MILWAUKEE — With Zack Greinke’s place atop the heap of the Milwaukee rotation left gapingly open after the team traded him to the Angels last Friday, the Brewers’ pitching staff has taken on a decidedly different look.
Enter the youth movement as hopes shift from a playoff run in 2012 to getting back on track in 2013.
Greinke’s open spot in the pitching order — coupled with Shaun Marcum’s absence due to injury — has paved the way for at least three young pitchers to get an opportunity to show their worth in the next month. Beyond that, as many as five rookie pitchers could get at least one start before the 2012 season ends.
“It’s wide open,” Roenicke said. “With all the young guys coming up and the way they’ve pitched, we’ll try to continue to see them and then try to factor in who really is a guy that we’re going to count on to be in that starting rotation next year.”
The only sure part of the rotation moving forward is Yovani Gallardo, who is signed for at least two more seasons. From there, however, the Brewers’ current rotation could be without, at the very least, Marcum and Randy Wolf next season — both of whom will be free agents in the fall.
Two starters who have proven themselves in some fashion this season, Michael Fiers and Marco Estrada, seem worthy of consideration for 2013. But only Fiers seems to be a lock at this point, as his performance in his first 10 starts of 2012 has been nothing short of spectacular.
Fiers’ 1.77 ERA and 1.061 WHIP are likely unsustainable for the long haul, but a performance even half as effective as he’s given this year could very well make him a solid contributor at the No. 3 through No. 5 spot in a rotation.
And though the Brewers’ youth movement is indicative of a losing trend — one the organization generally isn’t pleased with, given last year’s success — there’s a notable bright side to a final two months without legitimate postseason hopes. Without Milwaukee’s fall from contention or the myriad injuries to start the season, there’s no telling whether the organization would have understood the future a guy like Fiers has with the team.
“Out of bad sometimes comes good,” general manager Doug Melvin said on Saturday. “If we’re winning, we probably don’t find anything out of Michael Fiers.”
Added Roenicke: “We’ve got an opportunity to see young guys, which really helps in making decisions. … When you’re in a pennant race like we were last year, we couldn’t take the chance of seeing young guys. … Those years, it’s unfortunate for the young guys because they don’t get the chance to play.”
Aside from Fiers and Estrada, Roenicke has already turned to young right-hander Mark Rogers for one start — a 5 2/3-inning effort in which the former Brewers’ first-rounder struck out seven and allowed just two earned runs. After struggling with injuries and command issues, last Sunday’s start was another positive step forward for Rogers, who had been almost unstoppable at the Triple-A level in his three starts prior.
Unlike Fiers, Rogers has long been part of the Brewers’ plans in the rotation; although, his numerous setbacks have certainly delayed that process. And with a fastball that has been known to hit the mid to upper 90’s, Rogers could very well be on his way to hitting his stride. But with just one start under his belt, any sort of judgment would be premature at this point.
The two other pitchers most likely to join Rogers, Fiers and Estrada in August and September’s youth movement are two of Milwaukee’s top pitching prospects — Tyler Thornburg and No. 1 prospect Wily Peralta, both of whom have spent brief periods at the major league level already this season.
After experimenting with Thornburg in relief — a transition he struggled, at times, to make — the Brewers sent the right-hander back down to Nashville in hopes of getting him more consistent work as a starter. Thornburg gave up too many home runs in Milwaukee, but there’s little doubt he will be given every chance to start as soon as next season.
Peralta, with the most potential and also the most question marks, will be one of the more intriguing players to watch come September as he attempts to rectify the command issues that plagued the majority of his season in Nashville so far. The Brewers’ top prospect has a less-than-stellar 4.92 ERA for the Sounds this season; although his last few starts have been much-improved. But his game notably lacks polish — something the Brewers will keep a close eye on in September.
All in all, the Brewers’ oncoming youth movement is one brimming with undeniable potential. But with an eye on next season’s rotation, the Brewers aren’t likely to rely on a rotation jam-packed with upside and low on experience — they’re not in rebuild mode, after all. So how much youth is too much?
“Those are tough decisions because if you go with all young guys, you have to realize that it may not go as well as you planned,” Roenicke said. “It’s certainly a little easier when you have the veteran pitchers that have a track record and you know kind of what you’re going to get.”
Truthfully, Milwaukee doesn’t know much of what it’s going to get from its much younger, much fresher rotation for the next two months. But with the team likely out of contention and opportunities ripe for the taking, it should — at the very least — provide a look into what is shaping up so far to be a fairly bright future for the Brewers’ rotation.