A few funny things have happened on the way to June.
While the Brewers have been slogging through a seesaw month of May (two and six in their first eight, five and one in the next six, one and five in the six after that, five and two in the most recent seven games entering play on May 31st), they’ve tinkered and toyed with some things that we simply wouldn’t see — because we haven’t — in recent history.
First, the Brewers posted their May 24th lineup and it featured a major change. After a day off to rest his tweaked oblique, rightfielder Ryan Braun was back in the lineup but he was hitting second. It’s a move that sabermetricians would love as there is plenty of statistical evidence that the second spot in the lineup is the most efficient and productive spot for your “best” hitter. Braun and his offensive brethren would falter in that game from a run production standpoint as they would only score once despite 11 hits. (It was Braun that scored the run, for what it’s worth.) But this would not be a one day trial that manager Ron Roenicke would abandon due to lackluster results in the columns of R or W.
Roenicke explained his thoughts after the game, more or less, and confirmed that this was the plan for a while. Truth be told, it started in phases even though that might not have been by design. Season-long leadoff hitter Carlos Gomez needed a day off two days earlier on May 22. It was that day that Roenicke moved Jean Segura up to lead off for Milwaukee. Segura responded by going 3-for-5 with two runs scored in a loss to Atlanta. When Gomez returend on May 23, Roenicke left Segura at the top and inserted the powerful Gomez in the cleanup position. That was seen as a reaction to Braun being out and moving Jonathan Lucroy up to Braun’s customary third spot. It was seen as a blip and scarcely even mentioned let alone thought deeply about. Then Braun returned on May 24 and Segura, Lucroy and Gomez held their positions as Braun slid in at number two.
The offense has been on a tear since that 22nd of May, tying a franchise record with at least 10 hits in 10 straight games. All this has happened without Aramis Ramirez, and it’s almost June 1, which we collectively know as Aramis Ramirez Day. If he comes back (scheduled for Wednesday in Minnesota and likely DHing) and doesn’t take long to warm up, the offense could really make a splash early in the second third of the season.
But there is more going on than just a significant lineup change.
On that same May 24 in Miami, the Brewers outrighted Jeff Bianchi to Triple-A Nashville after he cleared waivers. Bianchi, who is out of options, has been outrighted off of a 40-man roster before in his career and therefore had the right to refuse this assignment thereby electing free agency. He eventually decided to stay, but the point here is that there was more going on than simply swapping one utility infielder for another (they called up Irving Falu, but you know that).
The Brewers of the recent past would not risk losing an asset, even one grossly underperforming as was Bianchi, by outrighting them. This is a front office displaying more of a sense of urgency than even they themselves did this off-season by signing Matt Garza and bolstering a rotation that many assumed they’d just fill in house with five readily identified arms.
That they were willing to shake up their lineup, one that had been struggling to score runs shortly beforehand, and outright Bianchi at all speaks to the team’s desire to sustain their position atop the National League Central. They are not going to stand idly by, subscribing to the Ned Yost School of Thought that once infamously and dismissively reminded worriers that his Brewers were “still in first place”.
No. These Brewers, while still in first place, were seeing a once large lead begin diminshing as perennial division rivals the St. Louis Cardinals began to find their stride a bit while the Brewers scuffled. Their lead was down to 1.5 games as recently as May 27. Milwaukee is certainly striding right at the moment as they’ve won their last three with St. Louis losing its last three and the division lead entering play on the last day of May was back up to 4.0 full games.
Complacency and status quo are not seemingly in the toolbox of the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers. Kudos to them for yet another day alone in first place (where they’ve been since April 9) but more so they deserve accolades and attention for not just thinking that was good enough.
What’s more? They aren’t necessarily done.
They could consider changes in their first base platoon, including dumping the defensively solid but weak-sticked Lyle Overbay. They could juggle their bullpen pieces a bit which they’ll have to do when Tom Gorzelanny is ready but there’s certainly room for more if they desire. They could certainly continue to tweak their bench and bring in a more powerful option their the currently versatile yet light-hitting duo of Falu and Elian Herrera. And if someone doesn’t perform in that rotation or if they need to use a piece to get a piece elsewhere, they could make the decision to go with Jimmy Nelson at some point.
