Which Young Brewers Pitchers Will Make the Rotation?

Prior to the February trade that sent shortstop Jean Segura to Arizona, the Brewers’ rotation seemed basically set. Matt Garza, who is under contract for $12.5 million in both 2016 and 2017, seemed a lock simply because the Brewers were required to have him on the roster for the next two years. Giving up this early just was not an option. Taylor Jungmann made a promising debut in 2015, Jimmy Nelson was about league-average in his first full season, and Wily Peralta has been a mainstay in the rotation for the last few years despite still being just 26 years old. In fact, each of those three is under 27 years old.

Obviously, those four would not have stayed healthy and/or productive all season, but the Brewers already had depth prior to the Segura trade. Zach Davies and Jorge Lopez, among others, have proven to be more than capable of making spot starts or filling in for a month at a time. However, neither has really earned consistent big-league time (less than fifty combined big-league innings), and it would not have been a surprise to see them begin in the minor leagues or in the bullpen.

But the newly-acquired Chase Anderson does not fit that mold. The right-hander made 48 major-league starts over the past two years. He has thrown 267 innings in The Show. He’s also 28 years old. This is not the profile of someone who can be relegated to the minor leagues and still develop. He — like Jungmann, Nelson, and Peralta — has learned all he can in the minors, and any potential development from any of these pitchers would have to happen in the major leagues.

However, there are not enough innings for all five of these pitchers. Rotations generally have five pitchers, but the fifth starter does not get consistent innings and is often shuttled to the bullpen when necessary. This is not a good situation for a young-ish pitcher that the Brewers will be hoping to develop into a consistent part of their rotation.

Assuming no injuries, which is never a safe assumption for pitchers, the Brewers will have to make a choice when spring training ends. Garza, as the veteran on an expensive contract, is safe. I expect that Jungmann (based on his performance in 2015) and Peralta (based on his track record) will also be safe, and the “final” rotation spot will come down to Anderson or Nelson.

This is a fair outcome; Nelson is not a special talent, and his peripherals don’t suggest much of an improvement is coming. PECOTA has him as a league-average pitcher if most things break right, which probably isn’t something worth hanging your hat on, especially with his skill set. As someone without elite strikeout potential, any improvement would be marginal.

Anderson is similarly unlikely to be a huge breakout candidate. He is already 28, and he doesn’t have big strikeout numbers. Part of his appeal to the Brewers must be that he is the new acquisition that was a key part of their trade of their starting shortstop. And he contrasts specifically well with Nelson, who has been in the Brewers’ organization for his entire professional career. The Brewers will get to choose whether they would like to go with the new toy or the farmhand with whom they are comfortable and familiar.

In practicalities, Nelson and Anderson are the two obvious choices to be squeezed out of the rotation at the end of the spring. However, pitchers like the aforementioned Lopez and Davies may prove themselves ready for the big leagues at some point during the season and put pressure on the big-league roster, and at that point, Wily Peralta should be concerned. After breaking 180 innings in both 2013 and 2014, Peralta’s stints on the disabled list last year limited him to under 110 innings. He also continued his trend of poor performance, as the lowest DRA he’s managed in the last three years was 4.20.

I believe that the Brewers will give Peralta a shot at the beginning of the season because he has been a consistent part of their rotation for the last few years, and they will remember his scintillating debut from 2012. However, precisely because of the length of this investment, their patience should be growing short. Peralta will be arbitration-eligible after this coming season, meaning his price will rise and the Brewers will have to make a decision about the size of their investment.

If Peralta struggles in the first half of 2016, the Brewers will have to decide what they think his future is. No members of the rotation are particularly strong, but the team does have a bunch of options. As was covered above, neither Jimmy Nelson nor Chase Anderson is a particularly dynamic option. However, despite his consistent presence on the Miller Park mound, neither is Wily Peralta.

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