It appears, barring injury or a major surprise, the Milwaukee Brewers‘ big league rotation is set with Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada. That could leave a tremendous group of promising, young arms to fill the Nashville Sounds‘ rotation in triple-A.
There’s a chance Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke decide to keep one of the young starters in the MLB bullpen to start the year, especially if Tom Gorzelanny isn’t quite ready to go full speed after recovering from surgery. However, if they wisely choose to keep the best available starters in the minors to keep them stretched out and working on their craft, it’s a studly crew with experience at the highest level.
In an article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt, Melvin noted that the Brewers had four starting pitchers with an average fastball of at least 92 MPH, and three of those – Johnny Hellweg, Jimmy Nelson and Tyler Thornburg — could very well be headed for triple-A. In fact, Hellweg, Nelson and Peralta averaged at least 93 MPH on their fastballs, and no other team had more than the Brewers.
That’s reason enough to be excited for some of the youngsters, but they bring other positives.
Nelson, the franchise’s top prospect, has a major league makeup to go with his impressive heater. His ERA in the minors is at 3.52 overall and he has improved his strikeout rate as he’s moved up the ranks. Last season in Nashville, Nelson struck out 9.8 hitters per nine innings. His command both in and out of the strike zone has been an issue, however, including 5.4 walks per nine innings in triple-A last season.
Meanwhile, Thornburg seems to be the odd man out after the Garza signing and may be a candidate to start the year as a reliever in Milwaukee. While he didn’t fare well as a starter in Nashville last season (0-9, 5.79 ERA), Thornburg looked ready for prime time when he was called up to the big club. In seven starts with the Brewers, Thornburg when 2-1 with a 1.47 ERA as he held batters to a .208 average.
Another pitcher with a high ceiling is the 6-foot-9 Hellweg. He earned the club’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year award last season, going 12-5 with a 3.15 ERA in triple-A. During a 10-game stretch, Hellweg went 9-0 thanks to a 1.16 ERA during that span. He’s an intimidating presence on the mound, with a blazing fastball that he can throw into the upper-90′s. Unfortunately for the Brewers, he’s shown little ability to show any control. He might be the third option at this point.
Then you have organizational veteran Hiram Burgos coming back. The 26-year-old righty has been a solid contributor, posting a 3.64 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in five minor league seasons. Burgos has 29.1 innings of experience in the majors and pitched extremely well for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in 2013.
He was the 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and just wrapped up a phenomenal season in the Puerto Rican Winter League, tossing 38.2 frames with a 1.40 ERA. That’s a great No. 4 to have in the rotation and a good depth guy for the big club.
The fifth rotation spot could go to any number of hurlers, whether they be veterans or prospects, but the top four are set up to carry the load.
As I noted in an earlier article (Garza Deal Would Be Perfect), the terrific depth the Brewers have with these pitchers allowed Melvin to take a chance on an injury-prone guy like Garza. The franchise is very comfortable slotting these pitchers into a temporary role in Milwaukee, should the need arise, even possibly a permanent one.
The fans in Nashville are going to be enjoying a lot of great pitching this season, including some who are on-the-cusp, major league talents.
The Milwaukee faithful are hoping it translates into victories in Miller Park as well.