By Aaron Cheris
Just making it to the Major Leagues is a tremendous accomplishment for any ballplayer and it is the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice. On the other hand, staying in the big leagues and being successful will require just as much, if not more, dedication, determination and work.
Early in the 2016 season, Colorado Springs Sky Sox shortstop Orlando Arcia was touted as the number one prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers organization by many top publications and baseball experts. With the Sky Sox, Arcia got off to a hot start while living up to his considerable hype. Matching expectations in the minors was fine, but the ultimate goal was still yet to be attained.
“He’s one of, I would say, the top 10 players I’ve had in my career at this stage, Sky Sox manager Rick Sweet said of Arcia back in May. “He’s still got to go to the big leagues to prove it, but he will prove it.”
On August 2, Arcia got his first career call-up to the Brewers, and he’s been playing in Milwaukee since that point.
He’s not the only one. Of the 35 active players currently on the Brewers’ roster, 22 played in Colorado Springs at some point during the 2016 season.
For some, the lessons they learned in Colorado Springs have been invaluable towards success in the Major Leagues.
“Down there, I learned how to stay consistent, how to be productive every day and learn a good routine while I was down there that helped me out up here,” outfielder Keon Broxton said. “That, and just working on every aspect of my game.”
Broxton was optioned to Colorado Springs three times during the 2016 season, and he found his groove in his most recent stint with the Brewers. In 75 games with Milwaukee, Broxton has homered nine times and stolen 23 bases to rank third on the team in that category after stealing 18 for the Sky Sox.
“The main difference was my confidence level,” Broxton said. “I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable here now than I have in the past.”
While Broxton has been up and down multiple times throughout the season, other players have gotten the promotion to Milwaukee and never looked back.
Relief pitcher Jacob Barnes was one of the first recalled to the Brewers on June 2 after posting a stellar 1.21 ERA in 22.1 innings with Colorado Springs. He has been in the big leagues ever since, and he hasn’t looked back. In 21.0 innings pitched for the Brewers, Barnes has posed a 3.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts as of September 19.
For Barnes, pitching in Colorado Springs was an important stepping-stone on the road to the big leagues.
“It does challenge you. It makes you learn how to pitch and mix in the right spots,” Barnes said. “There’s definitely some benefits of pitching there and things that I saw that I adjusted to. It was a good experience.”
Southpaw Brent Suter agrees with his teammate’s observation.
In Colorado Springs, Suter said he learned to, “Trust my strengths and trust my stuff a little more.”
That strategy led Suter to a 3.50 ERA in 110.2 innings pitched before his promotion to the Brewers on August 19. After allowing four runs in his Major League debut in Seattle, Suter hasn’t allowed a run over his last eight relief appearances. He credits the recent success to being fresh and learning a big league routine.
“Out of the ‘pen, I’ve been able to keep guys off balance with the movement of my fastball and locating off-speed pitches a little better,” Suter said. “Everyday I’m getting a little more confident and comfortable.”
Arcia feels the same way. After batting just .189 in his first month in the big leagues, he has made some changes and is currently batting .254 during the month of September.
“You have to be able to make quick adjustments because [the pitcher] is making quick adjustments on you so you have to be able to do the same,” Arcia said through a translator. “You just need to keep working, keep working hard with the coach, find a way to recognize the pitches better and try to make contact and stick around.”
The competition in the big leagues is always tough on players, but embracing the challenge could help make a player successful.
“You play this game to compete and this is the best of the best so just being able to face the best hitters that there is to offer and trying to prove yourself constantly is the best part of it,” Barnes said. “You constantly are getting pushed and challenged.”
“In the end it’s just playing in the big leagues, it’s against the best of the best,” Arcia said. “You just need to keep working to get better and find a way to stay up here.”
But, life in the big leagues isn’t all about the competition, as the players are quick to point out.
“There are so many things I like about it,” Broxton said. “The food is better, our uniforms are better, and each ballpark and city we go to is amazing. The travel, we go straight to the plane, it’s awesome.”
“The travel is so easy and first class, I really enjoy the plane flights,” Suter said. “My family has been able to come a lot, I’m just enjoying the atmosphere.”
With all the positives, the Brewers who spent time in Colorado Springs may be missing one part of their former Minor League life.
“We don’t have nearly the Dubsmash game here that we had with Dillard and the guys,” Suter said.
That may soon change, as the Brewers recently announced that pitcher Tim Dillard was promoted to the Brewers social media team as the #BrewersLastCallUp.
For now, the Brewers will look to end the season on a high note with the Sky Sox call-ups will seeks strong finishes in hopes of staying in the big leagues in 2017.