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Milwaukee Brewers Prospects to Know for 2016: Arms

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Taking a look at the hurlers who could make an impact in Milwaukee this season.

Junior Guerra smiles knowing that he's destined to become the ace of the 2016 Brewers' pitching staff.
Junior Guerra smiles knowing that he's destined to become the ace of the 2016 Brewers' pitching staff.
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball has begun anew for 2016 as teams and players have migrated to their havens in Arizona or Florida to prepare for the upcoming season. Things are off to a fine start down in Maryvale, AZ for our own Milwaukee Brewers, who own a 7-6-1 record to this point in Cactus League play.

This is an important year for the Brewers, and could go a long way in determining just how long the grand rebuilding project will take. Milwaukee should have plenty of playing time available at the major league level and there is no shortage of advanced prospects in their system that could get the opportunity to make an impression this season. If some of these prized players can hit the ground running in the big leagues, Milwaukee could be ready to return to competitive baseball much sooner than the 5+ years many in the media are prognosticating.

This series will be split into two parts: hitters and pitchers. We looked last week at the young position players who could have the chance to make an impression in the big leagues in 2016. Today we'll take a look at the pitchers that the casual fan should be aware of who could make an impact for Milwaukee this year:

RHP Jorge Lopez
MLB Pipeline Rank: 3
2016 Age: 23

The Brewers' top pitching prospect finally capitalized on his tantalizing potential last season, posting a breakout campaign in AA Biloxi. He totaled 143.1 innings with a 2.26 ERA in AA last year, narrowly losing out on the Southern League ERA title to former teammate Tyler Wagner. His control remains somewhat of a concern, but his strikeout rate took a significant jump and his third pitch changeup improved by leaps and bounds. Now considered by most to be a top 100 prospect, Lopez will start in AAA but could get an extended opportunity in the big league rotation if/when any injuries occur in 2016.

LHP Josh Hader
MLB Pipeline Rank: 4
2016 Age: 22

The slightly-framed Hader came to the Brewers as a part of the blockbuster deal with Houston last July, and since then his prospect stock has skyrocketed. He posted a 2.79 ERA and 33% strikeout rate in 38.2 innings with AA Biloxi after the trade then followed that up by allowing just two earned runs with 30 Ks in 23.0 innings in the Arizona Fall League. The lefty can get into the upper 90s and throws a plus slider, but his changeup and control could use some more polish. His small build and low arm slot could eventually relegate him to a bullpen role, as well, but for now the club will continue to develop him as a starter.

RHP Adrian Houser
MLB Pipeline Rank: 17
2016 Age: 23

The other pitcher included in the Houston trade, Houser is more of your prototypical Brewers' pitching prospect: sturdy, durable frame, power sinker and some control concerns. Houser was a different and much better pitcher during his short stint in Biloxi last season: 37.0 innings, 2.92 ERA, 32:6 K/BB ratio and also performed quite well in the Fall League. His mid-90s fastball and knee-buckling curve are his best offerings and his changeup is also coming along. He has the build of a back-end of the rotation innings eater, but if he can continue bringing along his third offering and maintain his improved control, he could settle in as a mid-rotation starter.

RHP Zach Davies
MLB Pipeline Rank: 19
2016 Age: 23

Davies was yet another trade addition, coming from Baltimore last season at the deadline. He is arguably Milwaukee's most polished pitching prospect, as he's already spent a full season in AAA and made a modestly successful MLB debut (3.71 ERA in 34.0 innings). Davies doesn't throw much harder than 90 MPH with his sinking fastball, but features a devastating changeup and is a ground-ball machine. In any other year Davies might be opening the season in the big league rotation, however given Milwaukee's depth he'll more than likely open the year in AAA and await the call when an injury inevitably occurs.

