Welcome to the first installment of my annual column series counting down to Brewers Opening Day!
Veteran readers know the drill, but for all of you who may not have found my work until the regular season started last year here’s the skinny. We count down to Opening Day for the Milwaukee Brewers — Monday, April 6th this year — by profiling a different Brewers player on certain days along the way. Who I profile on a specific day is determined by the jersey number that the player will be wearing while in big league camp at Spring Training.
So, to illustrate, April 4th is two days away from Opening Day. Scooter Gennett wears #2 on his jersey. I profile Scooter Gennett on April 4th. Make sense? Okay, one more…
Today is January 18th and we sit 78 days away from Opening Day 2015. The player who has worn 78 on his back in each of his big league spring trainings will do so again in 2015.
That player is…
After being selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, the path for Taylor Heath Jungmann seemed to be pretty much laid out. A three-year college pitcher at the University of Texas, Jungmann was viewed as someone who was as much a finished product as anyone in that draft. The Brewers wanted someone who could reach the majors in a couple of years if everything broke right.
The 6’6″ right-hander didn’t pitch in 2011 following a long junior season at Texas with a ton of innings on his arm. He also didn’t sign until late in the year, a product of the old rules governing amateur signing deadlines. Despite it all, he made an encouraging professional debut in 2012 at High-A Brevard County. (It was disappointing on a personal level that he never pitched as a Timber Rattler as I was looking forward to seeing him in person, though perhaps I’ll get my chance if he’s still at Triple-A in June.) By the time a somewhat disappointing 2013 season entirely with the Class-AA Huntsville Stars (10-10 record, 4.33 ERA) concluded, the talk had turned from “maybe not developing as quickly as was hoped” to “maybe he won’t ever get there”. I suppose I understand the scouting reports driving those sentiments, like the concern that Jungmann’s control still hadn’t come around (4.7 BB/9) and his strikeouts were way off the expected pace (5.3 K/9 for a 1.12 K/BB ratio), but I’ve never been one to simply give up on a young and talented guy so quickly. Then again, I’m nothing even close to a professional baseball scout either.
Still, Jungmann was giving people some concern. He would start 2014 back with the Stars, in part because of how full the Class-AAA Nashville Sounds rotation was to begin the year. Jungmann shined in his 52.0 IP with Huntsville. He posted a 2.77 ERA, maintained his 0.7 HR/9 rate, slashed his walk rate to 2.6, and even upped his strikeouts recording 46 for a healthy 8.0 K/9. He earned a promotion to Nashville which was realized in mid-May.
Jungmann pitched strongly in his first taste of Triple-A competition. His ERA predictably went up, and his walk rate jumped probably more than anyone would like, but he increased his strikeout rate and did a lot to be very encouraged about moving forward. For instance, Jungmann allowed at least 4 ER in six of his Triple-A appearances, but none came after July 13th. In fact, Jungmann finished the season with a run of five starts with a game score of at least 60, and six of seven with the other game checking in at 59. His final start saw his give up one earned run over 5.0 IP. He struck out nine in that game, but also walked six. If you take it as a microcosm (which is somewhat unfair given the walks in that game but anyway…), you can see some of the strides he’s made but also that he still has things to work on.
Entering his age 25 season, Jungmann required 40-man roster protection from the Rule 5 Draft last month and in part as a result looks to be the number seven starting pitcher for the Brewers (if the roster construction on Opening Day matches how things are today). I absolutely predict we’ll see Jungmann toe the rubber in The Show in 2015. For the sake of team success, you hope that’s not until September when he gets to experience life as a September call-up, but chances are we’ll see the big Texas-native before that.
The pieces foreseen by the late Bruce Seid and his staff when selecting Jungmann with Milwaukee’s top overall draft pick in 2011 are finally starting to fall into place. Hopefully those pieces are one day a part of a championship puzzle at Miller Park.
But for now, for the six weeks of Spring Training, watch for number 78 to continue to build on the best season of his professional career.