 in the second half of the season.

While he might be pretty new to the roster spot, he said he's felt like a manager much of his life.

"It's my second year managing, but my whole career I've been second-guessing managers, so I feel like it's been longer than that," he said.

Few are likely to second-guess a man who not only lasted more than a decade in the big leagues, but did it at eight different positions.

That's where he said he thinks he can help out the most. He's learned the intricacies of the game from a number of perspectives and thinks he can help many of the players, especially those in the infield.

"The middle of the infield, those are the guys who just seem to have to take in the whole game, every aspect of it," he said. "So, that's where I will probably best help these guys."

Of course, he'll have tremendous help.

Norberto Martin returns for his third season as the Brewers' hitting coach. He spent the summers in 2004 and 2007 with the squad.

Aris Tirado joined Helena in the middle of the 2007 season, his first with Milwaukee's farm system but 11th as a pitching coach. He spent a decade with the Texas Rangers' minor-league system and now will spend his second in Helena.

Meanwhile, another young man joins the Helena ballclub after playing here in 2005. Ned Yost IV, son of current Milwaukee Brewers manager Ned Yost III, will be making the switch to a coaching position for his first season.

"It's going to be good for him," Gonzales said.

The biggest work the coaches will have is turning a group of players just hoping to move up a league into pieces of a well-oiled machine.

Sometimes that means an 0-for-4 performance at the plate can be a strong showing, if it means they're hitting away from the play and allowing the others to score.

"That's what I want to teach these guys about the team game," Gonzales said. "When I got called my numbers weren't off the charts. But, they knew I could play, I knew all the aspects of the game, and I was a good team and role player.

"That's what I'm going to stress with these guys."

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If 23 players arrived, there's room for plenty more --


Roster Limit: 35 active

Player Eligibility Rule: No more than 17 players 21 and older, provided that no more than two are 23 or older. No player on active list may have more than three years of prior service.


We'll contact the Brewers, both Milwaukee and Helena, about getting an official roster.

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Look for many names to be added, especially as the College World Series wraps up -- definitely a latin flavor this season, especially on the mound. Hopefully we'll see good things fom latin bonus babies like Rolando Pascual and Wily Peralta.



- Cody Adams, 2008 2nd rounder out of Southern Illinois

- Adam Arnold, 41st round pick in 2007 out of Ontario, Canada

- Michael Bowman, 2008 9th round pick out of VMI

- Jorge Crespo, 6'2", 195 Puerto Rican native

- Nestor Corredor, just-turned 24-year-old converted catcher, from Venezuela

- Santo Manzanillo, although only 19, the Dominican native signed in 2005, part of a signing class from the D.R. that included Pascual and Peralta

- Rolando Pascual, listed at 6'6", 245

- Wily Peralta, coming off Tommy John surgery

- Garrett Sherrill, 2008 12th rounder out of Appalachian State

- Trey Watten, 2008 7th round pick out of Abilene Christian

- Mark Willinsky, 2008 15th round pick out of the University of Santa Clara



- Evan Frederickson, the supplemental 2008 first round pick out of the University of San Francisco

- Efrain Nieves, the very promising 18-year-old 2007 7th round draft pick out of a Puerto Rico baseball academy

- Brandon Ritchie, the 6'4", 240 pound 24th round pick out of Grand Rapids (MI) Community College



- Derrick Alfonso, the 2008 26th round pick out of the University of Louisville

- Corey Kemp, drafted in the 14th round this year out of East Carolina

- Brett Whiteside, the 15th round pick out of an Arizona high school in 2006, graduates to Helena after two Maryvale seasons



- John Delaney, the 2008 25th round pick middle infielder out of Quinnipiac (CT) University

- Jose Duran, the 2008 6th round pick second baseman out of Texas A&M, and Big 12 MVP

- Brock Kjeldgaard, the 6'6", 225 pound converted pitcher, now first baseman, the Canadian product (34th round, 2005) wields a right-handed bat

- Michael Marseco, the 2008 11th round middle infielder from Samford University in Birmingham, AL

