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Tuesday, June 18th 2019
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Brewers Select Nick Kahle in 4th Round

With the 133rd selection of the MLB Draft, the Brewers selected Nick Kahle, a catcher from the University of Washington. Kahle was a two-year starter at Washington behind the dish. As a junior this year, he had his finest season yet, carrying a slash line of .339/.506/.532 to go along with 8 home runs, 50 RBI, and 59 walks.

The plate discipline in that slash line is what really stands out. Kahle is a patient hitter that is not afraid to draw to a walk – his plate appearances end with him on base more than half of the time. Given that he will likely have average to below-average power at the next level, his ability to get on base at a high rate via the walk could be huge for his eventual success.

Kahle was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the 131st best prospect in this year’s draft class, matching up nicely with his eventual selection slot. In their scouting report, MLB Pipeline likes his hitting ability while giving him below-average grades for his raw power and running abilities. Defensively, they note that he is adequate behind the plate, pairing solid receiving and blocking skills with an accurate arm.

Kahle’s current coach has high praise for the catcher’s intangible skills, as well. In a recent interview, he said the following: “While everyone knows that Nick in a professional hitter and outstanding behind the plate, it’s his work ethic that sets him apart. No one out works Nick Kahle.”

With Kahle, the Brewers are taking a catcher that has a limited ceiling but a relatively high floor. He should be able to produce enough to be a MLB backup, and if his hit tool continues to show up as it did in college, he could be a solid two-way regular.

The Brewers have a pair of catchers among their top 30 prospects at the moment – Payton Henry (#10 Brewers prospect) and Mario Feliciano (#14 Brewers prospect). Both are starting to move into the higher levels of the Brewers’ farm system, as they currently play with the Class A-Advanced Carolina Mudcats. Given that they will be catching options for the big-league club in the next year or two, the Brewers can afford to take their time with the development of Kahle.

Meet Milwaukee’s 2019 First Round Draft Pick

On June 3rd, the MLB Draft took place in Secaucus, New Jersey. The Milwaukee Brewers had the 28th pick in the first round and used it to select a walk-on from Mississippi State. Ethan Small is a 6’3” 214 pound left-handed starting pitcher who was the first college pitcher the Brewers selected in the first round since Taylor Jungmann in 2011. The 20-year-old had an incredible year in the SEC which is the toughest conference in college baseball. He started 18 games (1st in SEC) and had an ERA of 1.88 in 96 innings. Small allowed 3 or fewer runs in 15 of his 18 starts. He also added 160 strikeouts (2nd in SEC) and only 27 walks. This past season he joined only 22 other pitchers in Mississippi State history to record 100+ strikeouts in a season. Also, opposing hitters only hit .160 against the lefty. These numbers allowed Ethan Small to win the 2019 SEC Pitcher of the Year and got him ranked 56th on MLB Pipeline.

Small does not have great velocity on his pitches, he throws it somewhere between 88-92 mph but it has great movement. Also, he throws a fantastic changeup that sits in the mid-70s that looks identical to his fastball out of his hand. Finally, he throws a curveball that isn’t dominating but passable. Small has a high swing and miss rate on his pitches due to his changing of speeds, location, and deceptive delivery. When it comes to the delivery, think Clayton Kershaw with a little bit of Chris Sale. The best player comparison for Small is former 10-year veteran and World Series champion, Jaime Garcia.

The only red flag, the reason why Ethan Small was not picked earlier, was because he had Tommy John surgery in his sophomore season. However, Brewer fans should not be worried about this because he came back a better pitcher after the surgery. Plus, the Brewer medical team looked extensively through his medical records.

Milwaukee sees Small as a future piece in their rotation. Expert scouts predict him becoming a solid 3 or 4 option in the rotation. Due to his college experience and high pitching IQ, expect a quick accession for Ethan Small throughout the Minor League system. Brewer fans can expect to see him as soon as 2021.

