'K-Mart' group pays big dividends for Brewers

PHOENIX -- Brewers special assistant Dick Groch is the man who scouted and signed Derek Jeter, a first-round Draft pick of the Yankees in 1992. But he can also appreciate a good bargain.

So Groch, entering his 11th season in Milwaukee's pro scouting department, was particularly intrigued to watch what he dubbed the "K-Mart group" throw bullpen sessions on Sunday. Side by side on a row of mounds were relievers John Axford, Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler and starter Mike Fiers -- who combined to cost Milwaukee a whopping $3,500.

Fiers is the group's "bonus baby," Kintzler joked, having received a $2,500 signing bonus as a 22nd-round Draft pick in 2009. Right about the same time, the Brewers purchased Kintzler from the independent St. Paul Saints for $1,000. Axford and Henderson signed after being released by other teams, and didn't cost a dime.

And yet, all four are expected to play meaningful roles in the Majors this season. Axford is the Brewers' closer, Henderson the leading contender for set-up duties and Kintzler has an inside track on another bullpen opening. Fiers is competing for a spot in the starting rotation after breaking into the big leagues last season.

Those are far from the only Major Leaguers to come from humble beginnings, but as Groch pointed out, "What's unique is when you put them all together in the same throwing group."

Speaking of unique, Kintzler had to turn down better money in Hollywood to sign with the Brewers. He was a finalist to play right-hander Tim Hudson in the film Moneyball, but the audition would have caused him to miss a chance to start the '09 American Association All-Star Game.

"I said, this is probably my best chance to get signed," Kintzler said. "I think I want to pitch in the All-Star Game. I don't want to be a movie star."