MILWAUKEE — There wasn’t much doubt as to whether Clint Coulter would bust out offensively in the minor leagues. The offensive upside of the former first-round pick left a breakout year at the plate almost inevitable.
But after an injury-riddled first full minor-league season left Coulter’s numbers underwhelming in 2013, the Milwaukee Brewers were pleased to see one of their top prospects bounce back in a big way.
Coulter hit .287 with 22 home runs and 87 RBI in 126 games for Class-A Wisconsin in 2014, earning himself honors as Milwaukee’s minor-league player of the year.
The 22 home runs hit by Coulter tied with Brewers left fielder Khris Davis (2010) and prospect Victor Roache (2013) for the Timber Rattlers’ single-season record.
"That’s what we expected," said Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash. "Obviously, he was more mentally prepared for the challenge of the Midwest League this year than he was a year ago."
Milwaukee’s first-round pick in 2012 out of Union High School in Camas, Wash., Coulter hit .303 with five homers and 33 RBI in 49 rookie-ball games immediately after being drafted. His first full season in the minor leagues was a different story.
Coulter began 2013 playing for the Timber Rattlers in the Midwest League, a significant leap for a kid fresh out of high school with just 49 games of rookie ball under his belt.
He hit just .207 with three home runs in 33 games before suffering an oblique strain. Coulter was then sent to rookie-level Helena, where he batted just .216 before heading back to Arizona to play rookie ball there.
After the oblique strain healed, Coulter suffered through a strained medial collateral ligament, an adductor strain, a bone bruise in his left hand and a cartilage tear in his right hand which eventually required surgery.
When Ash said Coulter was more prepared for the Midwest League this time around, he wasn’t kidding.
"Coming into the season you kind of know what to expect, not too many surprises," Coulter said. "It is obviously different players, but those guys are at that level to learn just like you are. Coming into this year, it was good to have that experience."
Coulter got off to a red-hot start for Wisconsin this season, hitting .324 with four homers and 17 RBI in April. The 21-year-old cooled off for a bit in June and July, but responded to have a .327 batting average over his last 29 games.
The Timber Rattlers made the postseason and broke an attendance record along the way.
"I had my ups and downs," Coulter said. "I thought I had a good start. You’re always going to go through rough patches throughout the season. Being able to limit those rough patches and ride out the times you’re doing well, I felt I finished strong and I learned a lot from the season.
"It was a great year. Not only did our team make it to the playoffs, but just the town of Appleton. It is a great place to play minor-league ball. At the A-ball level you don’t always get that. It was really a blessing to be there."
While Coulter’s offensive potential was always there, his defensive ability behind the plate as a catcher left many wondering if a position change would be necessary to allow him to reach the big leagues quicker.
Coulter caught 61 games for the Timber Rattlers in 2014, serving as Wisconsin’s designated hitter for 64 contests.
The Brewers will attempt to move Coulter from behind the plate before next season, beginning with the instructional league in the fall and continuing in spring training. According to Ash, Coulter’s options include first base, third base and left field.
"We’ll determine that in spring training," Ash said. "But I don’t think catching is a long-term solution for him.
"I think he understands that his long-term offensive ability is going to be assisted with a move."
It has been well documented that the Brewers are lacking long-term solutions at first base and third base at the big-league level, and Coulter would make an ideal corner infielder at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds.
But Ash said the decision as to where Coulter ends up will strictly depend upon where he feels most comfortable.
"You can’t go by the organization because it changes so much," Ash said. "You have to see what his abilities are, how do his abilities best translate. Just like the draft — you don’t draft for position, you draft for what makes the most sense."
While the Brewers seem sold on a position change, Coulter plans on heading to the instructional league in Arizona as a catcher and going from there.
"I’m not sure," Coulter said of a position change. "Right now, I’m a catcher. You’ll have to talk to (Brewers farm director) Reid Nichols and see what they’ve got for me. I’m comfortable wherever they stick me. I just want to get to the big leagues.
"Back in high school, I did play a little bit of third base and a little bit of outfield. So, we’ll see. I’m going to instructional league as a catcher but they did tell me that I will probably be working at some other spots, maybe third base and the outfield. We’ll see how it goes. So far, I’m a catcher."