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Merciful, Merciful Off Day

I've already said my piece about keeping calm amidst apparent disaster, and TheJay does a great job following up with some relevant stats.  So despite how we probably all feel about the Cardinals series and the road trip in general, I'll spare you another post along the same lines.

What I have been thinking about for a few days, though, is how the Brewers have been developing pitchers lately.  You know how you always read that "so-and-so has a ceiling as a middle reliever", or "so-and-so's future is in the bullpen?"  That may be true -- there are far more guys who make it to the big leagues as relievers than starters.  It's hard to be an effective starter in the major leagues.  

But there's danger in taking that assumption too far.  If you look at scouting reports for Villanueva from a couple of years ago, you see that exact language.  What if the Brewers had decided to groom him as a future closer starting in '05?  Then his ceiling would automatically be, say, Matt Wise.  Instead, he kept starting and could be plugged into the rotation next year, despite helping out in the pen this season.

Manny Parra is another great example.  Parra, as you all know, has had more than his share of injury problems.  Many teams, I suspect, would've committed him to the bullpen long ago.  It may turn out that Parra will have a long career as a late-inning reliever...I don't know.  But right now, he has more value than he's ever had before, because he's proven he can start effectively at Triple-A, and the early signs suggest he can start in the bigs.  There are way fewer people who can do that than those who have a year or two of success as a setup guy somewhere.

I suspect this is an organizational decision, and it goes against a bit of conventional wisdom.  It makes sense, too: as Villanueva has showed a couple of times (and Dana Eveland is an example of this, too), someone who is starting in the minors can quickly adjust to relieving in the majors.  The reverse is completely not true.  Of course, you can only have so many guys start for you in the minors, but better to allot those rotation slots to guys who you think can help you.

What made me notice this was, in the last week, both Steve Bray and Elmer Dessens started games for the Sounds.  Bray's sleeper prospect status has lost some luster, but he's still striking out a batter an inning despite coughing up more walks.  I don't know why he started, but he went three innings--an interesting step for someone who has been a short reliever of late.  Recall that the Crew did something similar with Jose Capellan before he was called up earlier this year.  

Dessens, also, is getting stretched out at Nashville.  Now, I don't think Dessens is the next guy in line to take a rotation spot, nor do I think that would be a good idea.  But, if he's going to rejoin the team as a long man, I'd be much happier if he was accustomed to going five innings (as he did in his last outing) than the 1 or 2 that is typical for rehabbing relievers.

What might turn out to the longest-term benefit here is that the strategy of using swing guys as starters in the minors increases their trade value.  Parra may be the best example, as it sounds like he's been highly coveted by a handful of teams.  But even someone like Bray: if, say, the A's see that he can give you a respectable 5 or 6 innings while keeping the walks down, they might view him as a cheap solution to their #5 starter slot.  As a reliever, Bray would be fast-tracked to minor league free agency.

This is yet another reason to keep an eye on the Minor League Notes every day.  And while I'm on the subject, you might have noticed that I wrote them up this morning.  John has been doing them every day going back more than a year now, which I can't thank him for enough.  When he returns, I hope everyone will drop him a line in the comments or by email thanking him for all of his hard work collecting all of that news for us.  It's a big job, and we're lucky to have him do it.