Prospect Nelson Fights for Roster Spot
PHOENIX (AP) -- Another hefty left-handed hitter is looking for a role with the Brewers.
While Prince Fielder has established himself as Milwaukee's slugging first baseman with a two-year, $18 million contract signed in the offseason, the son of an Iowa farmer wants to back him up.
Brad Nelson, a fourth-round pick by the Brewers in 2001, is competing for one of the last spots on Milwaukee's bench this spring after getting a September callup last year.
"I didn't understand what a Midwesterner was until finally I got into pro ball and started meeting other people," Nelson said. "I hadn't been out of Iowa too often."
Nelson, from Algona, Iowa, says his father, Doug, pushed him away from the corn and soybean fields to baseball, often telling him not to settle for farm life.
The quiet 266-pound hitter is trying to catch on in a way that seems unlikely given his star prospect status when he was drafted. He's seeking to be the primary backup for Fielder, left fielder Ryan Braun and right fielder Corey Hart. All three are former All-Stars.
"Prince, Hart and Braun," Nelson said. "Even if you don't know baseball, you probably know those names. Trying to back them up, that's the job I'm hoping for and going with and even if they only get a couple days off here and there, three different people adds up to some playing time."
Nelson, who has only nine games in the majors and seven at-bats, hit .286 with 18 homers and 78 RBIs last season in Triple-A Nashville. Injuries had temporarily derailed his career after he was named the organization's minor league player of the year in 2002.
In 2004, he hit 19 homers, but struck out 146 times, the most in the Southern League in Double-A Huntsville. But Fielder, drafted in 2002, jumped him in the organization in 2004 with 23 homers with the Stars.
Nelson, who languished in the minors, said learning to play outfield will benefit him in the long run.
"Backing P, he's the fastest to 50," he said. "I'm not going to beat that out, but I've enjoyed it big time because it gives me another opportunity and I'm comfortable."
He also has had to teach teammates a little bit about Iowa.
"When you've got to tell a teammate where it is, it's like come on, you're playing for the Milwaukee Brewers. It's right next to Wisconsin. Let's go," Nelson said.
But the 26-year-old Nelson, who is out of minor league options, will likely have to move to another team if he doesn't make the bench behind Fielder.
"If you look at my whole story, really good out of the gate, kind of hurt, struggled with the numbers and different stuff. Once you get humbled, you better start enjoying what you're doing or else it'll be over," Nelson said. "All I can worry about is what I can do and hopefully that's good enough because if you give yourself at least a chance, what else can you do? Somebody else makes the decision. I want them to make a decision rather than just have it be, 'He didn't perform, he made an easy decision for us."'
So far, Nelson has shown he wants to make that decision tough. He had a .391 average in 46 at-bats heading into Thursday's play with two homers and 12 RBIs in spring training. He's also walked nine times compared to six strikeouts, showing plate discipline the Brewers desperately need.
"I don't want to be that guy that's known as a good Triple-A ballplayer, a good minor league player, good to have as insurance just in case somebody got hurt or whatever. You get to the point where it's like we need him on the team to make this team better," Nelson said. "I know I've only been in the majors for under a month, but I'm looking to add to that."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)