Kjeldgaard continues chase of MLB dream
* Brock Kjeldgaard, 28, a Canadian hurler-turned-slugger, is looking forward to his ninth season in pro ball. He’ll return to the Milwaukee Brewers’ system in 2014. ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
LONDON, Ont. — The scouting reports on Brock Kjeldgaard have tagged him as a ‘power-hitting former pitcher’ on numerous occasions throughout his eight seasons of professional baseball.
He took the mound for two years in the Pioneer League with the Helena Brewers before picking up a bat, so that’s true. And the London, Ont., native led the Double-A Southern League with 24 home runs last season, so there’s that too.
But in speaking about his strengths and weaknesses, power isn’t one of the traits Kjeldgaard prioritizes at the top of his list.
“Power is tough,” the 28-year-old said. “You can go a month without hitting a home run or something and then you can go a week and hit seven home runs. Obviously you want to put up home run numbers and doubles, but I feel like if you’re walking … you might not even walk, but if you’re seeing the ball, which results in walks, and you’re swinging at good pitches, that’s what you can control.
“That’s where I try to get to. If I have a game where I walk twice and I might get out twice, I consider it a good game because I’ve gotten on base and I might have worked a count. It’s all about thinking about the positives, in anything. It’s not an easy game though. Don’t let anybody fool you.”
It would be hard to fool any pro ballplayer into thinking the game is easy, and it certainly hasn’t been a smooth ride for Kjeldgaard. Seven years into his minor league hitting career, the outfielder and first baseman continues to seek ways to improve his game constantly.
“It’s been an adjustment over time, and I feel like I’ve gotten better,” Kjeldgaard said. “Obviously, I’ve moved up to higher levels. But it’s a daily battle like anything.
“There are days that I feel like I’m the best hitter in the world, and then there are days I feel like I’m the worst hitter in the world. But you’ve got to get out of that as quick as you can. That’s how it goes; it’s pretty much just a daily battle. You can’t get too down and you can’t be too confident.”
The Milwaukee Brewers are confident in their Canadian hurler-turned-slugger, and the organization reiterated that fact by re-signing Kjeldgaard to a minor-league deal for the 2014 season, after doing the same last year.
“It’s hard as a free agent,” Kjeldgaard said. “There’s not a whole lot out there. We had talked at the end of the year, so I got in contact with [the Brewers] right before I actually signed. They said they would invite me back and we went from there.”
Milwaukee has shown varying degrees of confidence in Kjeldgaard over his tenure with the organization, from giving him a second chance as a hitter, to adding him to the 40-man roster in order to protect him from being taken in the Rule 5 Draft, to sending him to the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League, to taking him off the 40-man, and in extending him two free agent contracts.
The Brewers are the only organization Kjeldgaard has ever known, and he was excited to get the chance to stay with them, despite not knowing exactly what his role would be.
“Until a couple days before I actually signed, you just don’t know,” he said. “There were a couple teams that showed interest. It’s hard now because I feel like as you get older there are a lot more younger guys in the game in Double-A and Triple-A, whereas a couple of years ago they would have the older guys stick around and play.
“Now they want to keep pushing these younger guys and there aren’t as many jobs available so sometimes it’s hard to get a job. There was some interest; a lot of teams were saying they liked me, but there’s no [action]. But I also think the Brewers are the best spot for me because I’ve been there and I’m familiar with them; they’re familiar with me.”
Kjeldgaard believes that remaining with the familiar organization could help place him in the best of circumstances, which is something he had his sights set on.
“It’s all about the opportunity,” he said. “I was open-minded. It was whoever was going to give me the best opportunity to make the big leagues. I thought signing back with them would be the best chance with knowing them and them having an idea of who I am.
“You can go in with a [new] team and have one bad week of spring training and they can [release you]. It’s hard to go in but that wasn’t a concern. And anywhere you go, you’ve got to play well and you’ve got to earn your spot.”
While Kjeldgaard did not receive an invitation to the big league side of spring training with the Brewers, and there are no guarantees whether or not he’ll start the year with Triple-A Nashville, there’s a higher probability that the organization that knows him best will give him the best chance to play.
“That was one thing,” Kjeldgaard said. “You hope you have a chance to go to Triple-A, and that’s where I want to be obviously, but I want to be playing too. So I’d rather be going somewhere where I know I have a better chance to play, and that all factors in …
“Also, when you’re signing it’s hard because they want to sign guys with major league time and those are the guys who will go to major league camp. Then it goes to Triple-A time and I don’t have any of that yet. I’ve been in Double-A. I haven’t had the opportunity to go there yet so that kind of hurts you too.”
