We’re reaching the dog days of Spring Training, as Opening Day is less than two weeks away. There are only a few spots to go around. A couple posts here have already looked at the one remaining spot on the bench that is likely to go to either Brooks Conrad or Taylor Green. I’m going to look at the bullpen, the best and most competitive position battle in Brewers camp.
First, let’s look at the spots that have been locked up.
Axford, Rodriguez, Veras and Loe were all above average each of the last two years, which gives the Brewers a strong back end of the bullpen. I’m not totally convinced Estrada should be a lock for the roster, but that could just be all the times Ron Roenicke misused him in the NLCS clouding my judgment. He did a nice job during the season filling in as an emergency starter, although he was not as good as a reliever (which is definitely an unusual trend).
Anyway. That leaves exactly two bullpen spots for five legitimate contenders: Zach Braddock, Manny Parra, Tim Dillard, Brandon Kintzler, and Mike McClendon. I thought Michael Fiers might have a shot as well, but he’s already been optioned to AAA to be a starter in Nashville.
I like Brandon Kintzler, but he’s been injured much of camp, so even if he comes back strong, he has likely run out of time.
It seems Braddock and Parra would be in direct competition, both being left-handers. I’m a big fan of Braddock, but he’s got a couple things working against him. First of all, he missed much of last season due to some pretty extenuating personal/health circumstances. It seems reasonable for the Brewers to want to see him prove himself a bit in Nashville before giving him big league innings. Secondly, and more importantly, he’s a victim of the Options Game. Braddock has two minor league options remaining, while Parra has none. With all the time and money the Brewers have invested into Parra and his rehabilitation, I don’t expect them to cut him loose now without even seeing what he can do.
So, I’m expecting Parra to make the team and Braddock to start in Nashville.
The other battle isn’t as easy to call. Dillard and McClendon have both had some success in limited stints with the Brewers. Dillard single-handedly won them a game in Florida last year by digging them out of a near impossible extra innings jam, and he’s shown very strong k/bb ratios the last couple years (since he moved to his sidearm delivery), which is probably my favorite stat for pitchers. Complicating matters for the Brewers is the fact that Dillard is out of options, and it could be difficult to pass him through waivers.
McClendon is an interesting case, too. He’s done well enough in MLB cups of coffee in both 2010 and 2011, and he has solid AAA numbers in those seasons as well. McClendon appears to have an option left.
While it may seem this is as cut and dried as McClendon has an option and Dillard does not, I don’t think this one is as simple as Parra/Braddock. The Parra case is a bit unusual; the Brewers should simply pick the best pitcher in this case. They’ve slipped Dillard through waivers before, so maybe it could happen again.
My preference is toward Dillard, but the difference is probably negligible. My official guess for the last two spots is Manny Parra and Tim Dillard, although I expect we’ll see Braddock, McClendon, Kintzler, and possibly Santo Manzanillo, Juan Perez, and Mike Fiers in Milwaukee at some point throughout the season. Injuries are inevitable, but I think the Brewers have some solid depth at reliever. Like last season, the bullpen should be a strength.