Minors report: Camp begins high tech

Minors report: Camp high tech

PHOENIX -- Brewers Minor League camp officially commenced on Sunday with a full-squad workout. Before they took the field, players underwent physicals that once again included a cutting-edge system that measures visual skills.

The Brewers were among the first Major League organizations to use the Vizual Edge Performance Trainer, developed by the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Visual Fitness Institute. The video game-like computer software allows medical staffers and scouts to test players' depth perception, eye alignment and flexibility and scores them on their ability to process and react to visual stimuli.

"I can't change their eyesight, but I can help them see the ball much sooner," said the Institute's Kathy Puchalski. "Even the really good hitters -- names everybody would know -- tell me they see it way sooner after its release point, and they are able to follow it way longer. They have more time to decide, swing or don't swing."

The Reds and Royals also use the system, and the Indians have used it in the past. Top Brewers prospect Ryan Braun used it when he was at the University of Miami. Milwaukee's scouts travel with the software on their laptop computers and test players of interest, and assistant amateur scouting director Tom Flanagan said it often helps break the ice.

Players go through a series of exercises, and the results -- including an "Edge score" -- appear on a spreadsheet. Weak areas appear in red.

"Scouts are now able to assess kids visually as well as physically, and can judge their strengths and weaknesses," Puchalski said. "It tells players, 'Which areas are strong and which are weak, and what do I need to work on?' It's just like weight training data." "It's much more accepted and it's being embraced," she said.

On the move: Brewers manager Ned Yost has been pleasantly surprised this spring by left-hander Manny Parra, whose 2006 season was ended by rotator cuff surgery.

Parra, 24, has come back strong this spring and has not allowed an earned run in four Cactus League appearances spanning 3 1/3 innings. Parra has allowed two hits, walked three and struck out three. Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux is trying to get Parra, a power lefty, to trust his fastball.

Parra was a highly touted draft-and-follow pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, when the Brewers took right-hander Mike Jones in the first round. Both players have been hampered by injuries, and Jones was returned to Minor League camp earlier in the week.

"I think everyone in the organization is pleasantly surprised with what they've seen from Manny here," Yost said.

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Names in the game: Former Braves, Reds and Cubs outfielder Mike Lum took over as the Brewers Minor League hitting coordinator for Jim Skaalen, who was promoted to Yost's big-league staff. Lum spent 16 seasons in the same capacity with the Chicago White Sox. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin pointed out that Lum was the first and only player to pinch-hit for home run king Hank Aaron, on May 21, 1969. Lum doubled in the Braves' blowout win over the Mets. Aaron, who later became Atlanta's farm director, gave Lum his first coaching job in 1983.

They're No. 1: Geoff Jenkins, the team's top draft pick in 1995, is having a torrid spring. He batted .524 in his first seven Cactus League games with nine RBIs.

Class of '06: Thirty-ninth round pick Chuckie Caufield, an outfielder, appeared in a Major League game with the Brewers last week. His father, Charles, played in the NFL with the Eagles and Oilers, and his sister, LaNeish, played for the WNBA's Utah Starzz.

Stat machine: Right-hander Marino Salas, who was optioned to Triple-A Nashville on Thursday, allowed one run in two innings of Cactus League work. The Brewers claimed him off waivers from Baltimore just before the start of Spring Training. ... Right-handed sinkerballer Chris Spurling did not allow a run in his first four spring appearances. ... Righty Yovani Gallardo, considered the team's best pitching prospect, has worked five scoreless innings in two starts this spring.

What they're saying: "He has some deception, hides the ball really well. For the most part, the first time through the lineup he has been very successful. They get a bit of a look at him -- having better secondary and offspeed pitches will remedy that." -- Yost, on left-hander Zach Jackson

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.