The OFFICIAL Jimmy Nelson Return Recap

On Wednesday night, Jimmy Nelson returned to the mound to a standing ovation for his first Major League start in 21 months. September 8th, 2017 was the date of his last start where he went 5 innings, gave up 0 runs and struck out 7. After sliding head first back to a base, Nelson tore his labrum and strained his rotator cuff on his pitching arm. It was unfortunate because 2017 was easily the best year of his professional career and he was starting to look like the ace fans wanted. Before he got injured that year, he started 29 games, pitched 175.1 innings all while having a 3.49 ERA. He won 12 decisions, lost 6, and had a SO/9 of 10.2. It was such a great year he even finished top 10 in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Before the injury, Nelson threw a power sinker and 4-seam fastball that both ranged into the mid-90s. He also added an outstanding curveball, hard slider, and cutting changeup.

Prior to his first big league start of 2019, Nelson pitched 5 games in AAA and looked solid enough to take the mound for the Brewers. He had a 3.75 ERA in 24 innings with 29 strikeouts. In a pregame interview before Wednesday, the 6’6” 250 pound monster described coming back to pitch like “being a kid waking up on Christmas morning.”

As he took the mound on his birthday against a Marlins team who entered the game last in runs and OPS, there was a buzz throughout Miller Park. The first batter he faced was former Brewer, Curtis Granderson, who reached first safely due to an error by Orlando Arcia. However, he was able to get the next batter, Garrett Cooper, to strike out looking. Nelson was able to get out of the inning relatively unphased but not before an unearned run came across the plate. The second inning showed what Jimmy can do when he’s clicking. He was able to go three up, three down with a strikeout sprinkled in there. The third inning is where Nelson got into major trouble. After giving up 2 walks and a double, the Brewer pitcher left a hanging curveball up in the zone that Brian Anderson mashed into left center for a grand slam. He was able to get out of the inning after that, but the damage was already done.

Jimmy Nelson’s Final stat line read, 3 innings pitched, 5 runs (4 earned), 3 walks and 2 strikeouts. In his return to the mound, Nelson struggled to command any of his off-speed pitches which makes sense for somebody who’s been out for 2 years. He threw 65 pitches but only 35 of them were strikes.

Brewer fans should not be discouraged by Nelson’s not-so-ideal return. His fastball ranged from 91-94 MPH, but that velocity will increase as well as his command of off-speed pitches. We here at Cream City Central are more than happy to have Jimmy Nelson back in the starting rotation. Before you know it, he will be back to the pitcher he was before the injury.

Improved Plate Discipline Driving Offensive Success for Orlando Arcia

Entering 2016, there was no larger piece of the Brewers’ rebuild than Orlando Arcia. Ranked in the preseason as the sixth-best prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline, Arcia was the highest-rated prospect to be in the Brewers’ system since Baseball America rated Ryan Braun the #2 prospect in 2007.

With sky-high expectations, the Brewers promoted Arcia to the big-league squad after the 2016 trade deadline. His debut was shaky, with his .219/.273/.358 slash line over the remainder of the season displaying how far he still had to go in his development. However, there were still flashes of the tools that made him such a promising prospect.

2017 demonstrated signs of improvement that could hopefully be compounded. Hitting .277/.324/.407, Arcia had paired a passable bat with his high-level defense, making him an effective and valuable major-league player.

Many hoped 2018 would be another step forward for the young shortstop. It proved to be a significant step backwards. Arcia struggled throughout the entirety of the season, posting a final slash line of .236/.268/.307 (54 wRC+) that placed him as the second-worst hitter in baseball. The moderate power Arcia displayed in 2017 was sapped, as he hit only 3 home runs compared to his 15 the previous year. His plate discipline deteriorated as well – he walked just 15 times over the course of the entire season.

Fortunately, 2019 has seen Arcia bounce back to being a productive offensive player. Through 60 games, he carries a .259/.327/.420 slash line to go with 8 home runs. The last month has been even more impressive, as he posted a .290 batting average and a .377 on-base percentage in the month of May.

