The Brewers are in a fortunate position in which the vast majority of their big league roster has been settled. It speaks to the talent on the roster that most guys do not have to worry about fighting for an Opening Day roster spot. Several spots on the bench are in flux, but no holes in the starting lineup or starting rotation exist.
That is a luxury of which most teams cannot boast.
The same cannot be said on the minor league side, though. The organization has too many players and too few positions on the various rosters, so much of the minor league roster remains flexible. Not to mention the Brewers’ brass routinely makes a surprise call or two — such as Michael Fiers starting the season in the bullpen last year and Kentrail Davis starting his professional career in High-A back in 2010 — that always make projecting the farm system’s rosters extremely difficult.
Nonetheless, let’s dive into the potential starting rotations for each of the full-season affiliates:
|RHP Wily Peralta|
|RHP Michael Fiers|
|RHP Cody Scarpetta|
|LHP Dan Merklinger|
|RHP Amaury Rivas|
|RHP Josh Butler|
Nashville should trot out a very solid starting rotation, headlined by a pair of pitchers who finished one-two in the Pitcher of the Year voting for the Brewers’ organization last season. Both Wily Peralta and Michael Fiers could see significant innings for the big league squad this season, though, so perhaps the pitcher to watch is Cody Scarpetta. The young man needs to finally discover some consistency with his mechanics and his command. Trying to do that in the launching pad that is the Pacific Coast League may be difficult, but it’s his final minor-league option this season. He needs to show something if he wants a major league roster spot in 2013.
Dan Merklinger and Amaury Rivas are both fringe back-end starters, attempting to regain some of their prospect luster that has worn off over the past couple years. Josh Butler, on the other hand, is nothing more than depth. That magical 2010 season where everything clicked seems so far away at this point.
|RHP Tyler Thornburg|
|RHP Nick Bucci|
|RHP Kyle Heckathorn|
|RHP Hiram Burgos|
|RHP Evan Anundsen|
|RHP Michael Bowman|
Can Tyler Thornburg stick in the starting rotation, or is the young right-hander destined for a bullpen role? That remains the burning question that will hover over the Brewers’ Double-A club this season. He’s walking a fine line at this point — and ultimately, I believe he will transition to the ‘pen — but perhaps this is the season he can maintain his velocity deep into games (huge problem last year) and convince the skeptics.
Don’t sleep on Nick Bucci. The organization loves the young man and raves about his make-up and moxie on the mound. He quietly has moved up the minor league ladder and could be knocking at the big league door in 2013, as could right-hander Kyle Heckathorn. The big righty possesses the body and repertoire the organization covets, but the consistency has been lacking. He will likely be granted a re-do in Huntsville to wash the bad taste out of his mouth after his late-season implosion in ‘11.
Hiram Burgos, Evan Anundsen, and Michael Bowman all show flashes, but are all highly unlikely to reach the big league level due to a lack of stuff. Burgos and Anundsen have compiled impressive peripherals at times in their professional careers. That has all been against younger, low-level competition, though. If they have anything in the tank, now is the time to show it.
Brevard County Manatees
|Brevard County Manatees|
|RHP Taylor Jungmann|
|LHP Jed Bradley|
|RHP Jimmy Nelson|
|RHP Brooks Hall|
|RHP Eric Arnett|
|RHP Austin Ross|
Each of the rotations have consisted of a pitcher or two about which Brewers fans can get excited. This Manatees rotation, however, is stacked with legitimate prospects. Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley have both reportedly been informed that they will begin their professional careers in the Florida State League, and fans have high expectations for the two first-rounders.
They could be followed by Jimmy Nelson, who really improved last season down the stretch. His combination of ground balls and strikeouts is appealing, and his slider is particularly impressive. The 2012 season could be the year he takes a step forward and establishes himself as a top prospect in the organization. The same can be said for right-hander Brooks Hall, a young right-hander with whom the Brewers have been extremely cautious and will finally be turned loose without significant innings limits.
I remain particularly hopeful regarding Eric Arnett. The right-hander must improve his fastball command (significantly) to be successful, but he showed flashes of the old Eric Arnett last season. His fastball was touching 92-93 MPH once again, and his slider was well-commanded and sharp. It’s easy to forget that he’s only 24-years-old. Hopefully, the pitcher-friendly FSL is the environment he needs to build the confidence and really come into his own.
Ryan and I were criticized last season for not jumping on the Austin Ross bandwagon. He dominated age 19 and 20 hitters in Class-A ball with superb fastball command. He simply outpitched them, but the stuff was unimpressive. One scout told me that he struggled to see how Ross would be a middle reliever in the big leagues. His struggles once jumping to High-A illustrated that lack of stuff. Perhaps he can continue to find success with his advanced pitchability, though.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
|Wisconsin Timber Rattlers|
|RHP Drew Gagnon|
|RHP Matt Miller|
|LHP Mike Strong|
|RHP Andy Moye|
|RHP Tommy Toledo|
|RHP Dan Britt|
Almost anything could happen in the Timber Rattlers’ rotation. One has to imagine that 2011 third-round draft pick Drew Gagnon will make his full-season debut with the T-Rats, and right-hander Matt Miller simply did not fit anywhere at the higher levels. He was the odd man out in the Manatees’ rotation, and the organization would like to continue to groom him as a starter. In that way, repeating Class-A makes sense.
Mike Strong and Andy Moye are a pair of 2011 draftees that found moderate success in the Pioneer League. Tommy Toledo is a right-hander out of the University of Florida with good stuff, but his numbers have never played up to his ability. The organization hinted last season that they wish to give him a chance in the rotation, but they could stick him in the bullpen and see if he flies through the system.
Keep in mind that left-hander Charly Bashara, right-hander Jameson Dunn, right-hander Tyler Cravy, and right-hander Dan Britt could also begin the season in the starting rotation for the Timber Rattlers. The Brewers are fortunate to have a handful of arms with starting experience in the Class-A level.