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Brewers Minors by Position: Relief Pitchers

Milwaukee's strong bullpen could draw interest from contending clubs in 2016

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of working out way through the Brewers minor league system, like Boyz II Men before us, we've come to the end of the road. Today we're taking a look at the Brewers stable of relief pitchers. Of course, there's a handful of prospects on last week's starting pitchers list that belong on this list as well, but the trouble is that we don't know which ones they are yet. Inevitably, some of them will be converted to relief. For now, these are the top bullpen candidates in the organization.

MLB Assets

1) LHP Will Smith, 26
Contract Status: 1st year arbitration eligible, $1.2 million MLBTR projection, free agent in 2019
2015 with Milwaukee: 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 34.5 K%, 9.1 BB%, 2.47 FIP (63.1 IP)

2) RHP Jeremy Jeffress, 28
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration, earliest eligibility in 2017, free agent in 2020
2015 with Milwaukee: 2.65 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 23.5 K%, 7.7 BB%, 3.22 FIP (68.0 IP)

3) RHP Corey Knebel, 24
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration, earliest eligibility in 2018, free agent in 2022
2015 with Milwaukee: 3.24 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 27.8 K%, 8.1 BB%, 3.25 FIP (50.1 IP)

4) RHP Michael Blazek, 26
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration, earliest eligibility in 2018, free agent in 2021
2015 with Milwaukee: 2.43 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 21.2 K%, 8.1 BB%, 3.17 FIP (55.2 IP)

5) RHP Tyler Thornburg, 27
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration, earliest eligibility in 2017 ,free agent in 2020
2015 with Milwaukee:  3.67 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22.5 K%, 8.0 BB%, 5.11 FIP (34.1 IP)

6) RHP Zach Jones, 25
Acquired: 2nd round of the 2015 Rule 5 draft from Minnesota 
2015 with AA-Chattanooga:  6.00 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 24.6 K%, 14.8 BB%, 4.64 FIP (27.0 IP)

7) RHP Ariel Pena, 26
Acquired: Traded from Angels for Zack Greinke in 2012
2015 with AAA-Colorado Springs  4.14 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 23.8 K%, 9.2 BB%, 3.96 FIP (82.2 IP)

8) RHP Tyler Cravy, 26
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration, earliest eligibility in 2019, free agent in 2022
2015 with Milwaukee:  5.70 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 18.1 K%, 11.4 BB%, 4.70 FIP (42.2 IP)

9) RHP David Goforth, 27
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration, earliest eligibility in 2019, free agent in 2022
2015 with Milwaukee:  4.01 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 21.6 K%, 7.2 BB%, 4.27 FIP (24.2 IP)

At the MLB level, the bullpen is perhaps the strongest unit in the Brewers organization. Milwaukee relievers collectively ranked in the top 10 in ERA and fWAR while topping the league in xFIP. Not only are they already performing at a high level, but they're young, improving and -- most importantly -- cheap: of the nine players listed above all but one, Will Smith, are still pre-arbitration assets. Smith, who seems to be the favorite for the closer's gig (still not a thing), would likely be in his final year of relative affordability if that were the case -- the arbitration board has already leaned old-school in their decisions, which means a heavy reliance on RBI, HR and saves (also still not a thing I WILL DIE ON THIS HILL).

It's hard to say exactly who the Brewers will break camp with in their Opening Day bullpen, but I've made my guess here with the first seven players listed -- Ariel Pena grabs a spot largely because he's out of options, and Zach Jones is the Rule 5 draftee that must be kept on the 25-man roster or made available to the rest of the league. Of course the Brewers could also make a move or two from a position of relative strength, which could serve to clarify the roster situation.

The Prospects

10) RHP Damien Magnifico, 24
Acquired: 5th round of the 2012 draft
2015 with AA-Biloxi:  1.17 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 17.2 K%, 10.0 BB%, 3.90 FIP (53.2 IP)

11) RHP Jacob Barnes, 25
Acquired: 14th round of the 2011 draft
2015 with AA-Biloxi: 3.36 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 26.5 K%, 9.5 BB%, 2.69 FIP (75.0 IP)

12) RHP Yhonathan Barrios, 24
Acquired: Traded from Pirates for Aramis Ramirez in July
2015 with AA-Biloxi: 3.15 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 19.1 K%, 6.0 BB%, 3.25 FIP (20.0 IP)

13) LHP Nick Hagadone, 30
Contract Status: Singed to minor league deal in December, non-roster invitee (NRI)  
2015 with Cleveland: 4.28 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 22.6 K%, 9.7 BB%, 3.83 FIP (27.1 IP)

14) LHP Mitch Lambson, 25
Acquired: Selected in minor league portion of Rule 5 draft
2015 with AAA-Fresno (Astros): 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 17.1 K%, 7.1 BB%, 3.25 FIP (17.1 IP)

15) RHP Daniel Tillman, 26
Acquired: Signed as a minor league free agent in December, NRI
2015 with High-A Rancho Cucamonga: 2.61 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 26.9 K%, 6.5 BB%, 4.30 FIP (48.1 IP)

16) LHP Jed Bradley, 25
Acquired: 1st round of the 2011 draft
2015 with AAA-Colorado Springs: 9.00 ERA, 2.12 WHIP, 11.7 K%, 7.8 BB%, 4.10 FIP (26.0 IP)

Magnifico and Barnes, the relievers who shined in the Arizona Fall League (outside of a single rough outing for Magnifico), are two of Milwaukee's best relief prospects, and we'll see how they deal with the thin Colorado Springs air and the offense-driven Pacific Coast League. Hagadone, who was non-tendered by Cleveland, interestingly chose a minor league deal with an invite to major league camp with Milwaukee over the same offer from the Indians, perhaps indicating that he feels/was told that he has an inside track on making the Opening Day roster.

Lambson and Tillman are a couple of newcomers to the organization -- Lambson, a lefty plucked from the Astros organization in the Rule 5 draft, in particular is an interesting case. Players selected in minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft generally do not have an impact on the major league club, but Lambson seems to have a shot. Finally Bradley, the Brewers disappointing first round pick in 2011, was converted to relief this season and had some success in Double-A (3.31 ERA, 8.54 K/9 in 32.2 IP) before struggling again after being called up to the Sky Sox.