What has helped Arcia make this leap from 2018 misery to 2019 improvements?

One area in which Arcia greatly improved is his plate discipline. Through 60 games and 226 plate appearances, Arcia has already drawn six more walks than he did during the 2018 season (119 games, 366 plate appearances). This has helped Arcia elevate his on-base percentage, making him more valuable offensively. One statistic that helps explain this is O-Swing%, which indicates the percentage of pitches a hitter sees outside the strike-zone that he swings at. Through his first three years, Arcia consistently swung at around 38% of the pitches he sees outside the strike zone, with 2018 being his highest percentage at 38.4%. Thus far in 2019, he has dropped this percentage to 30.6%, which to me says that he is gaining a better understanding of the strike zone. He is chasing fewer pitches that are unlikely to be converted into hits.

In addition, Arcia has a better handle of the strike zone via his swing selection on strikes. A statistic that helps tell this story is Z-Swing%. Z-Swing% says what percentage of pitches within the strike zone Arcia is swinging at. For Arcia, his Z-Swing% has fallen from 67.5% in 2018 to 60.7% in 2019. In my opinion, this illustrates that Arcia has started to be more selective regarding what he believes is a pitch he can drive for a base hit. Rather than swinging at a pitch simply for being in the zone, more often he is waiting for a pitch that he can truly do something with.

Finally, Arcia is making more solid contact this season than last. According to Fangraphs, his “hard hit” percentage has risen from 25.5% to 29.5%. While 29.5% is not close to being elite by any means (it’s actually below league-average), the improvement is what matters. If Arcia can keep focusing on controlling the zone and hitting the ball hard, good things will happen.

Arcia has the flair, tools, and style to be a stalwart at shortstop for the Brewers in the years to come. However, to achieve this, he will need to continue to make and maintain improvements like those he has shown in 2019.

Domingo Santana for Ben Gamel – So Far So Good

The 2018 season started for Domingo Santana on the bench, then getting sporadic playing time and at-bats. He was never able to find his power at the plate which led to Eric Thames and Hernan Perez combining for 48 starts in the outfield.

 

By the end of the 2018 season, it was clear that Domingo Santana wasn’t going to be in the Brewers picture moving forward. This was evidenced by the Brewers signing of an aging veteran in Curtis Granderson, instead of giving Domingo the chance to earn playing time in the outfield. Then, the 2019  Brewers looked to move Domingo for a more versatile option in the outfield and find someone who wasn’t so home-run dependent. Ben Gamel, is an outfielder due to the trio of the reigning M.V.P Christian Yelich as well as having a perennial gold glove talent in Lorenzo Cain and the aging but highly paid Ryan Braun. The Brewers traded Domingo Santana to Seattle for Ben Gamel and the lottery ticket pitcher Noah Zavolas.

 

Through the early part of the season the results of the trade have been as good as you could have hoped with Ben Gamel being able to fill in throughout the outfield. Gamel came over from Seattle with a reputation for strong defense at all three outfield positions and a solid contact bat which he has delivered on (outside of a very uncharacteristic drop in New York). Through 4 MLB seasons he has compiled a .272 batting average and a .728 ops along with a 22% strikeout rate and an 8.4% walk rate, so he does strike out more than you’d like from your fourth outfielder/pinch hitter but he does still walk at around league average and also puts the bat on the ball. Through the early part of the season, Gamel has been the main outfield backup and has logged starts at all three outfield positions, which is something that Domingo just didn’t bring to the table. In the first 54 games and 157 plate appearances, Gamel has logged a .255 batting average with 4 homers and 14 RBI so he is getting his hits even though the power numbers aren’t there.

