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A Retrospective

A Retrospective

Prince Fielder shocked the baseball world on Tuesday afternoon by signing a nine year deal with the Detroit Tigers. He and Scott Boras wisely waited out the free agent market, biding their time until one team stepped up to the plate in desperation and overpaid. The season ending injury to Victor Martinez proved the impetus for Detroit to be that one team and ultimately offered a contract that Prince simply could not refuse.

This article is not meant to discuss the ramifications of Prince Fielder heading east to Detroit. Our own Ryan Topp already did that in this article. Instead, this article seeks to look back at the past nine or ten years and reflect upon one of the greatest players to don a Milwaukee Brewers jersey.

When the Brewers first drafted Fielder 7 overall in the 2002 MLB Draft, it was largely thought to be a questionable pick. Brewers’ scouting director Jack Zduriencik saw a special bat a bat that would play at any position and at any level while other organizations and scouts saw a young kid with significant weight problems and a future home as nothing but a DH.

After joining the organization, he was a tremendous talent in the minor leagues and put together one of the best seasons the Midwest League has seen in quite some time. In 2003, Fielder hit .313/.409/.526 with 27 home runs for the Beloit Snappers. While many still reported that he was nothing more than a future DH, the young man began taking better care of himself physically. His weight started to drop, and he gained much more jerseys

The next few years saw him steadily cruise through the Brewers’ minor league system. Fans started to sense that he had the chance to be a special player and help be part of the core that would turn the organization into a winner.

Coming into the 2005 season, Prince Fielder was on the cusp of the big leagues. The hype was off the charts. Baseball America ranked him as the 15th best prospect in all of baseball (which, in retrospect, now seems low), and fans could simply not wait for the young man to make his Brewers’ debut.

On June 13 against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Brewers fans got their first glimpse of Prince Fielder in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform, albeit as a designated hitter during interleague play. The 21 year old went 0 for 4 in his debut. Two days later, though, Fielder got his second big league start. He smashed a couple of doubles and drove in his first big league run, certainly a harbinger for things to come throughout his later Brewers’ career.

His official rookie season was in 2006. The 22 year old slugger hit .271/.347/.831 with 28 home runs. He finished a surprising seventh in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, which was won by Hanley Ramirez. In fact, Fielder did not earn a single first place vote in the NL ROY voting, despite hitting more home runs than any other rookie in the National League.

The 2007 season is when Prince Fielder truly emerged as a superstar at the big league level. He blasted a NL best 50 home runs that season and compiled an impressive +5.1 WAR. It was perhaps the defining moment of his career as a player. He transformed himself from a much hyped prospect into a bona fide cornerstone of the organization and a mainstay in the middle of the batting order. Prince Fielder jerseys started to saturate the state of Wisconsin, and in some ways, he personified the burgeoning excitement and rising expectations of the Brewers’ fan base.

Since that ’07 season, Fielder has continued to be one of the premier power hitters in all of baseball. He has five consecutive seasons of at least 32 home runs and has never posted an ISO below .200 (which is considered plus power) in his career, aside from his brief cup of coffee in 2005. That special ability to simply mash the baseball and yet be a well rounded hitter is what netted him a $200M+ contract with the Detroit Tigers this winter.

Only Robin Yount has hit more home runs (251) in a Brewers uniform than Prince Fielder’s 230 home runs, but that is obviously misleading, as Yount has 8,000 more plate appearances than Fielder as a Brewers hitter. Those numbers and his value to the organization as a whole should make Fielder all but guaranteed to eventually be inducted into the Brewers’ Walk of Fame.

Prince Fielder is only 27 years old. He has plenty of years left in his major league playing career, but more than likely, none of those remaining seasons will be back in Milwaukee. And although Brewers fans have had a couple of years to accept his impending departure, it remains tough to swallow. It is never an easy situation to accept when your favorite franchise has no chance to retain one of its best players ever, especially entering the prime of his baseball career.

Doug Melvin put it very well yesterday. The St. Louis Cardinals lost Albert Pujols when he was 32 years old and entering the twilight of his career. The Milwaukee Brewers lost Prince Fielder when he was 27 years old and entering the prime of his career.

That’s always difficult to accept, but that’s how baseball has always been. Some organizations cannot afford the elite players. The idea that this is a new problem is laughable. Though, instead of griping about the economics of baseball and the inability of some teams to retain franchise players, Brewers fans should remember Prince Fielder for what he did on the baseball field, because almost all of it was pretty special.

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Nicholas Zettel is a Milwaukee native. He’s interested in power/speed players, change up pitchers, and players of the 50s, 60s, 70s who pioneered the steroids movement and got away with it.

Steve Garczynski is a Madison native now living in the Milwaukee area. He is a Brewers season ticket holder and also enjoys beer and the Grateful Dead. All opinions are subject to change.

Ryan Topp is a native of Middleton, a 5 year season ticketholder and has been blogging on the Brewers since 2008. He just happy to be here and hopes he can help the blog.

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