- Edgar Trejo, still 18 years old (until July), the exciting third base prospect out of Venezuela



- Chris Dennis, another Canadian and a very promising left-handed bat drafted in the 13th round last year

- Cutter Dykstra, the soon-to-be 19-year-old 2nd round pick out of a California high school and Lenny's son

- Michael Vass, drafted in the 35th round this year out of Chapman (CA) University


Are other players behind due to nagging injury? Sure thought we'd see Joey Paciorek in Helena. This isn't good news for 24-year-old catchers D.J. Neyens and Matt Czimskey. SS Miguel Vasquez? RHP Chad Robinson? We'll see what we can find out -- it may be a few days, patience, please...

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- Santo Manzanillo, although only 19, the Dominican native signed in 2005, part of a signing class from the D.R. that included Pascual and Peralta
That just made my day. Santo is probably my favorite Brewer farmhand of all time due to his 2006 pitching campaign. 16 innings pitched, 47 walks allowed. Oh yes. Go Santo!
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- Santo Manzanillo, although only 19, the Dominican native signed in 2005, part of a signing class from the D.R. that included Pascual and Peralta

That just made my day. Santo is probably my favorite Brewer farmhand of all time due to his 2006 pitching campaign. 16 innings pitched, 47 walks allowed. Oh yes. Go Santo!


Be still my beating heart...

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

- Plato

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something."

- Plato

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I know Helena will have the added benefit of the DH, but if Lawrie signs it will be interesting to see where he's placed given the roster. If he is to be groomed as a catcher, playing time may be tight with Kemp and Alfonso (and Whiteside, who could be more of a utility player) already signed up. I'm only guessing Helena, assuming that is the lowest he would be placed since Dykstra is going to debut there. Although I suppose Lawrie could use development time behind the plate at Arizona even if his bat is more advanced than that level.


That is assuming he signs within the next week or two...although there is that open catching spot at WV, but that isn't likely since guys like Braun, LaPorta, Fielder, Weeks, etc. didn't even begin their pro careers at that level.


Exciting time of year. Helena is always my most favorite team to follow. Thank you late-night broadcasts.

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Colby, assuming Lawrie takes awhile to sign (perhaps until after the World Junior Baseball Championship, which ends 8/3) and Kemp hits well at Helena, could Kemp then be bumped up to WV and Lawrie take his place for the Baby Brewers?
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8/3... ugh... At least he'd be playing against good competition I guess.

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

- Plato

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something."

- Plato

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Speaking of Lawrie, isn't there now a signing deadline of 8/1? I think this was changed last year.


Looks like it could be a long year for the H-crew from a w-l perspective unless a few more college hitters are added. This has basically nothing to do with the future prospectdom of any of the players already listed of course, and I would expect that duran has a pretty good shot a league mvp if he stays all (or most) of the year.

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Colby, assuming Lawrie takes awhile to sign (perhaps until after the World Junior Baseball Championship, which ends 8/3)
Assuming Lawrie intends to sign as his agent has indicated, doesn't he potentially put some bonus money at risk if he suffers a major injury during the World Jr. Baseball Championship? It cost Cody Scarpetta over $200,000 when the Brewers lowered his signing bonus after he re-injured his finger when rushing back from an earlier injury. Does he feel that a good showing at the WJBC could lead to a higher bonus offer from the Brewers? An interesting gamble on Lawrie's part if that is the case.
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It sounds like Lawrie will sign sometime around a week before the deadline, and the contract may very well be for 2009, since he'll likely be joining Team Canada (not our very own TC)
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Brewers' player finds hope at new position

By JEFF WINDMUELLER - Helena Independent Record


Brock Kjeldgaard can start calling Helena home.


The Brewers first baseman is returning to the friendly confines of Kindrick Legion Field for the third straight summer. However, this time won't be like any stay he's had in the past.


"For me, it's a little bit different, but it's always good to come back here," Kjeldgaard said. "The past two years I've come here as a pitcher. I'm coming here as a first baseman now, so I'm pretty excited about the season."