 

Let’s face it, the 4th outfield option for the Brewers for the next few years is going to have to be versatile with Lorenzo Cain aging and Ryan Braun needing sporadic maintenance in addition to his usual one or two IL stints. If Ben Gamel is able to lock in the position he is presently under team control through at least 2022. Ben Gamel provides the versatility off the bench that the Brewers have lacked in recent years. Domingo may go on to be a great player in Seattle, but was never going to provide the versatility that David Stearns looks for when he makes up a roster.   

 

On the other half of the trade, Domingo has slid into the starting lineup for Seattle as the everyday left fielder starting 57 of his first 58 games. Domingo has found his power stroke with a slash line of .266/.335/.463 and 42 rbi to go along with 10 home runs. Domingo Santana’s game doesn’t fit coming off of the bench and that was very evident in the 2018 season so the Brewers moved on from him and seem to have found a competent fit in Ben Gamel to fill that 4th outfield position. Even though Ben Gamel isn’t going to bring the power that Domingo does, what he does bring to the table fits what the Brewers need off the bench.

Did Ryan Braun Actually Change His Swing?

During the offseason, Ryan Braun made waves when he commented that he would be attempting to change his swing for the first time in his career. Prior to the season, I analyzed the origins of this planned swing change, with the most significant piece of information being that Braun wanted to focus on increasing the average launch angle of his batted balls. “If you want to take luck out of the equation, you hit more balls over the fence,” Braun said at the time.

The “launch angle revolution” is a hot topic in baseball circles at the moment. Many hitters over the past few seasons have bought into the science and statistics that say elevating the baseball gives themselves the best chance to have an at-bat that results in a beneficial outcome. In a 2017 Wall Street Journal article, Josh Donaldson articulated this position best: “No grounders. Ground balls are outs. If you see me hit a ground ball, even if it’s a hit, I can tell you: It was an accident.”

It is true that ground balls offer the worst returns of the three main batted ball possibilities (ground ball, line drive, fly ball). Since the start of the 2010 season, ground balls have an OPS of .491, line drives an OPS of 1.583, and fly balls an OPS of .885. While there are many other factors involved in offensive results, such as quality of contact, getting the ball in the air appears to give a player the best chance of success.

In 2018, the league-wide ground ball rate was 43.2%. Ryan Braun’s was above-average at 48.4%, and he attributed some of his mediocre offensive performance to bad luck with hard hit outs that were often ground balls or non-elevated line drives. Based on expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), Braun had a massive difference in his actual performance (.330) and his expected performance (.370) – one of the largest negative differences in the league.

Braun wanted to bridge this gap by hitting the ball in the air more and decreasing the amount of hard hit balls that became unlucky outs. Has he done that thus far in the 2019 season?

The numbers say no. With his swing change in tow, Braun has actually seen a slight decrease in his average launch angle year-over-year. Last season, his average launch angle was 5.8 degrees, compared to 5.3 degrees this year. In addition, Braun’s result profile has flipped: he now has a higher actual weighted on-base than his expected weighted on-base (.338 vs. .327).

In addition, Braun’s ground ball rate has skyrocketed to the highest rate of his career. It currently sits at 56.6%. While his fly ball rate has increased modestly (up 1%), his line drive rate has decreased by over 8%, dropping to a career-low season rate of 14.7%. This is not a good development given that line drives offer the highest OPS of the three batted ball types.

Some of this may not make too much sense to fans, as Braun just finished a blisteringly hot May that saw him hit .363/.427/.588. While Braun was hitting the ball hard (48.4% of the time), his ground ball rate was much higher than his already high season-average, as he finished the month with 59.7% of his balls in play being ground balls. Braun’s success came in part from performing abnormally well on ground balls, as he posted a .297 batting average on them. With that average bound to fall closer to the league average, Braun’s “hot” May could end up being a fluke.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Braun attempts to tinker with his swing any further. If he truly did make adjustments during the offseason, it seems clear that they either are not sticking or are not as effective as Braun would have hoped. If his goal is to hit the ball in the air more often, his results in attempting to achieve that are moving in the completely opposite direction.

