The Milwaukee Brewers‘ bullpen continues to take shape after the addition of Francisco Rodriguez (again). However, there still could be room for a 6-foot dark horse waiting in the shadows.
The now 25-year-old, David Goforth, was drafted out of Ole Miss in the seventh round of the 2011 MLB draft, boasting experience as both a starter and a reliever in college. The Brewers decided to break him in as a relief pitcher during his rookie year in pro ball, in part to spare his arm from too much added stress.
Then in 2012, the Brewers’ organization made the move to test him as a starter, but the results were uneven as he sported a 4.66 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in 28 starts.
After beginning 2013 in the Brevard County Manatees‘ rotation, Goforth was called up to the double-A Huntsville Stars to start games, but was then swiftly moved back into the bullpen. The organization was starting to see Goforth as a late-inning power arm and possibly a future closer. As a 24-year-old pitcher who had just made it out of the single-A level, he was all for the move as a way to quickly find his way onto the big club’s roster.
His switch to the pen to close out 2013 went well. Goforth tossed 24 frames in relief, holding hitters to a .188 batting average, allowed fewer walks and saw his strikeout rate go up. His 3.38 ERA in 16 relief appearances and overall 1.07 WHIP in double-A are both encouraging signs, and the Brewers should have no issues seeing him as an option in Milwaukee at some point this season.
Sliding into relief duty also allowed Goforth to utilize his best pitch to its fullest: a big fastball that can routinely reach the upper-90s. Pitching for shorter periods obviously lets him rear back and let it rip. In fact, MLB.com rated Goforth’s fastball as a six (out of eight) prior to last season, and they put his potential with the heater at a seven. That’s a valuable weapon to call upon whenever you need it, instead of every five days with less effectiveness.
While his secondary pitches are showing some improvement, his cutter, breaking ball and changeup aren’t good enough to keep him as a starting option. Even in relief, he’ll still need to strengthen at least one of those other three pitches to thrive on the big stage, but his fastball is already a force.
Goforth’s arrival to the big leagues will largely depend on other pitchers. Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg could be bullpen options, but it makes sense to have them getting starts in the minors. Tom Gorzelanny could miss the early part of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery, which could open up a spot for Goforth.
Then there’s Rule 5 Draft pick Wei-Chung Wang, who Milwaukee could try to stash deep in the bullpen to avoid having to give him back to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They also could work out a deal with Pittsburgh, then giving them the option to keep him on the farm.
The most likely scenario for Goforth is that he will start the year as the Nashville Sounds‘ closer in triple-A. Of course, it may just take an injury or an ugly spring by another hurler to open the door, allowing Goforth to make his presence felt in Milwaukee.