A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Brewers Prospect Weeks Has The Right Moves
PHOENIX— Is that Gary Sheffield in the batting cage, back again in Brewers blue?
Not quite. But the Brewers’ current top prospect unveiled a new batting stance this spring that harkens back to Sheffield, one of the franchise’s former young studs.
Rickie Weeks, a 22-year-old second baseman who spent last season at Double-A Huntsville, unveiled his new approach during the last month of 2004. Picture Sheffield, who waggles his lumber menacingly before striding into the baseball.
“I just wanted to have more of a rhythm out there,” Weeks said. “I think I was too quiet at the plate. Sometimes when you’re too quiet, you don’t have that rhythm and timing that most people have. I’m working on improving that.”
By his high standards, Weeks struggled after making the jump to the Southern League last season and was looking for something different. Adding movement was a strange approach, since most hitting coaches spend their afternoons trying to convince players to limit extraneous ticks. Now, Weeks has anything but “quiet” hands.
But he first tinkered with the waggle — a return to his Little League stroke — in a batting cage in Huntsville and liked the way it felt. The initial reaction was not exactly positive.
“I thought he was crazy,” said Weeks’ best friend, Prince Fielder, another top Brewers prospect. “But he’s got such quick hands that he can do anything. He’s pretty gifted that way.”
“Guys definitely thought I was crazy,” Weeks said. “I don’t think anyone knew what I was doing. But I had to try something. I needed more movement in my swing. I’m still trying to smooth it out, but so far I’m feeling pretty good.”
Weeks has the Brewers feeling pretty good, too. Milwaukee made the Southern University star its first-round draft pick in 2003, No. 2 overall behind high school stud Delmon Young. Weeks batted .473 in his career at Southern, an NCAA Division I record, and in his senior season he won the prestigious Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur player in the U.S.
These days, Weeks wears black spikes. Patent-leather spikes that look just as suited for a club in Scottsdale, Ariz., as the dirt around second base. Weeks is one of a handful of minor leaguers with his own shoe contract with a company called 3N2, and he also has endorsement contracts with Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck, Franklin and Wilson. He has his own website, www.rickieweeksjr.com.
But he is not exactly “big league.” In the clubhouse and in the field he quietly goes about his business. He’s got more of the quiet confidence of Robin Yount than the brash style of Sheffield in the pantheon of young Brewers prospects.
“I know more people now, and I’ve got guys around who I played with last year, so, yeah, I’m more comfortable,” Weeks said.
Having Fielder around certainly helps. Fielder was the team’s top draft pick in 2002, and when Weeks arrived, the duo quickly became the closest to conjoined twins as exists in baseball. During the offseason, Weeks moved to Orlando to train with Fielder, new Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, Reds infielder Felipe Lopez (a former high school teammate of Weeks), and Orioles outfielder Tim “Little Rock” Raines Jr.
“I don’t think we’re too competitive, but, with anyone, if they’re doing good you want to do good too,” Fielder said. “We try to play off each other that way because we want the best for each other.”
After finishing the regular season with a rather pedestrian .259 average, eight home runs and 42 RBIs, Weeks blew up in the Arizona Fall League. He batted .382 in 22 AFL games with six home runs and 21 RBIs and was named the league’s second-best prospect by Baseball America (behind the Devil Rays’ Young).
“It was like a big boost for me, because towards the end of the [regular] season I didn’t finish out well,” Weeks said. “Now I want to keep this going a little bit. I want to go in there and try to prove myself, make myself a more complete season.”
He termed his first season at Double-A a roller coaster. Was it tougher than he expected?
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Weeks said. “Of course, you want to do good and set records and stuff like that. But a lot of times that doesn’t happen. You just have to hold your own and try to do better. Sometimes you have your ups and downs but you try to come out on one of the ups. I think I learned from that and hopefully I can build from there.”
Weeks is poised for a promotion, along with Fielder, to the Brewers’ new Triple-A affiliate in Nashville. First, he is trying to make an impression on Brewers manager Ned Yost in big league camp.
The Brewers are counting on Junior Spivey to play second base this season, but Weeks is not far behind.
With Weeks often playing alongside shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is expected to break into the bigs this season, the Brewers are getting a glimpse of their future double-play combination.
“Like J.J., Rickie’s got it,” Yost said. “It’s not like he’s a raw-boned rookie who needs help or guidance.