A Tale of Two Months

Boy oh boy, when the season started and I saw how Ryan Braun was playing in March/April, I was ready to put a cap on his career. I mean, do you blame me? Brauny started the first month hitting an abysmal .196 with a slugging percentage of .381. Braun wasn’t even getting on base at an efficient rate, he had a .250 OBP in the opening month. He was striking out 24% of the time leaving Craig Counsell no choice but to start Ben Gamel in left field. As a player who usually gets off to hot starts at the plate, this was easily Braun’s worst opening month of his career. He was even making uncharacteristic errors out in the field. We haven’t had a dominant Ryan Braun since 2016 but at this point I’m just looking for slightly above average. The start of the 2019 season made it seem like Brewer fans weren’t even getting that. There will come a day where Ryan Braun cannot square up a Mid-90s fastball and I thought we were seeing that come to fruition. However, I was wrong. I was really wrong.

The month of May for Ryan Braun has been more than kind to him. In May, Braun played in 25 games and hit an elite .363 with an OBP of .427. He had a better OPS in May (1.014) than Dodgers outfielder, Cody Bellinger, who is doing things that haven’t happened since Babe Ruth in 1932. In just one month, Braun was able to raise his batting average by .75 points. He was also able to hit 4 home runs, 6 doubles, and generate 14 RBIs. The 14 RBIs was only 1 less than $300 million dollar man, Manny Machado, was able to produce in May. Braun was striking out 24% of the time in March/April but he was able to lower that and only strike out 20% of the time in May. This is 5% lower than Mike Trout’s strikeout rate in the fifth month of the year. This was easily his best month of May since 2016.

Going into the month of June, Braun is hitting .271 with an OPS of .806. He has 9 home runs, 30 RBIs, 9 doubles, and 25 runs scored. What’s more impressive is that he is doing his best work when there are 2 outs with runners in scoring position. On the season, he is hitting .412 with over half of his RBIs in these situations. At this point, if I had to guess, Braun is on pace for a .280 season with about 27 home runs, 90 RBIs, and 75 runs scored. If this happened, it would subjectively be Braun’s best season since 2015, the last time he made the All-Star game. We could very well be seeing another potential All-Star campaign by the 35-year-old in 2019.

***Stats accurate according to baseball-reference.com as of 3:00 p.m. on 6/1/2019***

Brandon Woodruff: Next Milwaukee Brewers Ace?

Last Sunday in a home start against Philadelphia, starter Brandon Woodruff joined some elite Brewers company, becoming the first Milwaukee starting pitcher to have back-to-back outings of 8+ IP, with 10+ Ks and 1 hit or less since CC Sabathia in 2008.

The homegrown hurler was given a steady starting role for the first time in his career heading into 2019 after making only spot-starts and bullpen appearances as a rookie last season.

Woodruff has seized his opportunity to say the least. Over his last six starts, he is 6-0 with a 1.42 ERA and 43/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is pitching like a seasoned veteran despite being just 26 years old. Woodruff’s emergence has been crucial to the overall success of the ballclub, and it has potentially opened the door for some personal accolades in his first full season, such as an all-star bid.

His fellow young pitchers who began the season in the rotation, Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes have yet to find their sea legs as starters in the bigs. Peralta’s first-inning demons have cost him his rotation spot (22.50 first-inning ERA), and Burnes’ susceptibility to giving up home runs (14) as been his undoing as a starter. Both pitchers are now coming out of the bullpen for the time being, and with Jimmy Nelson’s return on the horizon and the acquisition of lefty Gio Gonzalez, they will likely be relegated for to the bullpen for the foreseeable future.

Now back to Brandon Woodruff. When Phillies megastar Bryce Harper, (who Woodruff struck out three times on Sunday) was asked about Woodruff’s performance against them, he said ““Thank goodness for Knappy with him being able to get the homer right there,” Bryce Harper said. “I think a lot of us thought (Woodruff) had the stuff to be perfect today” That is some high praise coming from a player who was just paid $330 million last offseason.