The switch to the infield - and lining up again in the batter's box - is welcomed by the 23-year-old, who was selected in the 34th round by the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2005.


Kjeldgaard said he's learned a lot playing for the Brewers in Helena, like what it takes to last an entire season with the ballclub and the work involved. He's learning something new this time around: how to accept change.


While a solid pitcher in the Pioneer League, Kjeldgaard wasn't able to break out of Helena and to a higher team in Milwaukee's farm system, which is the goal of every minor leaguer at their start.


"When they first told me (about the switch), I was a little down and a little surprised," he said. "But then, I just thought it was a brand-new start. And actually, I think it's the best thing for me right now.


"I felt like maybe I had come to a little bit of a standstill as a pitcher. Whereas now it's a new start with the organization."


Helena Brewers manager Rene Gonzales has been working with the young man over spring training and thinks Kjeldgaard might have found his niche.


"He's learning a new position and the reason I think they did that is because he's an amazing athlete. He might have been wasting his talent as a pitcher," Gonzales said.


As far as physical tests on strength, speed and other athletic attributes, he's in the top five, Gonzales said.


Of course, there's more to baseball than just athleticism, and making the change won't be easy, especially when the player hasn't stepped inside a batter's box in nearly two years.


While Kjeldgaard was recruited to Indian Hills Community College in Iowa as both a pitcher and hitter, Kjeldgaard stuck to the mound after being drafted by Milwaukee.


His first swings since have come at spring training in Arizona, and he's been batting now for about three months.


"It's a big change, it's completely different," he said. "Every day I feel better. At first, it was pretty off and felt uncomfortable. But I'm feeling more and more comfortable."


And it's beginning to show.


"He's freakishly strong. He can mis-hit balls and still drive them," Gonzales said. "He's just a genuinely nice, kind, passive person. I'm trying to get him to change that when he steps between the lines."


Gonzales wants his player to be more aggressive in the box, especially when he's favored in the count.


"I think we have to give him every opportunity just to get into a routine back to playing every day, swinging the bat every day," Gonzales said. "He might be inconsistent for awhile, and then he'll probably just take off from there."


The same goes for his time in the field, Gonzales said.


While he won't see the kind of time he used to in the spotlight as a pitcher, Kjeldgaard is happy he'll get a little more sun than before. He'll be able to play multiple games in a week, and know when his time to shine will come.


"I like playing everyday, that's the main thing for me. That's what I like most about playing first base and being a position player, you get to be in the game every day," he said. "(As a pitcher) you might pitch two days in a row, then you might not pitch for eight or nine days."


For Kjeldgaard, and the family members that live nearby, knowing his schedule will be more of a relief.


While Montana remains far from where he grew up in London, Ontario, Kjeldgaard has extended family members just north of the border in Lethbridge, Alberta, and a sister in the province.


"Usually my grandpa (Dennis) comes down to watch a few games and my sister (Kristin) lives out here now, up in Alberta," he said. "They're pretty excited about it again."


Of course, he'll have the same host parents he's had the last two years, Dave and Marlene Hughes.


Kjeldgaard realizes that while he hadn't planned to see Helena so much, he's grateful to still be playing for the Brewers organization. They could have easily sent him packing.


"I think it says a lot about the Brewers. They didn't have to do that at all, and they must have heard something, I guess. It's kind of like they're giving me a second chance, which I really appreciate and I hope to make the best out of it," he said. "I obviously want to do well for myself, but I want to do well for them, too."


Eliza Wiley Helena IR Photo Editor - Brock Kjeldgaard returns to the Helena Brewers for his third straight season, but will be covering first base instead of pitching this year.


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Sherrill adjusts out west

By Bret Strelow

Salisbury (North Carolina) Post


HELENA, Mont. - A pair of adolescent boys poked their heads through a fence opening near the left-field foul pole as the Helena Brewers conducted batting practice two hours before their season opener.


A.L. Brown alum Garrett Sherrill, with Mount Helena in full view behind his left shoulder, shagged flyballs in the outfield. A decade ago, he had lofty aspirations the nearby youngsters now possess.


