MILWAUKEE — Instead of huddling his entire family around a tiny computer screen to watch the draft, Josh Uhen decided to connect the laptop to the family television. It was going to be much easier to wait out the long draft that way.
But as it turns out, Uhen didn’t have to wait very long.
As the first-year player draft moved into the fifth round last Friday afternoon, Uhen got a call from the Milwaukee Brewers. It was mostly small talk, asking Uhen how he was doing, telling him they’d stay in touch.
About a minute after he hung up the phone, Uhen got a text from his advisor. The Brewers were seriously interested. This was real.
Then he saw it scroll across the screen: Brewers select right-hander Joshua Uhen, UW-Milwaukee. His favorite team, the same one he used to go watch at Milwaukee County Stadium, had just taken him in the draft.
Four days later, the feeling still hasn’t sunk in yet.
“It’s something I can’t really explain,” Uhen told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. “I’ve never felt like that before because there was a lot of joy. It was one of those things were you worked so hard for it. You want to cry but you are smiling too much to do it. It’s not a relief, but you are just enjoying it. It’s hard to explain.
“I got a call from them (after the pick) and once I hung up it was like ‘Wow, that actually just happened.’ I grew up loving them. They’ve been my favorite team forever.”
His story is unique, but then again it isn’t. Many baseball players have had Tommy John surgery to repair a torn elbow, but not many have stuff like Uhen. One of the best prep pitchers in Wisconsin in 2010, Uhen starred for Oshkosh North High School before choosing UW-Milwaukee, the state’s only Division 1 baseball program.
Pitching in his first collegiate game against then-No. 16 Arkansas, Uhen blew out his elbow after recording just one out.
“When the injury first occurred it was a definite setback,” Uhen said. “It was something I had to deal with and go through the rehab. Once I came back and I was basically back to full strength physically, I started throwing bullpens and I got into games and the velocity came back. It was a slight sigh of relief knowing that was still there. Once things got rolling and we got more into the season, it set back in and I was like ‘OK, it’s still here and I have a chance.’ That made me want to work even harder.”
Almost 11 months after the surgery, Uhen was back to 100 percent. He got 12 heavily controlled innings at the end of the 2012 season, and the UW-Milwaukee coaching staff didn’t put any pressure on him to rush back.
Brewers team physician Dr. William Raasch performed Uhen’s surgery and set up program for him to follow in his comeback. The Panthers stuck with it. There was going to be no messing around with such a talented arm.
Even this past season, Uhen was the team’s closer. Though he had the best arm on the team, Milwaukee’s coaching staff didn’t put him in the rotation. He threw just 21 1/3 innings with a 3.80 ERA and had four saves.
“It’s long,” Uhen said of the rehab process. “I still do stuff for it. I like to call it ‘prehab’, just preventative measures. It’s easier than you would think because you know it could be your last chance. It’s one of those things where you are injured and you just want to work extra hard just to get back to where you were. It puts things into perspective. Every day you wake up, that’s what you look forward to. That made it a little easier knowing that I had to work just to get back to where I was, not just to get better.”
Brewers scouting director Bruce Seid brought up Uhen’s name fairly early in his summary of the team’s draft. He’s excited about getting an arm that can throw near 100 mph in the fifth round, but also admits the Brewers are taking a risk on a guy that has thrown so few innings.
“He has a big arm,” Seid said. “For him it’s about getting some innings under his belt, being able to work on his delivery and the consistency of it. But it’s a big arm. When I look at guys like (Jim) Henderson and (John) Axford, I could see that type of potential. The thing is, if he develops a secondary (pitch), we could have someone who could take the mound every five days down the road.”
As of right now, Uhen is just ready to get to work. He’s proud to be the highest draft pick in UW-Milwaukee history, but he’s more grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional baseball. The Brewers originally planned on sending Uhen to rookie-level Helena to start his professional career, but he’ll instead report to Arizona in the next few days to play rookie ball there.
It’s times like these when Uhen thinks back to the rehabilitation process. This is why he went through the grind.
“I’ve thrown less than 40 innings in college total,” Uhen said. “I’ve thrown less than 100 since my junior year in high school. The arm, I guess it’s as fresh as it comes. That’s an advantage of mine, knowing there’s no wear and tear on it, but it’s also a disadvantage because it was tough to fine-tune the skills and develop. That’s what this stage in the process is for.”