The bottom line is that if they decide to stand pat this season it won’t be due to a lack of want to change nor will it be due to any apprehension thereof. This is a front office that not only sees the benefits in making moves, but certainly won’t be lured in by making a change for the sake of change.
It’s a different feeling than we’re used to as fans over recent history, but it’s certainly a welcome one.
Following his season debut (5.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K), spot starter Jimmy Nelson was optioned back down to the minor leagues. As I said on Twitter at the time, it was an exciting glimpse at a piece of the Brewers future.
Nelson had a number of high leverage moments in his start and got through them all with high marks.
In his place, the Brewers filled their opening on the 40-man roster and strengthened their bench by purchasing the contract of infielder Irving Falu from their Triple-A affiliate, the Nashville Sounds. Falu fills the open spot on the Brewers’ 40-man roster that was vacated when utility man Jeff Bianchi was outrighted to Nashville following Saturday’s game in Miami.
Falu, 30, will join the Brewers as they arrive home following their season-long 10-game road trip. He brings with him a .280/.342/.333 slash line in 38 games for the Sounds. He has also appeared in 14 games defensively at shortstop, including 12 starts. That’s a key note because when the Brewers decided to outright Bianchi to Nashville, they did so knowing that they preferred a replacement who could help fill the void as a backup defenseman, especially at the crucial position of shortstop. Falu is skilled at second base and third base as well, once again providing quality versatility.
(For more on Falu’s background, check out his “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” entry from Spring Training.)
Like Elian Herrera who has also been tapped more than once this season in no small part because of his defensive versatility, Falu is a switch-hitter. Unlike Herrera, Falu’s career handedness splits aren’t as drastic at all. In 2014 for Nashville to this point though, he’s slashing .314/.386/.392 as a right-handed hitter but only .259/.315/.296 as a left-handed hitter.
Still, Falu should be capable of proving a nice boost off the bench where Bianchi had been faltering of late. It remains to be seen exactly how Ron Roenicke orders his defensive depth chart, but the Brewers field manager is on record as liking the game of Falu who was one of the final players cut in Spring Training.
Hopefully he performs better and more consistently than did his predecessor.
Opening Day is here for the minor leagues!
What follows are the announced rosters for each of the full-season minor-league affiliates for the Milwaukee Brewers, broken down by position group.
Class-AAA Affiliate (Twitter: @nashvillesounds)
Manager: Rick Sweet
28 Total Players
- Michael Blazek (Twitter: @MichaelBlazek34)
- Hiram Burgos (Twitter: @Burgos196)
- Jose De La Torre
- Mike Fiers (Twitter: @Fiers64)
- Alfredo Figaro
- Donovan Hand (@DonovanHand)
- Kyle Heckathorn (@KyleHeckathorn)
- Johnny Hellweg
- Brad Mills
- Dustin Molleken
- Jimmy Nelson (@Jimmy_J_Nelson)
- Ariel Peña
- Rob Wooten (@RobWooten35)
- Irving Falu (@irvingfalu)
- Hector Gomez
- Taylor Green
- Sean Halton (@SeanHalton11)
- Elian Herrera
- Hunter Morris (@HunterMorris15)
- Pete Orr
- Stephen Parker
- Eugenio Velez
- Caleb Gindl
- Jeremy Hermida
- Kevin Mattison (@stachemaster4)
Class-AA Affiliate (Twitter: @HuntsvilleStars)
Manager: Carlos Subero
28 Total Players
- Tyler Cravy (@TylerJayCravy)
- Drew Gagnon (@Dgags24)
- David Goforth (@DavidGoforth7)
- Brooks Hall