The fastball has easily been Woodruff’s key pitch this season. His typical velocity sits at 96-97 MPH and hitters have not been able to catch up to it this season, so until that changes, look to see plenty more overpowering heaters from Woodruff.

Finally, you can’t bring up Woody’s performance this season and not mention his success at the plate. He has accumulated 10 hits in 27 plate appearances and has been so consistent that Craig Counsell has used him in a pinch-hit role on several occasions. His value as a batter makes him even more important to the Brewers. Who needs a universal DH?

There is nothing that would suggest Brandon Woodruff’s breakout is a fluke, so assuming he is able to sustain his level of production, we could be looking at the next homegrown ace of the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

 

Milwaukee’s New Fan Favorite

Every year there is a Brewer player with little to no expectations that stands out and becomes a fan favorite. In 2008 it was Gabe Kapler. 2011 had one of the most remembered Brewers of this last decade in T-Plush aka, Nyjer Morgan. 2013 had Scooter Gennett and last year it was Hernan Perez who stole the fan’s hearts. For the 2019 season, one player may have already stepped up to become the new fan favorite. Maybe it’s because he looks like he should be on the show, Game of Thrones, or maybe it’s because he’s a solid player but Ben Gamel has emerged as a loved Milwaukee Brewer.

The younger brother of once top Brewer prospect, Mat Gamel, Ben has shown he can be a respectable platoon player in Milwaukee’s lineup. As a 10th round pick by the Yankees out of Bishop Kenney High School in Jacksonville, Florida, Gamel has always had something to prove. He was never seen as a great prospect by New York and that is why he was traded to Seattle for starting pitching prospects, Juan De Paula and Jio Orozco, both of whom have yet to see the MLB. Once he was in Seattle, he battled for a spot on the roster until he became a starter in 2017. In fact, up to this point 2017 has been Gamel’s best of his career where he batted .275 in 509 at-bats. He even added in 27 doubles and 11 home runs. Coming out of that season he was being compared to Toronto’s former standout outfielder, Kevin Pillar, who is now on the San Francisco Giants.

The Brewers acquired Ben Gamel after trading Domingo Santana for him and a prospect last offseason. Gamel started the season on a high note for Milwaukee because from April 7th through April 19th, Gamel hit .333 with an OPS of .865. He has also had a nice month of May. In Milwaukee’s first 7 games of May, Gamel was on fire. He was hitting .357 with an OPS of almost .800. Since then, he had cooled off at the plate until May 26th where he went 2-5 with 2 home runs and 3 RBIs. These little spurts in both April and May prove that Ben Gamel can get hot and be productive at the plate.

Through 50 games, Gamel is hitting .260 with an OBP of .352 as a platoon player for the Crew. He has also added 6 doubles, 4 home runs, 14 RBIs, and 21 runs. He scores about 15% of the time he goes to the plate. Sure, these numbers are not necessarily eye popping but they are very good for somebody who doesn’t get into the rhythm of an everyday player. Who knows, later in the season Milwaukee might have to rely on this new fan favorite the same way they did Nyjer Morgan.

 

***Stats accurate as of 7:00 p.m., 5/28/19 courtesy of baseball-reference.com***

Brewers’ Starting Pitching Bounces Back

There’s no other way to say it: the Brewers’ starting pitching was dismal to start the year. They routinely failed to eat innings, and at the end of April they had the 7th worst ERA (5.14) of any starting rotation in baseball.

Some of these struggles were due to the performances of individual players. Corbin Burnes, after being a lock-down reliever during the Brewers’ playoff run in 2018, failed to acclimate back to a starting role, posting a 10.70 ERA in 4 starts and allowing a gargantuan 1.285 OPS to opposing batters. Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff encountered troubles of their own, with Peralta’s first inning problems resurfacing and Woodruff always seeming to be one bad inning away from a good start. Compounding the rotation’s issues was Jhoulys Chacin looking like a completely different pitcher than the one who anchored the Crew’s staff into October, recording a 5.24 ERA in April.

