Brewers: Update on the Spring Training Rotation Battle

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 19: Brandon Woodruff #53 of the Milwaukee Brewers poses during the Milwaukee Brewers Photo Day on February 19, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 19: Brandon Woodruff #53 of the Milwaukee Brewers poses during the Milwaukee Brewers Photo Day on February 19, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Brewers face a bunch of questions about their rotation heading into the 2020 season. Some of those questions have been answered.

One of the hot topics for every team going through spring training is how the starting rotation will line up to start the season, and the Brewers are no different.

Of course, the Brewers also have this “Opening Day Starter Curse” that they’re trying to break and that’s a different topic to discuss. The expected leader in the clubhouse for Opening Day is Brandon Woodruff, although that has not been confirmed yet by manager Craig Counsell.

What Craig Counsell did confirm was the basics of the depth chart for the rotation as spring training games have begun.

There is some new information in here, although not much in the way of surprises. Let’s break it down.

The Rotation Picture

As expected, Counsell did not confirm an Opening Day starter or the order of starting pitchers to begin the year, but there’s a lead pack and a pack a little further behind.

The lead pack has Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Josh Lindblom, and Brett Anderson. They’re projected to take up 4/5ths of the rotation, provided everyone stays healthy and aren’t a complete disaster in the spring.

That group of guys is pretty much exactly what everyone expected. It’ll be interesting to see how they line up to start the year, but it won’t be the biggest story.

What is the bigger story is the depth chart as we get down to the fifth starter. Currently, the lead dogs are Freddy Peralta and Eric Lauer. Whoever performs the best out of those two has the inside track to the rotation. Lagging a little bit behind those two is Corbin Burnes. Burnes, who struggled mightily in 2019, has come to camp with a renewed focus, a fresh plan of attack, and an improved mindset. He has the talent to be a frontline starting pitcher for years to come.

But Burnes currently has a lot of work to do to get back into the rotation to prove he can reach that potential. He currently sits seventh on the depth chart, but that can change. Hopefully if he moves up, it’s not due to injuries and rather because of his own dominance.

Sitting in the 8th spot on the depth chart is Shelby Miller, a former ace-level starter that has seen a career downturn over the past few years. The talent is still there, and at 29 years old, Miller is still young enough to see a career renaissance, but there likely isn’t enough time in spring training for him to prove himself ready for the big league rotation. Down 25 pounds, Miller is positioned well to get back to his old self, and we could see him in Milwaukee at some point in 2020.

Obviously, the five starting pitchers who make the initial rotation aren’t going to be the only five starters used all season long. With injuries or ineffectiveness, the Brewers have said they expect to use 8-10 starters over the course of 162 games.

The 5th Starter

The biggest battle to watch throughout camp will be who fills that fifth starter role to start the season. Eric Lauer, one of the new acquisitions this winter, is just 24 years old and he’s also left-handed, which could give him a leg up.

Freddy Peralta, meanwhile, is now regularly running up his fastball near 100 MPH and has added a slider this winter. With a full three pitch mix, as well as the different variations of his fastball, Peralta has the potential to be dominant as a starter, and is just 23 years old.

Burnes could slide his way in there with a big spring, but that’s with a big spring. If he has just an okay spring, Burnes is likely ticketed for the bullpen or Triple-A to start the year.

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This is just a beginning glimpse for the rotation picture heading into 2020. As Counsell said, things can change. We’ll see how things unfold over the next few weeks.