- Greg Holle (@GHolle44)
- Taylor Jungmann
- Brent Leach (@brentle24)
- Arcenio Leon
- Johnnie Lowe (@jlowe390)
- Eric Marzec (@MarzMLB)
- Casey Medlen (@cmeds13)
- Andy Moye (@AMoye22)
- Kevin Shackelford (@Shackeldaddy)
- Brent Suter (@bruter24)
- Joey Paciorek
- Adam Weisenburger (@aweisenburger)
- Shawn Zarraga
- Greg Hopkins (@StJonnyHopkins)
- Josh Prince (@JoshPrince17)
- Nick Ramirez (@N_Ramirez33)
- Jason Rogers (@jasonrogers2003)
- Nick Shaw (@NShaw3)
- Hainley Statia (@HStatia4)
- Shea Vucinich
- Kentrail Davis
- Mitch Haniger (@M_Hanny19)
- Brock Kjeldgaard
- D’Vontrey Richardson
Class-A Advanced Affiliate (Twitter: @BCManatees)
Manager: Joe Ayrault
26 Total Players
- Jacob Barnes (@j_barnes30)
- Jed Bradley (@Jed_Bradley)
- Hobbs Johnson (@hojo31)
- Jorge Lopez (@yabiee18)
- Damien Magnifico (@D_Magno32)
- Stephen Peterson (@SPetey22)
- Chad Pierce (@pierce_chad)
- Tanner Poppe (@TannerPoppe)
- Austin Ross
- Michael Strong (@Strong_Mike1188)
- Tommy Toledo (@TommyToledo13)
- Martin Viramontes (@martilious19)
- Tyler Wagner (@_TylerWagner_)
- Orlando Arcia
- Garrett Cooper (@CoopaLoop1)
- Michael Garza (@Miguelito_G_21)
- Brandon Macias (@Cias12)
- Nathan Orf (@NateOrf4)
- Yadiel Rivera (@YADIELRIVERA13)
- Alfredo Rodriguez (@Arodss2)
- Jose Sermo (@j_weesy21)
Class-A Affiliate (Twitter: @TimberRattlers)
Manager: Matt Erickson
27 Total Players
- Tyler Alexander (@LilLefty12)
- Tristan Archer (@TRISTAN_archer)
- Barrett Astin (@BarrettAstin17)
- Victor Diaz
- Rodolfo Fernandez (@cuba900321)
- Preston Gainey (@friendpresto)
- Tyler Linehan (@tylinny39)
- Harvey Martin (@Martin_Time15)
- Zach Quintana (@Slummdog)
- Chris Razo (@RazBerry02)
- Trevor Seidenberger (@trev15berger)
- Tyler Spurlin (@TyroneG4)
- Taylor Williams (@TWilly_KSU)
- Francisco Castillo
- David Denson (@_DavidD_41)
- Steven Halcomb
- Chris McFarland (@cmcfarland116)
- Angel Ortega
- Taylor Smith-Brennan (@TaylorBrennan88)
As we continue on in our countdown, versatility will often be a word I come back to. That is certainly the case for today’s profile subject.
He’s a switch-hitting utility infielder who was born in Puerto Rico and originally drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 21st round of the 2003 draft. He is…
Falu stands 5’10” tall and has played second base, third base, and shortstop at the major league level. In 25 MLB games, Falu has 14 appearances at second base, five at shortstop, and six at third.
To get to the big leagues, though, Falu endured parts of 10 seasons in the minor leagues. He finally made his MLB debut on May 6, 2012. The irony from a Brewers fan standpoint, is that Falu was recalled because of an injury to the one and only Yuniesky Betancourt. You’ll recall, of course, that Betancourt spent 2012 back in Kansas City between his two turns in Milwaukee.
Falu has a career MiLB slash line of .278/.342/.357 including Triple-A numbers of .283/.342/.365 in parts of six seasons. Those offensive numbers were posted while Falu played everywhere defensively except first base and catcher.
In fact, Falu has appeared defensively in 1134 games. His defensive breakdown: 536 at shortstop, 317 at second base, 152 at third base, 103 in right field, 17 in left field, and nine turns in center.
For the Brewers, who picked up Falu as a minor league free agent on December 4, 2013 after he was Designated For Assignment by Kansas City, Falu will be attempting to earn a spot on the 25-man roster as a backup infielder. If he can prove that he’s a superior option to the incumbent in that role (Jeff Bianchi), and the others vying for the same job, then Falu absolutely could make the 25-man roster and head north with the parent club.
