Spring training is in full swing with the Brewers having played their fifth Cactus League game on Thursday afternoon. For the team’s pitchers, the opportunity to pitch in these games can mean different things depending on the player.
For Milwaukee pitching prospect invitees to spring training, there may be some long shot aspirations of making the big league roster for Opening Day. But most likely, these players are looking to make as good an impression as they can before shifting focus to the minor league season.
Two players who fall into that category are left-handers Aaron Ashby and Ethan Small. Members of the 2018 and 2019 draft classes, respectively, the duo were non-roster invitees for the first time in Ashby’s career and the second time in Small’s.
With the two still in the dawn of their professional Brewers careers, it would be easy to think that once spring training has drawn to a close, the rest of their years will be spent down in the minors. However, a recent report could imply that this may not necessarily be the case.
As it turns out, there may already be a good chance that Aaron Ashby and Ethan Small make appearances with the Brewers later in the season.
Ashby hasn’t pitched higher than the High-A level with the Carolina Mudcats in 2019. Ethan Small’s highest level of experience was with the Low-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers that same year. That’s apparently not enough to deter manager Craig Counsell from already factoring them in to the mid to late-season pitching staff discussion, per The Athletic’s Will Sammon.
If there were any young pitching prospects to consider for a big league promotion down the road, it makes sense that these two top the list. Both are ranked among the Brewers’ top overall prospects on most sites, including ours, and have impressed in their limited time in the minors.
Ashby has a career 3.53 ERA in two minor league seasons with 201 strikeouts in 183 2/3 innings and was named the team’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2019. Small finished that year by giving up just two earned over five games for Wisconsin.
Both pitchers have looked the part of a future big leaguer in spring training so far this year. Ashby has faced eight batters over two innings, giving up one walk and recording all six outs via the strikeout. It appears he already has a fan in Pitching Ninja.
Small has also pitched in two innings so far during spring training. He got in a small jam on Thursday, giving up his first earned run of the spring, but has otherwise looked solid and has showcased some of the tools that made him a first-round pick for the Brewers.
Counsell and the Brewers are already well-known for their proclivity to use more pitchers in a season than the average MLB team. Coming off a year where some pitchers only got to pitch in a reduced amount of games while others lost an entire season, that need may only be enhanced.
We’ll see if Ashby and Small do end up getting call-ups later in the season. Even if they don’t, it says a lot about their potential that they’re even being considered for such an honor.