4 Milwaukee Brewers Wanted: a spark at the top of the order and power in the middle of the lineup

March 25, 2002
March 25, 2002

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March 25, 2002

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4 Milwaukee Brewers Wanted: a spark at the top of the order and power in the middle of the lineup

They first came together in 1989 as a dynamic union of speed and
power and grace and intelligence that, had they not been almost
four years apart in age, might have sent shock waves through
college baseball. Eric Young, in his final year at Rutgers, was
asked by the coaching staff to play host to a hotshot high
school senior named Jeffrey Hammonds, from just down the pike in
Scotch Plains, N.J. "The kid was skinny," says Young, "and quiet."

This is an article from the March 25, 2002 issue Original Layout

Young showed Hammonds the baseball field and the dorms, the good
places to eat and the better places to scope. By the time he
left, Hammonds--who was being heavily recruited by Miami,
Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Stanford--had all but
made up his mind: Rutgers wasn't the school for him. "EY was
great, a fun guy to hang with," says Hammonds, "but I would've
gone to Rutgers only to stay close to home."

Thirteen years later the two are finally teammates, and how they
fare will help decide whether this is the year that the Brewers
emerge from baseball purgatory. For Young, the question is
whether at age 34 he can be the top-of-the-order igniter
Milwaukee hasn't had since Fernando Vina scored 101 runs in
1998. For Hammonds, 31, the issue is more delicate: Can he
justify the three-year, $21 million free-agent contract the
Brewers handed him before last season? For starters, can he stay

In his nine major league seasons Hammonds has been on the
disabled list seven times. In 2000, when he had a career-high
454 at bats, he was an All-Star who batted .335 with 20 home
runs, 106 RBIs and 94 runs for the Rockies. On the basis of that
performance Milwaukee general manager Dean Taylor gave Hammonds
the large bucks to sign in December 2001, only to watch his new
franchise cornerstone hit .247 in 49 games last season before
crumpling with a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Hammonds spent the off-season rehabbing his body and mind. He
lifted weights and ran every day, and on Jan. 26 he married
Keisha Simpson, his girlfriend of three years, in front of 300
guests in Cincinnati. "She was with me when I went to L.A. to
have surgery on the shoulder last July," says Hammonds. "When it
was over, I looked into her eyes and said, 'This is a game, and
I should be able to play without always injuring myself.' Keisha
has given me a feeling of strength. It can make the difference."

Last year the Brewers set a major league record by striking out
1,399 times. Hammonds is an above-average contact hitter, and
batting in the middle of the order, he'll surely whiff less
frequently than the departed Jeromy Burnitz, whose 34 homers
were offset by 150 strikeouts. "Hambone is just right to burst
out and have that huge year," says Young. "He's going to light
Milwaukee up."

The Cubs felt they didn't need Young, whose 31 stolen bases in
2001 were a career low, and let him go as a free agent. The
Brewers signed him to a two-year, $5 million deal. At a press
conference in January, Young asked about the club record for
steals. Informed that it was 54, set by Pat Listach in '92, he
predicted that it would be broken this year.

Last season manager Davey Lopes used seven leadoff hitters, and
Milwaukee's .319 on-base percentage was the third worst in the
NL. "If a team's going to win, it's got to have hope out of the
chute," says Hammonds. "When you have a leadoff hitter who
starts the party, everyone else just says, 'Damn! I'm going to
join the party too.'" The invitation is in the mail. All
Hammonds has to do is arrive in one piece. --J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Young gives hope to a team that hasn't had a true catalyst in years, but the Brew Crew's recovery from its decadelong malaise will be slow.COLOR PHOTO: TOM HAUCK/GETTY IMAGES QUEVEDO

The 2001 Brewers were the first major league team whose batters
had more strikeouts (1,399) than hits (1,378).

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Brewers

"The Brewers are going to struggle. They have a young rotation,
they don't put the ball in play, Jeffrey Hammonds is a question
mark in center, Geoff Jenkins was injured last year, and Curtis
Leskanic is coming off arm surgery. They're still a work in
progress.... I've never seen a team strike out as much as they
do. Jose Hernandez struck out 185 times and hit .250. Imagine
what he'd do if he put some of those balls in play.... Matt
Stairs is a good signing. He's got only one speed. He swings
like he's got a purpose. He'll platoon with Alex Ochoa in right.
He's average to below average in the field and doesn't throw
like Ochoa, but he's not a liability.... Raul Casanova can swing
it, and Henry Blanco can catch it, but the pitchers, especially
the young ones, are going to want to throw to one guy. Blanco
throws well, receives well and handles pitchers well. He's very
underrated behind the plate, but he'll hit .210.... Ruben
Quevedo is a big guy, to say the least. I don't know if he'll
lose anything on his fastball if he trims up, but he needs to
give them more innings. He throws 90-plus with average major
league movement and an average slider. His change is his best
pitch: It's a trick pitch that he throws with good movement and
a good arm angle. He has to prove he can go more than once
through the lineup. He gets the ball up in the zone the second
time through.... Chad Fox is a good closer if Leskanic can't go.
He has a turbocharged slider. You know it's coming and still
have trouble with it."

projected roster with 2001 statistics


2B Eric Young[1] R 86 .279 6 42 31
3B Tyler Houston L-R 178 .289 12 38 0
LF Geoff Jenkins L-R 108 .264 20 63 4
1B Richie Sexson R 20 .271 45 125 2
RF Alex Ochoa[1] R 145 .276 8 52 17
CF Jeffrey Hammonds R 133 .247 6 21 5
SS Jose Hernandez R 103 .249 25 78 5
C Raul Casanova S-R 241 .260 11 33 0


OF Matt Stairs[1] L-R 237 .250 17 61 2
IF Mark Loretta R 244 .289 2 29 1
C Henry Blanco R 360 .210 6 31 3


RH Jamey Wright 142 11 12 5.9 1.54 4.90
RH Ben Sheets 87 11 10 6.1 1.41 4.76
LH Glendon Rusch[1] 138 8 12 5.4 1.45 4.63
RH Ruben Quevedo 186 4 5 5.7 1.52 4.61
RH Paul Rigdon 219 3 5 5.3 1.66 5.79


RH Chad Fox 80 5 2 2 1.20 1.89
RH Curtis Leskanic 221 2 6 17 1.36 3.63
LH Ray King 240 0 4 1 1.35 3.60

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start

WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)

Davey Lopes
third season with Milwaukee

2001 record
fourth in NL Central

with defensive ratings

Golden Glover


Good Leather


Iron Hands