Welcome back to “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, my season preview series which profiles players as their assigned jersey number for 2012 Spring Training match up to the number of days that remain until Opening Day.
Today, Tuesday, January 31st is exactly 66 days away from Opening Day of the 2012 Major League Baseball season which, for the Milwaukee Brewers, is Friday, April 6th.
Who, you ask, was assigned jersey number 66? None other than 6’5″, 235 lb first base and outfield prospect Brock Kjeldgaard.
Kjeldgaard (pronounced “KILL-guard”) was born January 26, 1986, and bats and throws right-handed. He was a 34th-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Kjeldgaard signed as a draft-and-follow a year later and spent his first two years in pro ball as a pitcher. These were not very effective years as he compiled a 1-3 record with a 5.53 ERA in 33 appearances. Due to the lack of results on the bump, the Brewers changed Kjeldgaard’s focus and he became just a hitter in 2008.
His focus helped him harness his one tool: power. He’s hit 75 homers in 1,702 minor league ABs. So despite the lack of an apparent second tool, that kind of power can result in big league service time. The thing working against Kjeldgaard is the fact that he is already 26 years old. Granted he’s basically two seasons behind in the refining of his hitting, but the game is littered with athletic prospects that weren’t ready at the time they got their shot, if they got one at all.
Kjeldgaard was ready this season to display his powerful swing and did so to the tune of 18 home runs in just 231 ABs in High-A ball with the Brevard County Manatees. However after a promotion to Double-A Huntsville, he saw his power drop quite a bit. He only hit six long balls in 203 at-bats. Naturally part of that drop is due to better pitching, but it is a player’s ability to adjust to his environment and succeed as a result that dictates his advancement.
Assuming the big Canadian-born ballplayer begins the 2012 season with the Stars where he ended it, we should all keep an eye on how his off-season work has aided him in his adjusting. But it’s truly not all about the bat for Kjeldgaard as far as making an impact at the big league level. As the Milwaukee Brewers are a National League club, it takes more than just a powerful bat to stick. No doubt working in his favor, however, are experiences gained by Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin during Melvin’s tenure. Melvin failed to recognize a late-bloomer in Nelson Cruz, of course in Melvin’s defense so did every other GM in the game at least once, but by protecting Kjeldgaard from the Rule V Draft this past December it showed the Melvin is willing to give an “older” prospect a little more time to realize whatever potential he has.
Off-season leagues and competitions can bolster a player’s development as well, and as evidenced by the picture in this article, Brock Kjeldgaard played on for Team Canada on more than one occasion. He played right field and even some center field for the national team in October, hitting safely 13 times in 52 ABs (.250) with a pair of dingers to help Team Canada win the Pan American Games, and also tie for third in the World Cup.
Let’s sum it up in these words taken from Baseball America’s website: “Kjeldgaard is big and freakishly strong.” When he makes contact, he can hit for quite a bit of power but his swing can get too long at times. If you couple that with a tendency to get overly aggressive, it makes it unlikely that he’ll ever hit for average and should also lead to high strikeout totals. He’s below-average on the basepaths. He has decent arm strength but is a mediocre defender at best on the outfield corners. And despite the fact that he logged time in center field for Team Canada, the mistake should never be made that he can play there at the Major League level. Fortunately for Kjeldgaard, he has been able to see time at 1B. It’s simply a better fit.
On a personal note, I had a chance to meet Brock ever so briefly at the Brewers winter fan fast called “Brewers On Deck”. I shook his hand, welcomed him to the 40-man roster, and accepted an autograph from him. I truly hope that it wasn’t the last time I’ll have the opportunity to interact with the slugger. He just feels like the kind of player that could provide prodigious pop off the bench and contribute positively to a ball club, assuming his plate discipline improves.
After all, in a city where Russell Branyan still elicits an emotional response from fans who dig scoreboard-denting shots, Brock Kjeldgaard could truly attain cult hero status with the fan base. And if power is king, Kjeldgaard certainly seems like a blood relative of the royal Sexson/Branyan family.
In summary, Kjeldgaard may or may not ever make an impact at the Major League level. It is the case with any prospect. It is the curse of anyone with unrealized potential. It’s a crapshoot. Bottom line, though, is the GMs (like chicks) dig the long ball. Like left-handed pitchers, if you can establish that you’re capable of doing your one thing very well, you’ll almost always be able to find a job. For the good of the Brewers, let’s hope that Kjeldgaard does enough to warrant that that job be based in Milwaukee.