This story was excerpted from Adam McCalvy’s Brewers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Triple-A hitting coach Al LeBoeuf is a baseball lifer, but what he loves most about the Brewers’ hottest-hitting prospect is that Sal Frelick is a hockey player at heart.
Frelick began the year at High-A Wisconsin and has a chance to finish in the big leagues thanks to a sensational first full season of pro baseball. The Brewers’ first-round Draft pick in 2021 out of Boston College entered Sunday with an .886 OPS between High-A, Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Nashville, including a .446/.520/.554 slash line since a promotion to the Brewers’ top farm club at the start of August, where LeBoeuf is his hitting coach.
“Here’s why it doesn’t surprise me,” LeBoeuf said via telephone last week while waiting out a rainstorm in Jacksonville, Fla. “This guy has tremendous bat-to-ball skills. This guy can foul pitches off all around the strike zone and live to see another. That’s a tremendous art to have.
“He’s got that hockey mentality. He played hockey, and hockey players are a different breed. They’re grinders, you know what I mean? Every time Sal steps into the batter’s box, it’s a competition with that pitcher. And it shows.”
With LeBoeuf, 62, there’s always a story, and this time he told the tale of another former hockey player. Matt Stairs, the story goes, never picked up a bat in the offseason. He played hockey instead, and turned into a 19-year Major Leaguer (including 2002 with the Brewers) who hit 265 big league home runs.
Prospect watchers have taken note of Frelick’s sensational season. He was surpassed by High-A outfielder Jackson Chourio as Milwaukee’s top-rated prospect, but Frelick is No. 2 in the Brewers' system, according to MLB Pipeline, and No. 49 on the overall Top 100.
Sal Frelick hasn’t missed a beat in Triple-A 🤩
10 (!!) multi-hit games in his first 17 Triple-A contests, while slashing .446/.520/.554#ThisIsMyCrew pic.twitter.com/SPngD3EYVh
The buzz around Frelick is amplified by the Brewers’ center-field situation in the big leagues. Lorenzo Cain was cut loose in June and Tyrone Taylor, while he plays a great center field and has a terrific attitude, has not produced big numbers at the plate. Nor has Jonathan Davis. Milwaukee looked at outfield bats at the Trade Deadline, but it balked at the price and didn’t make a deal.
So the Brewers will have to do with what they have in the system. If there’s a callup, the leading candidates would seem to be Frelick by virtue of his phenomenal play, or speedster Esteury Ruiz, one of the prospects acquired in the Josh Hader trade with San Diego. Both Frelick and Ruiz have center field in their defensive resumes.
Ruiz is on the 40-man roster, while Frelick is not.
Ruiz has briefly played in the big leagues, while Frelick has not.
But if club officials ask his opinion, LeBoeuf will tell them he thinks Frelick could handle yet another jump.
“Time is always good, you know what I mean? But I think Sal might be an exception,” LeBoeuf said. “He has that kind of bat-to-ball skill. There are nuances that he has to learn, like sitting on different pitches, and when he gets something, reacting. Figuring out how pitchers are trying to get him out. Stuff like that.
“But he’s adaptable. He retains information really well and he’s very, very competitive.”
Frelick was promoted to Nashville with a wave of other top prospects, including No. 3 Brewers prospect Joey Wiemer and No. 5 Garrett Mitchell. They joined No. 4 prospect Brice Turang, a shortstop who has been expanding his defensive repertoire to include center field, second base and third base in advance of a potential callup. Brewers manager Craig Counsell was asked about Turang over the weekend at Wrigley Field and said, “Absolutely, Brice is close to impacting this team.”
“I think it’s really good from an organizational standpoint to have all of these kids here,” LeBoeuf said. “When you watch other people have success, sometimes that’s the best formula.”
Here are some of LeBoeuf’s thoughts about those individual players:
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