However, the turn of the calendar brought a rotation that has performed a complete 180-degree turn. Since May 1st, the Brewers starters rank 2nd in the league in ERA (2.53) while holding opponents to a .681 OPS and allowing only 8 home runs in just over 84 innings pitched. Limiting the long ball has been a huge factor, as the rotation allowed 1.83 home runs per nine innings (HR/9) in April. Thus far in May, they have dropped that to 0.85 HR/9.

Individually, the Brewers have received some stellar performances to aid this turnaround. Gio Gonzalez has been phenomenal since his acquisition, covering 21 and 1/3 innings while posting a 1.69 ERA. Zach Davies is in a battle for the best ERA in the league, and has only helped his case with a 1.80 ERA in the month of May. Brandon Woodruff has seemingly turned a corner, giving the Crew four solid starts leading to a 1.44 ERA, including an 8-inning, 2-run gem that helped the Brewers take the series finale from the Atlanta Braves on Sunday. Finally, Jhoulys Chacin has started to looked like his 2018 self, recording a 3.38 ERA in three May starts.

While successful personnel adjustments like the insertion of Gio Gonzalez and Chase Anderson into the rotation are part of the reason for this turnaround, a more simple reason may also be contributing their current success: the Brewers aren’t playing the bulk of their games against offensive juggernauts anymore like they were in April. Over the first month of the season (March included), 23 of the Brewers’ 31 games were against teams with top-10 offenses when measured by weighted runs created plus (wRC+). Playing the Dodgers and Cardinals a combined 17 times is expected to be tough on your pitching staff, so it makes sense that they experienced difficulties that could easily have been exacerbated by some start of the season rust.

Going forward, the Brewers’ rotation will be an interesting situation to say the least. The Brewers currently have six healthy starters in Anderson, Chacin, Davies, Gonzalez, Woodruff, and Peralta, with the first five of that sequence having their starting roles locked down. However, Jimmy Nelson is nearing the end of his rehab program, meaning that he could be a potential seventh starting option that the Brewers need to find a place for. Given the rotation’s current success, it is difficult to predict how Craig Counsell and the front office will shuffle the group to make room for Nelson, who when he is “right” is the closest thing the Brewers have to a true ace.

One move that is almost certain to result with a Nelson return would be Freddy Peralta either moving to the bullpen or being optioned to Triple-A San Antonio. He is simply too volatile at the moment to warrant a starting role over the other options available. Triple-A would be a good environment for him to continue to hone his command of his pitches, as he has proven that he can be dominant when he is able to locate his pitches.

As far as Nelson, the Brewers could clear up the logjam by using him in a “piggyback” role with another starter. Counsell rarely allows Chase Anderson or Gio Gonzalez to face a lineup a third time through, which often limits them to starts of under six innings. If Counsell wanted to really eliminate the potential for any damage from either of those starters facing a lineup multiple times through, he could combine four innings of Gonzalez/Anderson with three from Jimmy Nelson, effectively giving them seven innings of rotation-caliber pitching. This would be a way to ease Nelson back into things while also playing on the strengths of the staff.

The other options for Nelson are to simply insert into a starting role at the expense of a current rotation member, convert him to a true bullpen pitcher (as compared to a “piggyback” role), or keep him in the minor leagues as a starter. Of these three options, both the bullpen and the minor leagues seem highly unlikely, as the Brewers have stretched him out to starter-level innings and he is simply too talented to revert to a bullpen role. Insertion into the starting rotation is possible, but once again would require the Brewers to determine a new role for one of their five currently successful starters.

Regardless, things are looking up for the Brewers rotation. Despite an early-season panic regarding their viability as a group, it looks like David Stearns has managed to put together a staff that can keep the Brewers in the pennant race and hopefully lead them to their postseason aspirations.