By John Pesetski Special to FOXSportsWisconsin.com
PHOENIX — For the second time in four seasons, the Milwaukee Brewers are grooming a young shortstop long on talent but short on experience. In 2010, that player was Alcides Escobar. This year it’s 22-year-old Jean Segura.
Ironically, Escobar was traded to the Kansas City Royals in a deal for pitcher Zack Grienke, and Segura was obtained when the Brewers shipped Grienke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last July. The Brewers hope Segura progresses in Milwaukee the way Escobar has in Kansas City.
Ranked by Baseball America as the No. 55 prospect in the game and the No. 2 prospect in the Angels system heading into the 2012 season, Segura was the centerpiece of the package the Brewers received in the Grienke deal. Sent to the Brewers Double-A Huntsville farm team, Segura made an immediate impact, hitting .433 in eight games before being called up Aug. 6.
“It was great to come to Milwaukee last year,” said Segura of his promotion. “The team made me feel comfortable right away and that made it easy to just go out and play. These guys were really good to me and that helped.”
The 5-foot-10 Segura played solidly for the Brewers in 44 games, hitting .264 with a .321 OBP. Though he didn’t have any home runs, Segura had four doubles and three triples in 148 at-bats. The right-handed hitter also showed promise on the bases, swiping seven bags while only being caught once. Most impressive, he hit .343 in September after batting only .209 in August.
“What helped me last year was just being comfortable,” Segura said. “When you’re young, you want to show that you are good and that you belong. You want to go 110 percent at everything. But you have to stay patient and relaxed. These guys helped me do that and made me comfortable. When you feel comfortable, you feel like you can do anything.”
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has been impressed by what he’s seen out of the native of the Dominican Republic, particularly defensively.
“He’s got really good aptitude,” Roenicke said. “He’s got a really good tool set. Good speed, good range, good hands and a great arm. He’s got the ability, if the mental part is right, to be a very good shortstop for a very long time.”
And there is evidence that Segura’s bat may not be too far behind his glove. He’s a career a .313 hitter in the minor leagues with an .807 OPS. Additionally, this winter he won the Dominican League batting title with a .324 average, beating out a number of established major league players.
“He can definitely play,” Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. “I saw him here last year and all winter in the Dominican. He really hit well, winning the batting title. He was very impressive down there.”
Sure to help with Segura’s development is the presence of veteran infielders, particularly the Spanish-speaking Ramirez and backup shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
“Aramis helped Segura a lot last year, and I’m sure he’ll do it again this year,” Roenicke said. “And I know what kind of character Alex has. That’s a reason he is in this clubhouse. That’s the kind of player he is and that’s the kind of person he is. And just the language. When you have somebody that speaks your own language helping you, especially a player, it makes it easier. So I think between Alex and Aramis, that’ll be big.”
Gonzalez lost his job to Segura after suffering a torn ACL in May, but he wants to see the newcomer succeed as well.
“I will try to help him where I can,” Gonzalez said. “We got him in a big deal trade for Grienke. It’s a big step up for him from Double-A ball. If he wants help and I can help him, I will.”
With glove in hand and eyes set toward the door to the practice fields, Segura made it clear he is willing to listen and willing to work to earn the starting shortstop position in Milwaukee.
“I’m working on everything this spring,” he said. “I’m working with the bat. I’m working with (second baseman) Rickie Weeks and the infield on double plays on drills and strategy. I’m working on running, too. These guys have been good. They tell me what is good and bad and how to do things. I am working to be prepared the best I can for the season.”