Kjeldgaard has seen many others come and go from the organization; many teammates move up and down the ladder as he has. He is aware when new players are signed, and everyone hears about waiver claims and injuries regularly.
He’s had three seasons at High-A and three at Double-A, and no matter where he is, there is always one time of year that he looks forward to the most – when other guys get tired; when they’re a little less hungry; when the thirst for the game fades ever so slightly.
“I’ve had the desire since I was a youngster,” Kjeldgaard said. “It’s just that push. My favorite time of year is when you get into June and July and guys start wearing down. Then you can see who wants it. Pitchers wear down. If you’re well-conditioned and you’re mentally there, you have the edge on them.
“So that’s my favorite time, even though it’s the dog days of summer, but it also shows who’s ready to do that and who wants it. Everything pushes you. Obviously you want to get [to the big leagues].
“A couple years ago I kind of got a sniff of it when I was on the [40-man] roster and I got to go to spring training. Unfortunately I had two broken bones that year, so it didn’t really help my case but there was nothing I could do about that – they were kind of freak accidents.”
In 2012, Kjeldgaard was set back during the season after breaking his thumb on an attempt to break up a double play while sliding into second base. He worked his way back and the Brewers sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get some more playing time in when the regular season ended.
In seven AFL games that autumn, Kjeldgaard was 10-for-26 with four home runs and nine runs driven in. That was before he fouled a ball off his foot, breaking it and ending his season.
“The broken foot was at the end of the year, but the broken thumb was tough because I missed 2 1/2-to-3 months,” he said. “Then the first month you’re back is kind of a wash because you’ve been out of the game for so long and everybody’s in their prime at that time. It was tough.”
With his pitching days in the distant past, Kjeldgaard is accustomed to playing every day. It’s when he’s at his best.
“When you’re a pitcher, you sit out maybe five or six days in a row, or you might get in there back-to-back days out of the bullpen, but when you’re a position player you go to the park every day,” he said. “Even if you’re not in the lineup you can get in the game. That’s the best part about being a position player.
“That’s why when I got hurt it sucked so much – you’re used to being out there, and then you’re watching everybody play and you’re sitting there. You see people go through it, and I was lucky enough that I went so many years without having an injury, but you don’t really understand it until it happens.”
The Team Canada alumnus has been working on some different things this off-season in order to prepare for another long year. But at this point he’s been through it enough that he’s learned how to work hard and take it easy at the same time.
“You’re going hard doing stuff but you’re also not overdoing it so that you can get through a full season,” Kjeldgaard said. “Because that, where you’re still strong enough to get through a whole season and you don’t break down, is probably the biggest thing in baseball I would think, for a professional player.”
The newlywed, who tied the knot to long-time love Ashley in November, is looking forward to staying strong for a big season this year. With eight minor league seasons under his belt, he is looking to finally prove that he’s the player the Brewers continue to invest in.
Though incredibly difficult, continuing to grind it out on the farm is a little bit easier for Kjeldgaard than some others. He’s helped and inspired by the fact that he’s seen many friends and fellow countrymen do the same before finally getting their well-deserved big league opportunities. They prove that it can happen anytime, in any situation.
“My first year I was with Taylor Green and we became pretty good friends,” Kjeldgaard said. “It was exciting when he got called up to the big leagues but you could kind of see it coming. And then Jim [Henderson], I played with him for a few years and obviously you could see that coming a little bit but you still didn’t expect it to happen.
“But then when it did happen it was funny because I was in Brevard County – it was after I broke my thumb so I went down there [to High-A] and I was playing there for a month before I went back up to Double-A.
“I got a text or a phone call or something and I’m in the back of the bus going to celebrate and tell everybody on the team, and then I realized, all these guys are way younger and they have no idea who he is. So I was sitting back there excited and there were like one or two guys who knew who he was. It’s interesting. It’s pretty cool to watch. Like when Chris [Robinson] got called up, you’re just excited for the guys.”
Those stories bring comfort to grinders who continue to await their own opportunities.
“For sure,” Kjeldgaard said. “Those guys aren’t guys who have just walked up to the big leagues. You look at Jim and Jim is a great example because not only did he just make it to the big leagues, he’s become a closer in the big leagues and he’s put himself on the map where he can be there for a long time.
“That’s the goal, obviously, is when you get there to stay there; that’s the hardest part, right? So for him, after he spent 10 years [in the minors], that story is pretty cool to me. It’s exciting stuff.”