MILWAUKEE -- For the first time, Eric Semmelhack is busy practicing his craft this summer outside of the Milwaukee area. A pitcher out of Oak Creek, Wis., and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Semmelhack was drafted by the hometown Brewers in the 12th round of the First-Year Player Draft earlier this month. However, after signing with the team shortly after the Draft, the first part of his professional journey took him away from home and out to Helena, Mont., to play with the club's Pioneer League rookie team. And that's just fine for the 21-year-old right-hander.
"It's a little different, but it's a new experience," Semmelhack said. "Obviously, I'm not around my friends and family. But this is the point where it's nice to really work on baseball, just focus and see how far I can push it. No distractions. Just baseball." Baseball won't make Semmelhack forget about his home, though, partly because home is what made being drafted so special. At the time of his selection, Semmelhack was preparing for a game with the Lakeshore Chinooks, a Northwoods League team not far from Milwaukee. He kept his phone close, just in case of any important news. Eventually, the news came, and Semmelhack's dad, Mike, informed his son he was the 395th pick of the Draft. But Semmelhack was skeptical and had to see for himself. Getting drafted? Sure, he figured that was coming. But to the Brewers -- the team he grew up cheering for from home and in the stands? That seemed too good to be true. "They let me go check it out on the Internet," he said. "I couldn't believe it. This is what I've been working for since I started playing baseball. It's definitely a dream come true." At Oak Creek High School, Semmelhack was an all-area performer, not only on the mound, but also as a utility player. He put his name in the record books with a school-best 85 1/3 innings pitched during his final season and ranks second in Knights history with 10 wins and 97 strikeouts as a senior. After high school, Semmehack fittingly chose to stay close to home. He started two games as a freshman before becoming one of the Panthers' weekend starters his sophomore year. As a junior, he went 5-7 with a 3.77 ERA in 15 starts, and though those numbers don't jump out of the stat book, Semmelhack still caught the eyes of Brewers director of amateur scouting Bruce Seid and his staff. "I saw a big fastball," Seid said. "It's not the most easiest delivery, but when it's still coming out 94, 95 [mph] and he can spin it a little bit, that's pretty good. Maybe he's a bullpen guy in the long run, but he may be a pretty good one." In Helena, Semmelhack's career has begun as a starter. And despite a shaky three-inning outing in his first start, his second and most recent appearance displayed just how good he could be. Semmelhack threw seven shutout innings on Monday, allowing just two hits and no walks. He also struck out five batters, and Helena pitching coach Elvin Nina said the performance was a joy to watch. "It looked exactly how it was on paper," he said. "That was one of those games where his line score was exactly the way he performed. He just dominated from pitch one." Two days later, Semmelhack brushed off his gem as just "one of those" nights when a pitcher just seems to have it going. He deflected the praise to Nina, saying his new pitching coach has helped him improve his delivery, which already has made him a better pitcher. Nina did not seem to agree. "Don't listen to too much of what he says," Nina said, laughing. "He's a kid that you look at any time and get excited about. A guy like him, you just try not to mess him up." Nina said Semmelhack's greatest teacher has been simply watching his peers and learning about the "Minor League grind" along with not having to worry about class, tests or papers anymore. And as far as Semmelhack's future, Nina said an organization can never have too many young starters. Semmelhack, too, sees himself as a starter, but he said he's willing to do whatever the Brewers ask of him. If that means eventually moving into a long relief or other bullpen role, then so be it. In the meantime, he said he's going to continue to work on improving as an overall pitcher and focus solely on baseball. No distractions. Just baseball. "I know it's a process, but I'm ready for whatever it takes," Semmelhack said. "I'm just going to play and go through that process, and hopefully I'll be back in Milwaukee in the big leagues soon."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.