Brewers: Ethan Small Back for Another Shot with the Crew, This Time as a Reliever
By Matt Carroll
One off the most highly anticipated prospect debuts of the 2022 season for Milwaukee Brewers fans was that of left-handed starter Ethan Small. Drafted in the first round back in 2019, his dominant numbers in the minors made it seem like he could be part of the next wave of young, talented Brewers staring pitchers.
Unfortunately, that debut didn't quite go the way Small or Brewers fans had hoped. Called into service to start half of a Memorial Day doubleheader on the road against the Cubs, he would last just 2.2 innings, giving up two runs on four hits and four walks while striking out four as he threw only 38 of 69 total pitches for strikes.
Small would get a chance to redeem himself in a start in late July, but that wouldn't go much better. Though he would last an inning longer at 3.2, he would give up three runs, again on four hits and four walks while striking out three and throwing an even lower percentage of pitches for strikes (33 of 63).
After that, Small started to see his ERA rise down on the farm as well. And after his first start in September in which he gave up eight runs in 4.2 innings, it was decided that it was time to make a change as he was shifted to Triple-A Nashville's bullpen for the remainder of the season.
The new role appeared to suit Small well to finish out 2022 and that trend has continued here in 2023, so much so that he will be joining the Crew for the first time this season.
On Friday, the Brewers called up left-hander Ethan Small, who now gets another shot in the majors as a reliever.
After his move to the bullpen to finish out 2022, Small started to show quickly that this was a move that could start to pay dividends. He would make six appearances as a reliever, giving up just two runs on five hits over 5.2 innings, and perhaps most notably not walking a single batter.
Fast forward to 2023 and Small has been just as dominant out of the pen as he was last season. Through 19.1 innings, all in relief, the southpaw has a 2.33 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and impressive .125 batting average against while striking out 28 and walking 13.
One area of concern for Small as he worked his way up through the organization was that he was walking more batters at each level and it's worth pointing out that his 6.05 BB/9 would be the highest mark of any of his professional seasons. However, he has balanced that out by cutting his hit rate nearly in half year over year (7.17 H/9 to 3.72) and is striking out batters at the highest rate (13.03 K/9) since his professional debut 2019 season (15.43).
Should things work out better this time around, Small could find himself sticking around for a while. That is because he would fulfill a role that Milwaukee could use some extra support in, that of an additional left-handed reliever.
The Brewers have been operating for most of the season with only one option for left-handed relief: Hoby Milner. The only other two lefty relievers to grace the active roster with their presence in 2023, Alex Claudio and Bennett Sousa, have made just one appearance apiece this season.
Having another reliable lefty to call upon out of the bullpen would be a great luxury to have going forward for Brewers manager Craig Counsell. Finally it's time to see whether Small can end up being that guy.