Selling Potential: Starting Pitchers | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

If Brewers fans may be skeptical of the development of the bats in the system, and their true ability to contribute to the 2016 club, the arms had a positively convincing 2015 campaign. The question marks of trade returns like Yhonathan Barrios and Adrian Houser were mitigated by organizational confidence that landed both righties in the MLB during the 2015 campaign. If Barrios and Houser represent the sturdy-if-unspectacular backbone of a pitching staff, prospects Zach Davies and Jorge Lopez flashed reasons for rotational hope during their end-of-the-year starting stints. Both pitchers could not be more different in terms of delivery, stuff, and scouting outlook, but they also boast tenacious attitudes that could help them acquit themselves well at the MLB level. Meanwhile, the club features some 40-man additions that are just plain intriguing, and that’s before considering non-roster surgers like Josh Hader and Cody Ponce (who could be 2016’s Michael Conforto).

As I did with the position players, here’s a look at some scouting question marks and strengths for the arms, and reasonable comparisons where I can find them.

Brewers Youngsters Scouting Drawbacks Scouting Strengths Scouting comp?
Jorge Lopez Long climb saw changeup & command as potential issues Surging development means 3 pitches for strikes / went from back-end to #2 profile  
Zach Davies Size / durability questions lead to rotation / bullpen questions Smooth delivery / strong change up Mike Leake
Zack Jones Command / slider development Poise / “aggressive” mound mentality  
Yhonathan Barrios Secondary pitch questions Hard fastball / potential screwball breaking ball action  
Jacob Barnes Previous command & fastball questions Huge AFL showing in terms of fastball combinations / potential cutter-first reliever Wade Davis
Adrian Houser Command & secondary pitch questions MLB stint showed more confidence in change up / potential to beat “low rotation” scouting label  
Junior Guerra MLB role questions / non-traditional development difficult to project Extremely hard fastball & breaking ball combinations Mike Scott (age & pitching approach)

The Mike Scott / comparison is one that has been on my mind lately, as I have found it difficult to reasonably compare Guerra to hard-throwing splitter pitchers who built their careers in their early 30s. Of course, there were widely circulated (and potentially confirmed) rumors that Mike Scott’s split was a spitball, but whatever the medicine, that righty built an ascending strike out rate and improved runs prevention after the age of 30. So it goes with Guerra, who struggled in his mid-20s before improving in independent and foreign leagues. Obviously, I understand that improving in that scenario is not the same as improving at the MLB level, but I still think it’s an intriguing comparison, and one that fans might keep in mind for when Guerra surges out of nowhere in the 2016 NL.

A Shocking September Rotation?
Jimmy Nelson
Jorge Lopez
Zach Davies
Junior Guerra
Cody Ponce

For obvious reasons, the Wade Davis comparison for Jacob Barnes is audacious. What I want to focus on, however, is not Davis’s current run prevention, but his ascent from question marks about his role and stuff. Barnes, like Davis, has seen his fastball velocity ascend, and is also a potential cutter-focused reliever. Barnes’s statistical record may never prove to be as great, but if Barnes succeeds in an MLB relief role, one can expect many sources to focus on his apparent development out of nowhere (which would conceivably depend on his fastball improvement, like Davis). By contrast, the Mike Leake comparison for Davies is quite an intriguing reminder that small starters can succeed without having to meet the daunting requirements of a Pedro Martinez comp. It’s hardly Pedro-or-nothing for pitchers of Davies’s stature.

As for Conforto and Ponce, if the Milwaukee front office proves to be more aggressive with their minor league promotions, a pitcher like Ponce could benefit the most. I’m not trying to be ridiculous here: given Ponce’s size, stuff, relative polish, and quick 2015 ascent, he could be the type of hard-throwing hurler that reaches the MLB via the fast track. There are arguments to be made that he is the best arm in the system (which isn’t a knock on Lopez, but a confirmation of the strength of the system), and Ponce could be joining Lopez rather soon in Milwaukee.

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