Throughout the cold winter months at Miller Park, three Brewers’ minor leaguers with Wisconsin roots come together and work out together and have formed a bond much larger than calling the Dairy State home.
Brevard County right-hander Chad Pierce, 26, of Fond du Lac serves as the elder statesman of the three.
While all three crossed paths prior to playing for their home state team, all of them had different journeys to make it to professional ranks.
Josh Uhen, Arizona Brewers
It was a “dream come true” for Uhen when Milwaukee selected him with the fifth round pick in the 2013 Draft.
Based on where he was two years prior, it was more of a miracle after he underwent Ulner Collateral Ligament reconstruction surgery in 2011 and missed 12 months of action with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“It’s great. I grew up a Brewers fan, I grew up a Packers fan, I grew up a Bucks fan,” Uhen said. “Playing for one of my home state teams means a lot. When I got the call from them it did not seem real. It took awhile for it to set in.”
Uhen crossed paths with Markson in 2012 when both were members of the Northwoods League team Lakeshore Chinooks in Mequon, Wis.
“It was my first real taste of some really solid college ball because I didn’t really get a chance” Uhen said. “Before that I had the elbow surgery.”
The 6’4” right-handed pitcher rebounded during the later portion of his first professional season with the Arizona Brewers where he lost six of his ten initial appearances.
“It had a lot to do with getting some repetitions. I had a hard time getting some innings in and repetitions throughout my college career,” Uhen said. “Once I got out there and had the coaches helped.”
Uhen found his groove during his final four appearances where he allowed just two earned runs through a stretch of 13.2 innings and walked just four batters. He also notched 12 strikeouts during the home stretch of the season.
Markson remains optimistic about his fellow Chinooks’ teammate as he climbs through the Brewers’ organization.
“I have known Josh for a few years and he is a good friend of mine and he is a good guy and great baseball player,” Markson said. “He has a pretty high ceiling and the Brewers think very highly of him.”
“I am excited to get into a full season here of professional baseball,” Uhen stated as he looks into 2014.
Charlie Markson, Helena Brewers
Markson experienced a new sense of faith and love of baseball with the Helena Brewers in 2013 after a high pressure senior season at the University of Notre Dame.
The Whitefish Bay native stated he was relieved when Milwaukee announced him as the team’s 38th round selection in 2013.
“After my senior year I would have been excited to be given a chance by anybody and it was the Brewers and it made it much more cool,” Markson said. “I was just happy to play somewhere at the professional level.”
Markson’s batted a career low .209 with three doubles and 21 RBI his final season with the Irish after a successful junior season where he produced a .303 batting average and .390 On Base Percentage.
“I cannot really put my finger on anything that went wrong but I just know that I put too much pressure on myself to succeed and to get drafted,” Markson said. “It just kind of spiraled out of control. It was a mentally frustrating season for me.”
The outfielder credited Helena’s hitting coach Chuckie Caufield for putting him back on the right track.
“I contribute my success this year to Chuckie,” Markson said. “He makes it simple and makes it easy to understand and relatable because he just got out of playing baseball so he understands the coaching aspect, he understands the playing aspect.”
Markson responded considerably to Caufield’s guidance with a .288 batting average and .377 OBP in his initial season. He also scored 35 runs and collected 12 doubles in 46 games in the Pioneer League.
“He is a great medium between players and coaches,” Markson said. “He just made it fun again. I was looking at baseball as more of a job and with Helena I got a fresh start.”
It also gave him a new geographical experience playing in the Rocky Mountains for the first time in his life.
“I thought it was a great experience because I have played all across the country but that was one area where I never been to,” Markson said.
Chad Pierce, Brevard County Manatees
Pierce was drafted with the 38th round selection in the 2011 draft from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he first met Uhen as a freshman of a developing Panthers’ program.
The 26-year-old shouldered significant responsibility for an injury-riddled Manatees’ rotation where first-round selection Jed Bradley was lost for the season and other pitchers missed starts.
“When players get hurt, you got to step up and help out and get out there and get in as many innings as possible so your bullpen doesn’t get worn out,” Pierce said.
Pierce responded by accruing second-most innings on the Manatees with 108.2 and allowed just 52 walks and struck out 106 Florida State League hitters in 2013.
