For the first time in more than a year, Minor League Baseball is back.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 MiLB season. While some teams, including the Brewers, added a number of their top prospects to their 60-man player pool to allow them to continue their development at alternate training sites, most minor league players were left to workout on their own, using video and remote sessions to stay in shape and in contact with their organizations.
During the last year, the minor league landscape has changed thanks to a takeover and overhaul by Major League Baseball. The changes resulted in the elimination of 40 affiliated teams and a massive realignment and reorganization of the remaining 119 squads.
Here's a look at the Brewers' primary affiliates this season and top players to watch at each level of the organization:
Class A (Low)
League: Low-A East
Location: Zebulon, N.C.
Stadium: Five County Stadium
Manager: Joe Ayrault
The only affiliate in Milwaukee's system owned by the team, Carolina drops down a level this season after serving as the Brewers' advanced affiliate since 2017. Prior to their affiliation with Milwaukee, the Mudcats were the Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates (1991-98), Colorado Rockies (1999-2002), Florida Marlins (2003-08) and Cincinnati Reds (2009-11); and the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Cleveland Indians (2012-14) and Atlanta Braves (2015-16).
Player to watch: LHP Antoine Kelly
Kelly, 21, was considered something of a project when Milwaukee selected him in the second round (No. 65 overall) of the 2019 MLB Draft out of Wabash Valley (Ill.) Community College where he led all junior college players with 19.1 strikeouts per nine innings despite throwing his fastball almost exclusively.
He used that fastball, which jumped from the low to upper 90s, to strike out 41 batters in 21 2/3 innings during Arizona Fall League action that year and spent the 2020 season developing a changeup at the Brewers' alternate training site. Milwaukee sent him to the Fall Instructional League but he made just one appearance before being shut down due to thoracic outlet syndrome, which required surgery in early November that kept him out of spring training.
Despite that setback, Kelly began the year ranked sixth among Milwaukee's top-30 prospects according to MLBPipeline.com, and is expected to join the Mudcats at some point this season to continue his development.
WISCONSIN TIMBER RATTLERS
Class A (Advanced)
League: High-A Central
Location: Grand Chute, Wis.
Stadium: Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium
Affiliated with the Brewers since 2009, the Timber Rattlers have a long history in Appleton, dating back to their inception as the Fox Cities Foxes of the Three-I League in 1958. After spending their first two seasons as a Class B affiliate of the Washington Senators, the Foxes paired up with the Baltimore Orioles in 1960, with future Hall of Famer Earl Weaver leading the team to its first championship.
In 1966, the team began a 20-year association with the Chicago White Sox. The Kansas City Royals (1987-1992) and Seattle Mariners (1993-2008) followed, with the franchise rebranding itself as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and moving from Goodland Field to its current home in 1994.
Manager: Matt Erickson
Player to watch: OF Garrett Mitchell (above)
Milwaukee's first-round pick in the abbreviated 2020 MLB Draft, Mitchell put on quite a display during spring training when he batted .367 (11-for-30) with a home run, six RBIs and a .973 OPS.
He continued to impress with the Timber Rattlers, going 3-for-7 with a pair of walks and two stolen bases while making a number of impressive defensive plays before suffering a leg injury that sidelined him over the weekend.
Mitchell is expected to return to action this week.
League: Double-A South
Location: Biloxi, Ms.
Stadium: MGM Park
The Shuckers relocated from Huntsville, where they had played as the Stars since 1985 and became Milwaukee's Class AA affiliate in 1999. Since the move, they've appeared in the Southern League Championship Series three times with former top prospect Orlando Arcia earning Brewers minor league player of the year honors with the team in 2015.
Manager: Mike Guerrero
Player to watch: SS Brice Turang (above)
A first-round pick in 2018 (No. 21 overall), Turang earned All-Star honors with Class A Wisconsin in 2019 and, after slashing .287/.384/.376 with two home runs and 31 RBIs in 82 games, earned a promotion to Carolina where he batted .200 in 47 games.
Milwaukee sent him to the alternate training site to continue his development last season, and Turang appeared in 25 Cactus League games this spring, batting .182 (6-for-33) with a home run, four RBIs and a .473 OPS.
League: Triple-A East
Location: Nashville, Tenn.
Stadium: First Horizon Park
The Brewers return to Nashville after a bitter breakup in 2014, when the Sounds shocked Milwaukee by ending their 10-year relationship just as the team was finally on the verge of leaving decrepit Greer Stadium for a new downtown ballpark.
The decision led to Milwaukee sending its top prospects to the less-than-ideal settings of Colorado Springs for two seasons, then San Antonio in 2019. But after MiLB's realignment last winter, fences were mended and the Brewers will once again develop their talent in the Music City.
Manager: Rick Sweet
Player to watch: LHP Aaron Ashby
Selected in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB Draft from Crowder College in Missouri, Ashby posted a 3.50 ERA in 126 innings for Wisconsin and Carolina in 2019 and was fifth among Milwaukee's minor league pitchers with 135 strikeouts, earning the organization's pitcher of the year honors.
He spent last season at the alternate training site and performed well enough there to earn his first invitation to big league spring training, where he allowed just one run and struck out seven in three appearances spanning 2 2/3 innings.
As featured on
The 22-year-old began the season as Milwaukee's top-rated minor league prospect after an eye-popping spring training, but a muscle strain in his left leg has limited him to two games so far.
The Brewers will increase capacity at American Family Field starting Saturday, and the Bucks will do it when the NBA playoffs get underway at Fiserv Forum later this month.
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