Spring Training Roster Battles: The Pitchers

Way back on February 12, I took a look at what Brewers' fielding position battles might occur in spring training.  Now I'm taking a look at the roster battles the Milwaukee pitching staff might be facing.  The team isn't looking to figure out half it's rotation or the top of the bullpen, which is great, but there are a few things to look at, yet.

Fifth Starter

Chris Narveson is likely to retain his role as the Brewers fifth starter, but he may find himself facing competition from Milwaukee's newest top prospect, Mark Rogers and, potentially, even Manny Parra.  Narveson gained a starting role in 2009, starting four games at the end of the season (and not reaching six innings in any of them) after primarily being a reliever that year.  He retained his role in 2010 and started 28 games, while relieving in nine others.  Over the course of both years, he has kept a 4.22 FIP in 214.2 total innings.  He saw a big jump (the wrong direction) in his ERA, going from 3.83 in 2009 (47 innings) to 4.99 in 2010 (167.2 innings). 

Mark Rogers is generally regarded as the top Brewers prospect after the trades of Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi, et al.  The Brewers 1st round pick in 2004 out of high school, it feels as though Rogers has been around forever though he's still just 25 years old.  Rogers pitched well in 24 AA starts last season with a 3.71 ERA and 3.58 FIP.  In a brief stint with the Brewers (10 innings) Rogers had a 1.80 ERA and 2.08 FIP.  Rogers missed all of the 2007-2008 seasons due to shoulder injuries, but when he has pitched he has struggled with his control with a 5.7 BB/9.  He's got the "stuff" to be a very good pitcher, though, and has also struck out 10.1 batters per nine innings in his minor league career.  If Rogers has a big spring training and Narveson struggles, I don't think it's that big of a stretch for the Brewers to go with Rogers out of the gate.  I think Milwaukee will likely want to give him more seasoning in AAA, where he's only had one start, first. 

Manny Parra will likely need something miraculous to happen for him to regain a spot in the rotation, though if Rogers is kept in the minors, Parra might end up being the Brewers sixth starter.

Bullpen

If the Brewers go with the traditional five bench players, that means there will be seven bullpen spots.  John Axford, Takashi Saito, Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe and LaTroy Hawkins are, I think, locks to come out of spring training on the 25 man roster, which leaves just two more spots in the bullpen with guys like Pat Egan, Mark Rogers, Mike McClendon, Brandon Kintzler, Mitch Stetter, Justin James, Sean Green, and the returning Mark Difelice all trying to make the roster. 

Pat Egan, of course, was the Brewers rule-5 selection this year, so he either makes the roster or the Brewers have to offer him back to the Orioles or trade something for his rights.  Egan hasn't pitched badly in his career.  His highest FIP until last year came in 2008 when he posted a 3.15 while starting in Low-A ball.  In 2010, he struggled a little bit in his first taste of AAA with a 5.11 ERA and 3.79 FIP.  He has a big frame at 6' 8" and likes using a sinkerball.  My guess is he doesn't crack the Brewers bullpen, though they trade something worthless to the Orioles for the right to keep him. 

I've already gone over Mark Rogers and it's possible the Brewers decide to keep him on the roster and put him in the bullpen, though I think they prefer to have him get his work in at Nashville.  If he somehow makes the starting rotation, Narveson is a good bet to be in the Brewers bullpen.

Mike McClendon pitched 21 innings with the Brewers last season, and pitched pretty well.  He had a 3.32 FIP and a 3.00 ERA with 9 K/9 and 3 BB/9.  His minor league track record doesn't bode well for him continuing to strike out that many batters, but he walked less hitters in the minors as well.  Since switching to relieving full time in 2008, the 26 year old has not had an FIP higher than 3.38 between advanced A and the majors.  He usually uses a fastball/slider combination, but will mix in a changeup. 

Brandon Kintzler had a brief callup last season, pitching seven innings with poor results--a 7.36 ERA and 5.81 FIP.  Though, if you normalize his home run rate he posted a 3.01 xFIP.  Though, that's really too small of a sample size to base anything on.  Kintzler joined the Brewers in 2009 after pitching for both the Padres and in an independent league.  He pitched just 9 innings for Huntsville that year.  His first full year of pitching in the organization, in 2010, Kintzler was spectacular pitching 14 innings in the Brewers rookie league, then 22 more innings in Huntsville with a 0.40 ERA and 1.41.  After a promotion to Nashville, he pitched 26.2 more innings with a 2.36 ERA and 2.90 FIP.  His peripheral stats were outstanding as well--he only gave up four home runs in 70 total innings, with two of those coming while on the big league club.  In his brief stint in the Major Leagues Kintzler showed a fastball/slider combination while rarely working in a changeup.  He should perhaps be one of the favorites for a bullpen spot with a good spring showing.

Mitch Stetter pitched 70.1 innings for the Brewers from 2008-2009.  In 45 innings for the 2009 Brewers, Stetter had a 3.60 ERA and 4,43, generally working as the lefty specialist out of the pen.  He opened up 2010 on the Brewers 25 man roster, but pitched poorly enough that he was sent back to the minors.  Back in Nashville, Stetter ended up tossing 42 more innings with pretty poor results--a 6.86 ERA and a 5.08 FIP.  With lefty Zach Braddock already entrenched in bullpen, Stetter has an uphill battle in making a return to the Brewers bullpen. 

Justin James and Sean Green are likely all long shots at best to win a job out of Spring Training.  James has had good minor league numbers in the Blue Jays, Reds and Athletics organizations-- good enough to warrant a look in spring at least.  However, his K/BB numbers never were overly great until 2010.  I feel as though the Brewers would prefer other players over him.  Green has a decent enough major league sample size:  In 250 innings over five years he has been decidedly mediocre.  He had two good years from 2007-2008, then fell off quite a bit in 2009-2010. 

The returning Mark Difelice is my personal hope to win one of the two remaining spots.  After being signed from the independent leagues, he pitched great in Huntsville and Nashville in 2007 and 2008, then pitched well in a brief call-up to the majors in 2008, posting a 2.84 ERA and 4.40 FIP.  If you normalize his home run rate, he had a 3.74 xFIP.  In 2009 he was even better, pitching 51.2 innings with a 3.66 ERA and 3.68 FIP.  Unfortunately, the Brewers lost him for all of 2010 after he needed shoulder surgery.  If Difelice can return to form, it would go a long way in solidifying Milwaukee's bullpen.

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