“I felt that it was a very positive season, aside from a couple of bad outings I continued pitching throughout the rest of the year,” Pierce said.
Pierce produced his best outing of the year in his final appearance of the season August 31 where he struck out eight batters and allowed one earned run in six innings.
However, Pierce endured a tough initial season with Pioneer League Helena in 2011 where he allowed 50 hits and 29 earned runs through 39.1 innings.
He was able to bounce back with a better sophomore season within the organization as a member of the Single A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers notching 115 strikeouts and allowing 41 walks through 124.2 innings.
The right-hander told Brewers Farm Report he has been impressed by Uhen’s progression since he saw him as a freshman and is just getting to know Markson during his workout experience at Miller Park.
When Pierce was asked about how he reacted to being drafted by his home state team, he stated he never could believe he’d be “part of an organization” he grew up watching.
Fellow Wisconsinite Charlie Markson sees Pierce as a player to look up to as the person with the most experience.
“When I first met Chad I knew he’d fit in great with us,” Markson said. “He knew (Uhen) from college. It’s kind of nice to have someone there that has been with the organization for a few years.”
“When (Uhen) and I have questions, (Pierce) is always willing to answer them. He is really helpful during those workouts and he kind of shows us how to function in the off season,” Markson added.
Making a successful jump to Double A from High A is “what separates the men from the boys” – and left-hander Brent Suter could ultimately be tested in 2014.
The Brewers’ 31st round pick in the 2012 Draft was recently among Milwaukee’s Organizational All-Stars.
The lanky Harvard graduate has demonstrated the ability to succeed at every level since making his professional debut with Pioneer League Helena in 2012.
Suter made an immediate impact in the Rocky Mountain environment of Montana striking out 42 batters and walking just eight in 43.2 innings for the Rookie League Brewers.
Additionally, he managed to keep his ERA below 4.00 in a league notorious for a high amount of runs per game.
Milwaukee opted to promote Suter to Single A Wisconsin at the tail end his first season and responded with eight strikeouts and three walks in 8.2 innings pitched for the Timber Rattlers.
Manatees’ teammate Tyler Cravy told Brewers Farm Report in August the 6’5” Suter fearlessly goes after hitters.
Suter started just three games for Single A Wisconsin in 2013 allowing three earned runs in 15 innings to give him a 1.80 ERA. He also struck out 15 batters and allowed just three walks in his three appearances before earning a rapid promotion to High A Brevard County.
Milwaukee’s Director of Player Development Reid Nichols had high regard for the Ivy League Pitcher and Cincinnati native.
“Brent Suter is a very smart pitcher,” Nichols said. “He knows how to read hitters and works the plate front to back.”
Suter had a scorching start to his Manatees career by winning seven of his first 11 starts including his first career complete game June 28 at Clearwater.
The Manatees needed all nine innings of Suter in the narrow 2-1 victory against the Threshers and the left-hander eventually claimed Florida State League’s Player of the Week July 1.
In the ensuing hot streak, he succumbed to a tough loss where he struck out 11 batters in seven innings but made one
mistake – allowing a solo blast to Dunedin’s Andy Burns in the fourth inning.
Brevard County could only muster two hits and were shutout 1-0 against an equally tough Austin Bibens-Drikx, who struck out ten batters in seven innings.
Suter produced a stellar strikeout-walk ratio during the initial 11 games with 51 strikeouts compared to 15 walks in 69.1 innings.
However, Suter was not the same pitcher after his complete game victory and went winless the remaining ten games for Brevard County.
Suter’s downturn during the later portion can be partially attributed to compiling a career high 139 total innings between Wisconsin and Brevard County, almost three times the amount of work he received in his first professional season.
Additionally, he led the Manatees with 124 innings pitched compared to second place finisher Chad Pierce who logged 108.2 innings.
Brevard County’s pitching staff was gutted due to a myriad of injuries and promotions to Double A Huntsville including David Goforth, Brooks Hall, Drew Gagnon and Kevin Shackleford.
Consequently, Suter and fellow starters Jacob Barnes and Pierce needed to shoulder a substantial workload.
However, he should be able to straighten out after an offseason of rest and likely additional workouts.