San Francisco thought enough of Omar Aguilar that it drafted him twice, first in the 27th round after his senior season at Livingston High School (Calif.) and then in the eighth round following his freshman campaign at nearby Merced Junior College.
The right-hander passed on the Giants' overtures both times, continuing to work on his game with the hopes of improving his stock and the eventual financial payoff.
However, elbow trouble plagued him throughout his second season with the Blue Devils in the spring of 2005. It was determined that Aguilar had damaged the all-important ulnar collateral ligament and needed to undergo Tommy John reconstructive surgery.
Aguilar feared that his career was over before he had taken the proverbial bat off his shoulder. Fortunately, Milwaukee took a flier on Aguilar, selecting him in the 30th round in June 2005.
Today, the 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pounder is well on his way to making the Brewers' low-risk move turn into a high-reward maneuver for both parties.
And the organization's faith in him hasn't been lost on Aguilar.
"Nobody showed interest after the diagnosis, except for the Brewers," Aguilar said. "We decided to wait, and that fall I had signed a letter of intent to play at Oklahoma, but then the injury happened the next spring and I didn't have any leverage. Thank god for the Brewers, who knew what I could do and were willing to give me a shot. The signing bonus was a lot less, but I was just happy to get another opportunity. They've treated me well and I'm glad I'm in the organization. I believe everything happened for a reason."
Aguilar is definitely doing his part to see that the wait and long rehabilitation were worth it, although it was a struggle.
"It was a long, hard road," Aguilar said. "Rehab sucked. It was tough not being able to play and pitch with everybody else."
His first step in that direction came with the rookie league team in Arizona in 2006, where he went 0-1 with a 6.00 earned-run average. Although it was only six appearances, Aguilar said he couldn't have been happier.
"It was definitely like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulder," he said. "The best part of coming back wasn't even actually being on the mound, but just throwing the ball again."
And he's made strong progress ever since with sometimes sparkling results.
Aguilar led West Virginia with 42 appearances in '07, helping the Power reach the postseason with a 7-4 record, 4.81 ERA and nine saves. That earned him a trip to the Hawaii Winter League that fall, where he posted a 1-0 mark and 3.74 ERA in 16 outings.
"At West Virginia felt like I was in the big leagues," Aguilar said. "It was so exciting because I had been thinking about getting there my whole life and it was happening. The main thing was that I was getting back into shape and I had my velocity back. I just wanted to let everything else take care of itself."
Meanwhile, Aguilar took care of business. His whirlwind 2008 featured three stops.
He dominated Florida State League hitters while beginning at Brevard County, compiling a 3-0 mark and 0.35 ERA with 13 saves in 19 appearances. That got him a promotion to Double-A Huntsville, where Aguilar notched four saves, 0-3 record and 3.08 ERA in 28 games. He then registered 10 straight scoreless outings before giving up two runs in his final contest in the Arizona Fall League, finishing with a 1.54 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 11.2 innings.
"I was expecting to move up a level each year, so I was very happy with how things turned out last summer," Aguilar said. "It was a big difference and a lot tougher going to Double-A. The hitters, some of them ex-big leaguers, were a lot more selective, so you really had to work in your second and third pitches and throw them for strikes."
That's the general plan of attack that Aguilar hopes to fine tune, regardless of where he pitches in '09.
His repertoire features a fastball at 94 to 97 mph, a slider around 87-88 and a changeup that clocks around 81-82.
"In high school, I threw fastball, curve and slider, and I didn't even have my changeup in college," Aguilar said. "I didn't start working with that until after my rehab, and now it's more effective and one of my best pitches. And my slider is harder and sharper."
His progress was evident in the AFL, as he was chosen to play in the Rising Stars game.
"I knew going into (the AFL) that it was my protection year and I needed a good showing," Aguilar said of Milwaukee's decision to place him on the 40-man roster to avoid having him taken in the Rule 5 draft. "I did well against topnotch talent. I didn't try to do too much and just wanted to have fun, but when I pitched I battled my (butt) off."
Aguilar's bulldog mentality and work ethic have gotten him this far and they're what will take him to the next level.
"I've worked out with Brian Fuentes and Ryan Braun," Aguilar said of fellow Californians, the first a lefty closer who just signed a free-agent contract with the Angels and the other an All-Star left fielder for the Brewers. "I've picked Brian's brain about stuff, and Ryan has given me advice about what to expect in getting ready for the big leagues.
"It would be awesome if I start out at Nashville, but I want to keep an open mind and won't be disappointed if I start in Huntsville," Aguilar said. "Hopefully I might even get called up, but I'm going to work my butt off and establish myself and try not to worry about that stuff. It'll happen on its own."