Sherrill didn't pitch Tuesday in a 9-0 home loss to the Great Falls Voyagers, but opening night in the Pioneer League marked the long-awaited and long-distanced beginning of his professional career.


The Milwaukee Brewers selected Sherrill, who recently completed his junior season at Appalachian State, in the 12th round of the draft. He signed 10 days ago, flew to Arizona for a week's worth of workouts, arrived in Montana's capital Saturday and moved in with his host family Monday.


"The farthest I had ever really been was Minnesota, and that was about eight or nine years ago playing travel ball," Sherrill said. "I've never really been this far west, and I don't have a car out here, so I really have no life besides baseball. I guess that's a good thing if I want to get the best out of my baseball career."


The Helena Brewers are one of eight Advanced Rookie teams in the short-season Pioneer League, which has two divisions. Helena, Great Falls, Billings and Missoula - all located in Montana - comprise the Northern Division. Clubs from Utah, Idaho and Wyoming make up the Southern Division.


A crowd of 1,042 fans turned out Tuesday at Kindrick Field, which was built in 1939, and Great Falls supporters shook cowbells each time a member of the White Sox affiliate delivered a hit.


Kindrick's covered grandstand is painted green, and orange seats obtained from the Oakland Athletics replaced outdated bleachers. The back of each armrest has an Athletics logo.


The wall of fame hanging on the facade of the stadium's grandstand features pictures of notable players such as Gary Sheffield, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Vaughn and Ryan Braun. They wore a Helena uniform before reaching the big leagues.


"This is not that much different from college, but it's more of a job now and we're getting paid to do a job," Sherrill said. "You have to be a little more serious. In college ball, you had to juggle school work and other stuff. Here, you just get to practice and play ball. It's a dream come true, and I'm having a blast out here."


Helena and Great Falls squared off 113 miles from Missoula, where one of Sherrill's former A.L. Brown teammates is in his second pro season. Duke graduate Brett Bartles had a single and two RBIs for the Billings Mustangs in their 6-5 win against Missoula. Billings is 240 miles from Helena, which sits in southwestern Montana.


The snow melts slowly and the Subaru Outbacks move quickly in the spacious state two time zones away from Kannapolis.


Signs of wintry weather in Lewis and Clark County are visible only from atop Mount Helena, but snow fell in Helena last week as temperatures approached triple digits in North Carolina. Buffalo burgers are popular and 75-mph speed limits prevalent in a region that showcases ranches and rodeo grounds as much as baseball diamonds.


Most of the scenery isn't unfamiliar to Sherrill, who spent three years in Boone.


"I'm used to seeing mountains behind the field, used to seeing mountains driving around town," Sherrill said. "The elevation is a little higher here, though.


"I heard it snowed a couple of inches last week, and out in Arizona it was about 110. When I arrived here, I think it was 74, and it was an unbelievable difference. It was a good difference, though."


Sherrill served as Appalachian State's closer and said he expects to share the role in Helena with Mark Willinsky, a 15th-round pick from Santa Clara.


Sherrill's teammates include starting pitcher Evan Frederickson (the 35th overall selection in the 2008 draft) and outfielder Cutter Dykstra. A second-round pick out of high school, he is the son of Lenny Dykstra. Rene Gonzales, who played 13 seasons in the major leagues, manages Helena.


Oney Guillen - a son of Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen - and Kenny Williams - a son of Chicago's general manager - played for Great Falls on Tuesday. Eduardo Escobar, a 19-year-old shortstop, hit one of his team's two home runs.


Sherrill pitched against wooden bats last summer and excelled for the Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod Baseball League.


"When I went to the Cape, I faced some of the best talent in the country," Sherrill said. "Here, you've got first- and second-rounders on every team. I'll be facing guys that are probably going to play in the big leagues.


"I'm not going to bring much of a different approach than I had at the Cape, and I had a successful summer there. I'll try to keep the ball down, throw strikes and hopefully get outs."

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