The Milwaukee Brewers boast one of the most dangerous slugging duos in today's game. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder form a team of fence-busters that can immediately change a game. They have enough power and bat control to turn a losing game into a winner with breathtaking speed. With Braun hitting ahead of Fielder, the huge first baseman gets good pitches to hit. Walk Braun and Fielder can inflict real pain. Pitchers get to pick their poison.
Braun or Fielder?
Often it's both.
Braun, 27, attended Granada Hills High School in Granada Hills, Calif. He had lofty batting averages as a baseball letterman. He even pitched for Granada Hills until his junior year. Braun had college offers from Stanford and Cal-Berkeley before he decided to attend the University of Miami, where he played shortstop for the Hurricanes on a partial academic scholarship. The combination of baseball, athletics and the social culture helped his college decision. As a coincidence, Alex Rodriguez, himself once a shortstop, used the Miami facilities to train. Braun consulted Rodriguez about making the conversion to third base, the position scouts had in mind for Braun to play as a professional.
Current Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik was with the Brewers in 2005 when Braun was drafted as a third baseman in the first round. He was later shifted to left field to eliminate defensive concerns. Braun has a career batting average of .312 over 4 3/4 seasons. Because of his power, his ability to hit to all fields, his knowledge of the game and his refined batting eye, he's easily one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
Braun is a particularly lethal fastball hitter. He is most dangerous against left-handed pitching.
The California-born Fielder is also 27. He has a career average of .281 over six-plus seasons. He's played quality first base for the Brewers since being selected seventh in the first round of the 2002 Draft. He was drafted as a high school player from Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla. He went to Florida Air Academy, a boarding school in Melbourne, prior to attending Eau Gallie.
Of course, Braun and Fielder are the direct opposites in body type. Fielder is built like a tree trunk and Braun looks like a telephone pole made from the tree. Both have 80 power on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Both have the ability to bring rain with the majesty of their home runs.
Both come to life at about 5 p.m. during batting practice and remain dangerous until the vendors close down the brat stands after the game.
Braun swings with little effort. His strength comes from his hands and wrists. The torque he obtains from his lower body is crucial to his success. His slight uppercut swing gives him the ability to drive the ball in the air with more frequency than hitting ground balls. Rather than hitting everything to his right-handed pull side, Braun has an outstanding ability to use the entire field. His swing can get long at times, but he quickly makes adjustments and shortens the length of his follow-through. It's his short, measured swing that generates the flight and direction of the ball. Braun's bat is straight up and down prior to the pitch. Then his hands move in unison with his stride, providing a fluid, compact swing.
The left-handed-hitting Fielder uses much more lower body in his swing than Braun. He has such huge and strong thighs, hips and legs that he takes advantage of that strength. That's not to say that Fielder doesn't use his upper body. He does. He has a good follow-through and he can take long fly balls or low line drives to left and left-center fields with relative ease. More often than not, his homers leave the park quickly, and there is usually no doubt they will clear the wall. Fielder's swing is more vicious than Braun's. But his bat speed is quick enough to handle most pitches and drive the ball.
Braun had an absolutely awesome rookie year in 2007, hitting .324/34/97 with 15 stolen bases. He followed that with a sophomore season of .285/37/106, including a home run total that remains a career high. However, the next two years, he hit 32 and 25, respectively. In his first year, he had only 451 at-bats. Whenever he's had at least 600 at-bats, Braun has hit at least 25 homers and driven in at least 100 runs. Consistency is what makes him so dangerous. And so special.
Braun is penciled in the Brewers' long-term plans for years to come. His contract will not expire until at least 2020.
Prince Fielder presents a tremendous bashing partner for Braun. Fielder, all 275 pounds of him, provides the Brewers with a much more agile, flexible and athletic first baseman than meets the eye. He can play his position well, using quick reflexes and good instincts to pick up ground balls and throw to the correct base. This season in particular, Fielder has demonstrated his defensive ability over and over. Fielder is proficient at anticipating situations and thinking "ahead of the play." While he plays solid defense, it's his booming bat that will carry Fielder to the pay window this offseason.
In the equivalent of roughly six seasons with Milwaukee, Fielder has smacked 223 home runs. He has knocked in 643 runs. He has averaged 37 home runs and 107 RBIs per 162 games. Those are amazing accomplishments.
Fielder has become an even more dangerous hitter this season by improving his approach against left-handed pitchers. When in the past, he may have been fooled by breaking balls from lefties, he has shortened his swing and is waiting longer on those pitches. He's also much more selective, swinging at pitches that are more agreeable. He still scuffles a bit with elevated fastballs from both right- and left-handed pitchers.
Fielder can be a free agent at the end of the season. He'll have a year of awesome statistical support entering negotiations. The Brewers will likely make every effort to retain his services. The only disadvantage for Fielder is supply and demand at his position. Teams may want him, but many clubs are under contract with their own high-quality first basemen. And unless he re-signs with St. Louis, Albert Pujols may also be available. It's important to point out that the Brewers' 2011 payroll is almost $7 million less than it was last season. Perhaps that will help them retain Fielder.
Braun and Fielder are so good that both are in the conversation as valid and worthy MVP candidates.
The Brewers must decide if they want to dedicate a huge amount of their payroll to only two players. But Braun and Fielder aren't just any two players. They may well be Mantle and Maris. Or Aaron and Mathews. Or better. Milwaukee fans will certainly take that. All the way to the playoffs. And perhaps beyond.
Bernie Pleskoff has been a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.