Milwaukee Brewers: Is the bullpen coming together?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 22: Corey Knebel
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 22: Corey Knebel /

One of the goals of the Milwaukee Brewers off season was to find a bridge to closer Corey Knebel. We’re less than a month away from the start of Spring Training. How does the bridge look now?

Corey Knebel‘s role for 2018 is one of the few in question when it comes to the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen. Knebel will start and finish the year as the closer. How the Brewers get to Knebel is another question entirely.

Who are the top set up guys?

As it stands right now? Jacob Barnes and Josh Hader are most likely to work the seventh and eighth innings in some order. Barnes is a representative Major League right-handed relief pitcher. He features a fastball/cutter combo that works well against righties and lefties. Barnes has shown the ability to strikeout over a batter per inning.

Barnes is a perfectly cromulent setup guy, but he just feels like he’d do better as a fourth or fifth guy on a really good team. The Milwaukee Brewers are counting on him to pitch high leverage innings, and he’s not really that guy. Barnes is prone to lapses in control, and the occasional gopher ball. He’s not really suited for a top setup role.

Hader’s role for 2018 is still a mystery. It’s likely he starts the year in the bullpen, but it’s not clear if he ends the season there. Hader could transition into a starting role if the Brewers three-headed fifth starter monster of Yovani Gallardo, Brent Suter, and Junior Guerra struggles.

What about the other guys?

Great question. Boone Logan is the Milwaukee Brewers LOOGY. Logan is fine as long as that’s all the team needs him to do. If he logs more than 50 innings, that means he had to face righties. He’s a LOOGY for a reason.

Jeremy Jeffress is a virtual lock to take up space in the Brewers bullpen. Hopefully, Jeffress will find comfort in the familiar surroundings and thrive. However, he was awful last year. His velocity and strikeout numbers were down, while his walks allowed and ERA were up. He did seem to find himself in the second half and posted a 4.11 ERA in 35 innings with 33 strikeouts and 19 walks in the second half. That’s a positive to build on…kind of.

Who fills the last two spots?

Good question. The Milwaukee Brewers will have J.J. Hoover and Ernesto Frieri in camp. Oliver Drake is still hanging around, and the two guys who don’t win the fifth starter job are also options. Manager Craig Counsell has his work cut out for himself here. None of the options to round out the bullpen really jump off the page.

Taylor Williams or even top prospect Corbin Burnes could also work their way into a relief role with a ridiculous camp. While there aren’t any rumors around Burnes making the Major League roster or pitching in the bullpen, the team already showed that they would try this route with Hader. It’s not inconceivable to think Burnes could follow a similar path.

Next: How is the Brewers 2018 bench shaping up?

The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t necessarily in better shape than they were when the season ended. Anthony Swarzak and Jared Hughes have both moved on. While the addition of Logan will help, the bridge to Knebel still needs work. There are still options available, but it’s now more likely that GM David Stearns will have to make a trade if he wants to add a high leverage reliever to come in for the seventh and eighth innings. There’s still a lot of time between now and Opening Day, but there are real concerns here.