MILWAUKEE — A simple question about Jean Segura on Friday elicited a 370-word response from Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.
That’s a pretty good indication of how excited Melvin is about the young shortstop’s development heading into the official start of the 2013 season.
As the Brewers get set to welcome the Colorado Rockies to Miller Park on Monday, Melvin appears confident the club is set at one of the most critical positions on the field for this Opening Day and many more to come.
“He’s probably even better than what we had thought when we made the deal,” Melvin said of Segura, one of three prospects acquired by the Brewers in a trade that sent pitcher Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels last July. “He’s probably gone beyond the expectations. ... I’m not sure that we really thought he’d be a big leaguer at this time.
“He’s got a great skill set. We’re pretty fortunate to have him. Some clubs are still looking for shortstops. We have a (23-year-old), a guy that we can build around.”
The soft-spoken Segura, a native of the Dominican Republic, was told about Melvin’s comments and smiled. He shrugged when asked if agrees with Melvin’s assessment — that he’s progressed quicker than expected — and then proceeded to lay out a plan of attack that sounds refreshingly simple.
“Have fun,” he said. “Play hard.”
Segura sat in the home dugout at Miller Park on Friday, a few hours before the Brewers’ exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox, and admitted he feels much more comfortable than he did when he arrived in Milwaukee last August.
The Brewers had recalled Segura from Class AA Huntsville on Aug. 6 — less than two weeks after acquiring him in the deal for Greinke just before the trade deadline — when Cesar Izturis was claimed off waivers by the Washington Nationals. It was time to see what Segura, who to that point had one game of major league experience, could do.
Segura got off to a slow start but ended up hitting .264 with 14 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 44 games with the Brewers.
“It’s way different now,” Segura said. “Especially at this level, you come here for the first time and you want to show a lot of things. And now I know a little bit more, what is the big league level, and I feel different now.”
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke believes it was important to get those first 148 at-bats under Segura’s belt.
“He’s already got big-league experience,” said Roenicke, who has produced a 179-145 record in two seasons with the Brewers. “If we were just to come into spring training this year and he was a guy either coming out of Double-A or Triple-A and saying, ‘It’s your job,’ that’s a lot of pressure on a player. If he doesn’t start out well, it could end up being a problem.
“So I think with the experience he’s had last year, especially offensively coming back at the end of the year swinging the bat well, the winter ball session, the spring training he’s had, this is a very confident kid right now and we’re hoping we can keep him that way.”
Segura won the batting title in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .324 (48-for-148) with two homers, 21 RBIs and 11 stolen bases while playing 35 games for Cibao.
He hit .362 with only four strikeouts in 58 at-bats in 20 spring training games, impressing Melvin and Roenicke with an ability to hit to all fields.
“He’s had a great spring training; he had a great winter ball,” Roenicke said. “I think he’s quite a bit better than he was last year offensively. Maybe (it’s) confidence; maybe just knowing that he’s going to be our everyday guy. Whatever the case, his at-bats are better.”
Roenicke also has been impressed by Segura’s defense.
“At 23, I expect there to be some mistakes,” Roenicke said. “But he’s high-energy, tremen dous ability, range will be great, the arm strength is incredible. He can do a lot of things.”
Reasons for optimism
Still, it’s important not to expect too much of Segura. Expectations need to be realistic for a player who has yet to play even a half-season above the Class AA level.
“I want to go out there and play hard, try to win ballgames,” Segura said. “At the end of the year, the numbers are going to be there. I don’t really care. Let’s play hard and try to win every ballgame that I play.”
Melvin believes the Brewers, who have a good mix of youth and experience, will win plenty of games this season.
Left fielder Ryan Braun remains the star of the organization, though there’s a Major League Baseball investigation hanging over his head as the season begins. If Braun gets suspended for his connection to performing-enhancing drugs, all bets are off; if he doesn’t, there are plenty of complementary pieces around him — third baseman Aramis Ramirez and second baseman Rickie Weeks, to name two — to make the Brewers’ offense potent once again.
The Brewers added some experience to the starting pitching staff by signing right-hander Kyle Lohse to a free agent deal earlier this week. Lohse and Opening Day starter Yovani Gallardo are proven winners who will be counted on to eat up innings.
Melvin cleaned house in the bullpen, which struggled mightily last season and was the biggest reason the Brewers fell short of a spot in the National League playoffs.
Two minutes, 15 seconds into his answer to that simple question about Segura, Melvin concluded this way:
“There’s talent here,” Melvin said. “Enough talent here to win.”