RHP Damien Magnifico
MLB Pipeline Rank: 29
2016 Age: 25

The Brewers added Magnifico to the 40 man roster prior to the Rule 5 deadline in November after he had a very successful season serving as the closer for AA Biloxi. In 53.2 innings he posted a 1.17 ERA and saved 20 games. He doesn't strike out many hitters (17% in 2015) in spite of the fact that his fastball can reach triple-digits and his control leaves plenty to be desired at this point, but a guy who throws as hard as Magnifico will always get an extra opportunity or two as a bullpen arm. He's a candidate to reprise his role as closer, but this time for AAA Colorado Springs.

RHP Jacob Barnes
MLB Pipeline Rank: 30
2016 Age: 26

Similar prospect to Magnifico, Jacob Barnes was added to the 40 man in November after a successful season in AA (75.0 innings, 3.36 ERA, 84:30 K/BB). He also throws hard, touching 97 MPH out of the bullpen, but unlike Damien he misses plenty of bats with his fastball-slider combo. Barnes will need to work on throwing more strikes when he opens the season in the minors (likely in AAA) but he could be a viable piece of the bullpen in the future.

RHP Yhonathan Barrios
MLB Pipeline Rank: N/A
2016 Age: 24

Barrios, who came over from Pittsburgh last July, is an interesting prospect. He began his career as a position player and has only focused on pitching for the last three seasons. He can hit 100 MPH on his fastball so he's automatically interesting, but he also flashed a decent changeup during his brief MLB debut last September. Given his limited experience as a hurler his offerings and control obviously need further refinement, but the raw stuff here is tantalizing. Shoulder troubles have kept Barrios from appearing in a game this spring and the seriousness of that injury has yet to be determined. He'll begin the year in the minors or on the DL but Barrios could certainly see some big league time this year and play a role in future Brewers' bullpens.

RHP Ariel Pena
MLB Pipeline Rank: N/A
2016 Age: 27

Pena is the last player remaining in the organization from the 2012 trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Angels, and it took until last September for him to make his major league debut. Despite modest success in The Show as a starter, Pena's significant control problems make him an obvious bullpen arm. His fastball wasn't as hard as advertised late last season, sitting more in the 91-93 MPH range than the upper 90s that previous reports have listed. He does feature a terrific slider, though he lacks any semblance of a third pitch. Pena is out of options, so if he doesn't make the team out of camp he'll likely be exposed to waivers.

RHP Zack Jones
MLB Pipeline Rank: N/A
2016 Age: 25

The Brewers plucked Jones from the Twins' organization this past December as their second Rule 5 Draft pick. He's an intriguing prospect simply because his high-octane fastball has shown the ability to miss plenty of bats (34% career MiLB strikeout rate), but most of the time he has little idea where it will end up. Jones has walked over 13% of hitters to this point in his young career and has also hit six batters and thrown 11 wild pitches in 130.1 innings in the lower minors. Shoulder troubles have kept him out of spring action to this point, and given his status as a Rule 5 pick and the other myriad of bullpen options, Jones may not be long for the Brewers organization.

RHP Junior Guerra
MLB Pipeline Rank: N/A
2016 Age: 31

In my opinion, Junior Guerra might be the most fascinating pitcher currently in the Brewers organization. He was Slingin' Stearns' first acquisition as Brewers GM, coming to Milwaukee via waiver claim. Guerra began his career as a international signee by the Braves all the way back in 2001 but didn't take the mound competitively until 2006. He was released by Atlanta in 2007, by the Mets in 2009, failed a PED test, and spent 2010-14 pitching in foreign and independent leagues.

The White Sox took a chance on Guerra in 2015 and he rewarded them by posting a combined 3.13 ERA and 31% K rate in 83.1 innings between AA and AAA. He even made his big league debut with Chicago, allowing three runs in four big league innings. From my profile of Guerra from this past winter, he features a fastball that sits in the 91-94 MPH range, a nice slider, and an absolutely filthy split-finger. Despite his advanced age Guerra still maintains his rookie status and given how much turnover the Brewers' had this winter, there has to be a good reason that Stearns has held on to Guerra this long. He's shown he can be successful in both a bullpen or starter role and I have been very vocal on Twitter about my belief that he could be a breakout candidate this year for the Brewers.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference