Monday, Jan. 14 marks 29 days until Milwaukee Brewers pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
Milwaukee rallied to finish last season with an 83-79 overall record, just the second time in recent memory they’ve had back-to-back winning squads.
But for the Brewers to get their third winning season in a row — something they haven’t done since 1978-1980 — a lot of questions will need to be answered, specifically with the pitching staff.
Barring a late trade or surprise signing, the Brewers are returning their entire starting lineup from last year, a lineup that led the National League in runs, home runs, runs batted in and stolen bases.
But the rotation and bullpen cannot claim to have the same returning stability.
Yovani Gallardo is back for his seventh season and is the undoubted ace of the staff. Behind Gallardo lies plenty of potential, but questions about production. Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers had had productive first-seasons starting at the major league level (Both had K/9’s above nine and BB/9’s below three to go with earned run averages well below 4.0). Estrada was prone to giving up home runs (10.5% HR/FB percentage) and Fiers struggled down the stretch, either wearing down, being figured out by opposing batters or both. Those two would appear to have a good shot of making the 2013 rotation.
Behind them is where the fun starts.
Chris Narveson, Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers and Tyler Thornburg appear to be the others in the running for the final two rotation spots.
Narveson, the lone lefty of the group, is coming off a torn rotator cuff but is expected to be ready for spring training. He pitched in the rotation for the Brewers in 2010 and 2011, with a combined 23-17 record and an earned run average in the mid 4s in just over 329 innings.
Peralta, Milwaukee’s top prospect according to Baseball America, shined after a call-up at the end of the season. The six-foot, two-inch right-hander boasts major velocity (average fastball of 95.5 MPH, according to FanGraphs) and pitched well in five starts for the Brewers (2-1, 2.48 ERA).
Rogers has been up and down with the club over the past few years, but also pitched well in seven late-season starts with the big club (3-1, 3.92 ERA in 39 innings). He too has a live arm (average fastball of 93.6 MPH), but might be more of a two-pitch pitcher than Peralta. Rogers also averaged less than six innings per outing, whereas Peralta went at least six innings in three of his five starts, including an eight-inning masterpiece against the Mets on Sept. 16 (8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 5 K).
Thornburg is the youngster of the group and has minor league options left, meaning he could still get some seasoning at AAA if suitable starters can be found elsewhere. He started three games in Milwaukee in 2012 (0-0, 5.14 ERA, 11 Ks/4 BBs).
Based on what Milwaukee has coming to spring training (and if I was a betting man), my gut would tell me that Estrada and Fiers are on pretty solid ground to earn rotation spots, leaving two spots up in the air among four others. I think Peralta showed enough to slot him in the No. 4 spot, with Narveson and Rogers battling for the last position and the loser moving to the bullpen to become the team’s long reliever while Thornburg goes to AAA Nashville to anchor the staff for the Sounds.
A Gallardo/Estrada/Fiers/Peralta/Narveson or Rogers doesn’t have the stability of rotations past. But it does have some potential, potential that if realized could put Milwaukee in the hunt for its third straight winning season.