Low Class A NotebookBrad Nelson fits perfectly in the small-town Midwest League
By Joe Bush
June 10, 2002
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill.–Brad Nelson didn’t grow up in what you’d call a baseball hot spot: Algona, Iowa, in the north-central part of the state, has no malls within an hour, and the folks are Braves and Cubs fans raised on superstations.
"Everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows everything about everybody," Nelson said.
They say if you’re good, scouts will find you, but Nelson didn’t wait around. After he hit 27 home runs his sophomore year of high school, he looked to capitalize by taking his game on the road. He missed a lot of his junior season to be at showcases–Iowa is the only state that plays its high school season during the summer–and he didn’t bother with pretense his senior year.
Nelson didn’t play for his high school team in 2001, instead choosing to play for the AAU Kansas City Monarchs, who won the AAU 18-and-under crown. Four days later, he signed with the Brewers, who had worked out Nelson in Miller Park, before picking him in the fourth round last June.
Considered one of the draft’s best high school sluggers, Nelson spent the summer homerless in 105 at-bats between the Rookie-level Arizona and Pioneer leagues. Not that he wasn’t trying; he was trying too hard.
"You don’t want to get caught up in that, or you start to press," he said. "It’s definitely a better way to play, being relaxed."
He can say that now, in the midst of a season that hints at what the Brewers pictured. Nelson is showing power and production, as well as hitting for average. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound lefthanded hitter led the Midwest League in home runs (12), RBIs (60) and extra-base-hits (31), was third in doubles (18) and second in slugging percentage (.569), and third in runs (37).
Nelson was batting .297 and posting similar stats to Marlins first-base prospect Jason Stokes at Kane County. The two staged a memorable display in mid-May in Beloit.
Nelson hit a solo home run in the ninth inning for a 9-8 win, capping an evening when he was 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs. Stokes also went 4-for-5, with two doubles, two homers and six RBIs. They combined for 23 total bases.
"It was just fun to watch," Nelson said. "That’s what makes baseball so fun."
That’s a genuine sentiment, according to Beloit manager Don Money. Nelson’s got the small-town humility.
"He’s down to earth," Money said. "He can joke at himself. He doesn’t take anything for granted."
The Midwest League has been a great place for Nelson’s first full season because it’s loaded with lefties. Nelson is glad and has shown that southpaws may not throw him a curve, so to speak. He was batting .280 against them with five of his home runs.
"He doesn’t try to pull the ball," Money said. "Lefties or righties, it doesn’t matter."
It’s difficult imagining Nelson being uncomfortable at the plate. He’s country laid-back, and says all the right things about his offensive approach–"That’s why it’s called an average," or "My philosophy is to hit line drives and the home runs will come," or "Those are your best swings, that you don’t even feel."
He’s a tad more awkward on defense, however. He was a third baseman and pitcher with 90 mph heat as an amateur, and he’s a work in progress at first base, where he’ll play as a pro because of his lack of quickness.
Money says the kid will be fine, especially given his hitting prowess.
"He doesn’t have a lot of range to his left, but he doesn’t need it, and he’s got a second baseman to his right," Money said.
Nelson knows about working on his game. Though his father farmed soybeans and corn, Nelson’s help wasn’t needed, so his energies could be spent completely on sports.
"I never had to do any chores," he said. "Dad always said I got off easy compared to how he grew up."
Nelson is becoming one of the Brewers’ top prospects thanks in part to a Beloit lineup leading the MWL in hitting. He doesn’t claim any goals other than to conquer the rigors of his first full season as a pro.
He’s just happy that he’s learned to calm down and let the power flow.
"I want to go out and have a good at-bat every at-bat," he said. "I’m just trying to stay more loose."
By Joe Bush
• The Peoria Chiefs drew a franchise-record crowd of 8,824 to Opening Night at O’Brien Field. The team responded with a 3-0 shutout of Kane County, as righthander Mike Wodnicki threw six strong innings and handed Cougars lefthander (and league ERA leader) Dontrelle Willis just his second loss of the season.
• Cedar Rapids catcher Jeff Mathis was putting together a stellar first half for the Kernels, sitting in the top five in the league in average (.336), RBIs (39), hits (72), doubles (22), slugging percentage (.547), extra-base hits (30) and runs (41).
• While Mathis and his teammates were sweeping South Bend in a home series, Kernels manager Todd Claus was at it again. Claus, who earlier in the season staged his own ejection from a game to try to break a losing streak, tackled the Cedar Rapids mascot, Mr. Shucks, after the sweep was complete.
Mr. Shucks had brought out a broom and was prancing around the infield, which Claus took as a sign of disrespect for the opposing Silver Hawks. He put Mr. Shucks in a headlock, wrestled the broom from him and snapped it in half.
"That’s everything that we’re not about," Claus told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. "We preach going about things the right way. It’s about professionalism and respect. You don’t show anybody up. I don’t care who you are. That team fought hard and fought well. To me it’s common sense. You treat people the way you want to be treated.
"I asked for the broom. I said, ‘Give it to me.’ Somehow it became a struggle. I said, ‘Give me the broom,’ and threw in a few expletives."
• Clinton righthander Shawn Hill, the Expos’ No. 19 prospect entering the season, has been solid and stood tied for the league lead in wins. He was 7-2, 2.97 through his first 61 innings.