The Brewers hope Jean Segura can become a franchise cornerstone.
By RYAN KARTJEFS Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE — The tag "shortstop of the future" isn't a label the Milwaukee Brewers are willing to throw around.
That's because, for the Brewers, the future at the shortstop position has been an uncertain one for more than two decades. Since Robin Yount vacated the position after the 1984 season, Milwaukee has never quite sent out a big-time prospect to play the position, instead settling for a bevy of talent that never showcased more than a few tools at time.
That's not to say that the Brewers haven't tried to find someone capable of being a franchise cornerstone at the position. In 2005, shortstop J.J. Hardy was supposed to be the Brewers' future, with an affinity for power that was unusual at the position. But when injuries and poor performance led to his ticket out of town, the Brewers gave the reins to their young, highly touted shortstop Alcides Escobar.
As one of the top prospects in baseball -- and by far the top prospect Milwaukee had trotted out at the position since Yount -- Escobar was unquestionably the team's shortstop of the future.
But when the Royals sent pitcher Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, that future changed on a dime. Included in the deal, Escobar would become the latest in a long line of brief stints in the Brewers' middle infield. And while it was a move that no doubt shored up the Brewers' rotation, it also left a gaping hole at one of baseball's most sought-after positions.
"When we traded Alcides Escobar in the Greinke trade, we all knew shortstop was going to be something of a need for us moving forward," Brewers director of pro scouting Zack Minasian said. "We were focused on anybody and everybody who could play shortstop."
Searching for a shortstop, like trying to find capable catching, is a practice akin to "a wild goose chase," Minasian said. So last fall, when Minasian was scouting the Angels' prospects at an Arizona Fall League game, one particular shortstop prospect gave him pause.
It took just one swing of the bat for Minasian to begin to dream on the potential of Angels' shortstop prospect
Jean Segura, as the then-21-year-old flashed a degree of bat speed and energy that reminded him of a young Rickie Weeks.
"The impact off the bat was impressive," Minasian said. "It's what you see the best hitters do. You can start to dream on that a little bit, when you see a guy with that bat speed and that impact when the ball hits the bat, now you start to think, 'OK, this guy is going to have power.' Then you see the other sides of his game, how he runs, how he throws, and his energy level."
But as the Angels' No. 2 prospect heading into 2012, it was unlikely that the Brewers would get to see much more of Segura. That is, until Greinke -- less than two years after the Brewers gave up their future shortstop for him -- was up for sale on the trade deadline market, attracting the attention of Segura's organization, among others.
It wasn't a must that the Brewers received a shortstop in return for their ace, but Minasian admits that the Angels' offering of Segura as the trade's centerpiece prospect definitely helped the trade process move along.
Segura isn't quite the prospect that Escobar was -- at the start of 2012, Segura was ranked 43 spots lower than Escobar was before the 2010 season. But you can hear in Brewers manager Ron Roenicke's voice that he hopes Segura can be everything the organization had hoped for with Escobar. Just don't ask him to label a "shortstop of the future" any time soon.
"I think it's important to see, for going forward next year and maybe after, to see where Segura is," Roenicke said on Monday, soon after the Brewers called up Segura to make his Brewers debut against the Reds. "When we're talking about Segura, you're looking at someone with his age that could be here a lot of years and playing a great shortstop for you."
He hasn't gotten much of a chance to show those chops in the major leagues, as he struck out twice in his only game as an Angel and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his Milwaukee debut as well. But at the minor league level, Segura had been dominating Double-A competition, batting .294 with seven home runs and 44 RBI with 37 stolen bases in 102 games split between the Angels' and Brewers' organizations.
And with hopes that he'll take over the shortstop position for years to come, the Brewers will give him plenty of playing time at the major league level for the remainder of the 2012 season, in order for him to likely take the reins next year.
"When we originally talked about it, we thought we'd bring him up in September," Roenicke said. But with the opportunity that we had to bring someone up to replace Izzy, that this was a good time to do it. ... The guys I know in Anaheim gave good reports on the kid, said he's got good instincts, got a good mind for the game, and he's got really good tools.
"He's got power to all fields -- he really drives the ball well the opposite way. He's got good speed, so he'll have good range at short. He's got a fantastic arm, and he steals bases. He does a lot of things. ... I love guys that are young and have tremendous tools."
Some talk has centered around a possible move to second base for Segura, where some feel he has the potential to be an All-Star caliber second basemen. But Minasian is clear that he thinks Segura's future is at shortstop, a position where the Brewers have desperately needed a future for the longest time.
As for Segura, he smiled when he was asked about reports of a possible move to second base.
"Scouting report always has something to say," Segura said. "I'm here to play my game wherever they put me at. I'd love (to stay at shortstop). Not too many guys play shortstop."
That last statement, as the Brewers have learned for the past two decades, is undeniably true. But with Segura already in Milwaukee, and the Brewers eyes focused on the future -- one that includes their very own "shortstop of the future" -- things look decidedly brighter in the Brewers' infield as early as next season.