Then again, Falu is under contract on the minor league side so he could just as easily begin the season with Nashville where he would wait for signs of trouble in Milwaukee. That would be the case if the Brewers decided that depth was the most important thing regardless of Falu’s play this spring.
He’ll be looking to rebound this spring from a down 2013 where he was down 22 points in both batting average and on-base percentage from his career marks. And while Falu has never walked much in his career, he also doesn’t strike out. As a matter of fact, in 568 Triple-A plate appearances in 2013, Falu walked 47 times and struck out only 51. Still, Falu will need to bounce back if he wants to make an impact on the 2014 Brewers.
All anybody can ask for though is an opportunity. As a non-roster invitee, Falu will certainly get that much.
You can follow Irving Falu on Twitter: @irvingfalu
Earlier today, the Brewers finally announced the jersey numbers that the players coming to big league camp will be wearing whilst at Maryvale.
The majority of the players who saw time at the MLB level in 2013 have not changed numbers, though two did. One coach gave up his number for a player. And of course the newest acquisitions and non-roster invitees all need number assignments as well.
Here are all the changes. (Keep in mind that my uniform number repository only counts players wearing a specific number while on the big league roster. I’ll update those pages after camp breaks.)
New Players on 40-Man Roster:
- #50 – Jose De La Torre
- #63 – Brooks Hall
- #60 – Kevin Shackelford
- #13 – Will Smith
- #51 – Wei-Chung Wang
- #25 – Hunter Morris
- #61 – Jason Rogers
- #3 – Elian Herrera
Players on 40-Man Roster Last Year With New Numbers:
- #30 – Tyler Thornburg (switched from #63)
- #38 – Wily Peralta (switched from #60)
- #58 – Ariel Pena (switched from #73)
Both New Non-Roster Invitees (Players on MiLB contracts invited to big league camp) and Repeat Invitees w/New Numbers:
- #59 – Zach Duke
- #77 – David Goforth
- #70 – Dustin Molleken
- #66 – Robinzon Diaz
- #72 – Cameron Garfield
- #68 – Matt Pagnozzi
- #71 – Adam Weisenburger (switched from #91)
- #65 – Irving Falu
- #24 – Lyle Overbay
- #7 – Mark Reynolds
- #67 – Eugenio Velez
- #73 – Kentrail Davis (switched from #93)
- #75 – Mitch Haniger
- #76 – Kevin Mattison
On Wednesday it was announced that the Milwaukee Brewers had signed a pair of free agents to minor league contracts. Those contracts include invitations to big league camp at Maryvale come February, officially labeling both new additions as “non-roster invitees” or NRIs.
The two players involved are catcher Matt Pagnozzi, late of the Houston Astros system, and utility infielder Irving Falu, most recently of the Kansas City Royals organization.
Full write ups of their pasts will come during the 2014 edition of “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, but for now let’s go ahead and give you a little taste.
Matthew Thomas Pagnozzi (hey kids, he’s on Twitter! @MattPagnozzi) is a 31-year-old veteran of 11 seasons in professional baseball. He’s been employed by six different organizations including five in the last three years. Pagnozzi doesn’t hit much but has a solid reputation as a defensive-minded catcher. The Brewers could use a quality receiver to work with the next wave of prospects at Triple-A Nashville. Barring injury, that’s Pagnozzi’s likely destination when camp breaks at the end of March.
Irving Falu (Twitter: @irvingfalu) is a native of Puerto Rico who was first drafted in 2001 by the San Diego Padres and then again in 2003 by the Royals. He is 30 years old and as the polar opposite of Pagnozzi has only known one organization. In a beautiful irony that Brewers fans can appreciate, Falu made his MLB debut in 2012 after injury sidelined Yuniesky Betancourt. Perhaps Falu can permanently replace Betancourt in the Brewers organization going forward. Forever. And ever.
Both of these players will be heavily involved in Spring Training. Pagnozzi as a top MiLB catcher and Falu as a switch-hitting infielder who can back up at second base, third base and shortstop.