Prospect Haniger making a strong impression
While it's unlikely he'll make the big league roster, outfielder has opened some eyes
PHOENIX -- Mitch Haniger's Spring Training statistics flashed across a clubhouse television during the Brewers' win over the A's on Wednesday. With two more hits, the outfield prospect was 4-for-7 with a team-high five RBIs, three runs scored, two walks, one home run, one stolen base and zero strikeouts.
A veteran saw the numbers, raised his eyebrows and looked around the room.
"Uh oh," he said. "I think someone's trying to make the team."
Considering that Haniger is 23 years old and entering only his second full professional season, that this is his first Major League camp, that he is not on Milwaukee's 40-man roster, and that his positions -- center field and right field -- are manned by Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun, he will probably not make the team.
But Haniger is nonetheless opening eyes in Brewers camp.
"It's definitely a good feeling, just seeing some hard work pay off," he said. "I'm up here trying to open some eyes and help the team win and show everybody all my tools. Hopefully, I'll keep moving up the ladder."
He has been moving fast. The Brewers acquired Haniger with the supplemental first-round Draft pick (38th overall in 2012) that they received for losing first baseman Prince Fielder to free agency. Haniger finished 2012 at Class A Wisconsin, then split 2013 between Wisconsin (where he batted .297 with a .399 on-base percentage) and Class A Advanced Brevard County before reporting to the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
He led the AFL with 24 RBIs and slugged a pair of grand slams, including one on the league's Opening Day. Haniger was named to the league's Top Prospects Team, and he ended the 2013 season at No. 12 on MLB.com's list of the top Brewers prospects (the new list will be released on March 20). Other publications have ranked Haniger higher heading into 2014: Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had Haniger at No. 3 on the Brewers' list.
He is one of three non-roster outfielders (with Kentrail Davis and Kevin Mattison) who earned invitations to Milwaukee's big league camp. Haniger opted to report on Feb. 13, about one week early.
"Some guys just get a bat and they feel great; I have to kind of work at it," he said. "I'm someone that, for the first couple of weeks, I need to get my feel back. In the offseason hitting in the cage, the weather's not always great, it's a little harder for me to get back in my groove. I feel like the earlier I can get out here, the faster I can get in it. That's what I focused on this year."
He played left field in the AFL and has manned center field (his natural position) and right field so far this spring.
"What I see so far, he looks like he's going to be a guy that can play every day [in the Major Leagues]," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "So if he's that guy, it's nice knowing that whatever your needs are and whatever position you would like to put him in that he can do it."
Roenicke has had his eye on Haniger since the 2012 Draft, when Roenicke's oldest son called with a positive scouting report. Lance Roenicke, who was also drafted by the Brewers that year, played collegiately at the University of California-Santa Barbara, a regular opponent of Haniger's Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Haniger had just been named Big West Conference Player of the Year after batting .346 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs in 56 games.
"Lance said he was really a great player," Ron Roenicke said.
So the Major League manager kept an eye on the Minor Leaguer's progress, and noted what appeared to be Haniger's advanced plate discipline. Haniger worked 25 walks against only 24 strikeouts at Wisconsin last season before his promotion to Brevard County.
Haniger prides himself on having a professional approach.
"I feel like in high school I was a really aggressive hitter, and in college, I started getting pitched to a lot more carefully because I was hitting in the middle of the order," he said. "I just learned to be really picky to what I want to hit and what I'm swinging at."
Said Roenicke: "The only bad at-bat he had [this spring] was that 3-0 pitch and he still got it through the infield for a base hit. Things are going well for him."
He could still be a ways away. Haniger batted .250 in 88 games at Brevard County last season and presumably will see Double-A Huntsville at some point in 2014. The Brewers have until after the 2015 season to add Haniger to the 40-man roster in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
So far, he is making the right impression.
"He's got a good look about him," Roenicke said. "He does."