Go ahead, aim big. That's what Ryan Braun did.
The University of Miami's Braun worked through the transition from shortstop to third base with A-Rod, the Miami resident and the New York Yankee who made the same move prior to the 2003 season. The tutorial paid off on Tuesday, when the Brewers selected Braun with the fifth overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
The Brewers believe they grabbed the most talented player available and simultaneously filled an organizational need by adding a top-notch third baseman.
"I'm thrilled," Braun said after practicing with his Miami Hurricanes teammates, who are preparing for this weekend's NCAA Super Regionals. "I obviously understand that there is a chance for me to advance through the system pretty quickly as a third baseman. I am just excited about the opportunity to work hard."
The 21-year-old can hit, he can run and he can play a number of different positions. He was at Miami on a partial academic scholarship, so he can think as well. And he is closer to the Majors than any high-ceiling high schooler the Brewers may have coveted.
"We feel we got a very good athlete, a very good player," Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik (zur-EN-sik) said minutes after the first round. "And he also plays a position that is a difficult position to fill at any level. If you look at our Minor League system, he fits in nicely, again, as a need, but he was selected for his ability more than anything else."
Translation: We need third basemen. We think we got a good one in Braun.
"We think he fits in very nicely with what we're trying to do," Zduriencik said.
Braun was one of three collegiate third basemen selected within the first five picks on Tuesday, and he is just the second collegiate player drafted in the first round by Zduriencik. Besides Southern University second baseman Rickie Weeks, a no-brainer at No. 2 overall in 2003, Zduriencik's other first-rounders were all high-potential, long-term projects out of high school: outfielder Dave Krynzel (2000), right-hander Mike Jones (2001), first baseman Prince Fielder (2002) and right-hander Mark Rogers (2004).
The Brewers have had an eye on Braun since his days as a shortstop at Granada Hills (Calif.) High School. He suffered a strained muscle near his right ribcage that limited his appearance in the Cape Cod League last summer, but Braun is now "100 percent healthy and ready to go," Zduriencik said. He converted from shortstop to third base before this, his junior season at Miami, because "they felt it made their club better. They didn't have a third baseman," Zduriencik said.
Position: 3B B/T: R/R
H: 6'2" W: 200
Born: 1983-11-17 Class: 4YR
Medium build. Athletic frame. Round shoulders. Body similar to Aaron Boone. Aggressive hitter, hits to all fields. Quick bat. Makes adjustments at plate. Power to all fields. Runs well, long strides. Avg arm strength. Makes plays in field. Solid 5-tool player.
With the draft looming for Braun and a chance to realize his Major League dreams, there was a bit of risk involved.
"I just felt that if I went out there and worked hard, people understood that I was making the transition," he said. "I also feel like I definitely improved throughout the course of the year, which is something, in my opinion, that probably helped me."
According to Zduriencik, it did.
"We were real excited the past several weeks on how well he's made the transition," Zduriencik said. "The switch from short to third is not an easy transition. He's a kid who was a freshman All-American at shortstop, he's made the switch to third base and we think he's made a nice switch there."
Rodriguez helped. Braun said he had a number of conversations with the 29-year-old superstar, who made the move after a trade took him to New York in 2003. Braun said he has had three or four meetings with Rodriguez, who uses the University of Miami facilities during the offseason.
"He's been able to give me some helpful hints and pointers to help me out," said Braun, on everything to adjusting to new angles to fielding bunts.
"He basically told me everything he went through, and it was a difficult transition for him, too," Braun said. "He understood what I was going through. That's been able to help me."
Braun's home run on Sunday led the Hurricanes to the NCAA College Super Regionals, a three-game series against the University of Nebraska that begins Friday. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Braun is hitting .396 (84-for-212) for the Hurricanes and leads his team with 75 RBIs and 18 home runs. He is one of five finalists for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award, which Weeks won in 2003.
"As soon as he is finished playing, then we will begin negotiations to try to make sure that the sooner the better he becomes a Milwaukee Brewer," Zduriencik said.
Braun said he hopes negotiations begin the day after his season ends.
"I definitely want to get out there as quickly as I can," Braun said. "I understand that the quicker I'm able to sign, the quicker I'm able to get out there."
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash, player development director Reid Nichols and Zduriencik met Monday regarding Braun's future with the team. Once he signs, his most likely destinations are Class A West Virginia or rookie Helena, according to Zduriencik said.
With the draft's first overall pick, the Arizona Diamondbacks took high school shortstop Justin Upton. Eighteen of the draft's 50 rounds were completed on Tuesday.