The Brewers entered camp with a boatload of viable candidates for the front and middle parts of the bullpen to bridge the gap between their young starters and the two-headed, switch-pitching monster of Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith at the back end. That muddied picture is starting to look a little clearer as we enter the stretch run of Spring Training, though perhaps not for the reasons the team would like.
While Counsell said last week that everyone in the mix for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen has pitched well so far this spring, a couple of young arms have been removed from consideration to break camp with the team on April 4th due to lingering injuries that will land them on the disabled list to start the year.
We already knew that RHP Yhonathan Barrios, who has not appeared this spring and is still waiting on a second opinion on his shoulder injury from famed Dr. James Andrews, will not be healthy to start the season and may require surgery. Today we learned that LHP Sean Nolin, acquired on waivers from Oakland after he was DFA'd to make room for Khris Davis following the trade that sent the former Brewers outfielder to the Athletics, will be shut down for at least a week and will not be healthy to start the season with the team either.
Besides Smith and Jeffress, Counsell has said that three other spots in the bullpen are accounted for in Tyler Thornburg, Michael Blazek and Corey Knebel. That leaves two spots unaccounted for, with seven relievers still in contention.
Righty Ariel Pena may have the inside track to one of those spots, since he's out of options and would need to be exposed to waivers if he didn't make the Opening Day squad. Pena had a 4.28 ERA last season with Milwaukee in 27.1 innings, though the majority of his appearances were starts.
For that same reason, David Goforth and Tyler Cravy are likely to find themselves in Colorado Springs to start the season not for performance reasons, but for business reasons. Neither has impressed enough to be considered a rock solid member of the bullpen yet and both have options remaining, allowing the team to take a look at some other players without fear of losing anyone. If you're following along, we're down to one spot left, and four pitchers gunning for it.
One young player who, while not necessarily glad to see his teammates go down with injuries, has seen his perhaps slim chances to make the team grow as a result is Zack Jones, Milwaukee's second round pick in last December's Rule 5 draft. Jones must be kept on the 25-man roster all year or be exposed to waivers and then offered back to Minnesota. He had a late start to camp because of a shoulder injury of his own, seeing his first game action of the spring Sunday in a minor league game. I spoke with him at the end of last week and he said that if all went well, he was hoping to appear with the major league club sometime this week.
@travis_mke yes you will— Zack Jones (@Jack_Zones04) March 22, 2016
Last but certainly not least are a trio of major league veterans the Brewers brought in on minor league deals this offseason. Two of them are lefties: you're of course familiar with once and current Brewer Chris Capuano, who has impressed so far this camp with a 2.08 ERA in 8.2 innings of work. Also in camp is LHP Frankin Morales, a 9-year veteran most recently of the Royals who got a late start to camp since he wasn't signed until earlier this month. He made his debut last week and has yet to allow a run in two appearances. The righty is Blaine Boyer, another 9-year veteran who pitched well out of the Twins bullpen last season. Boyer has a 4.26 ERA this spring in 6.2 innings of work.
Given the Brewers current direction, Jones represents the most likely man to claim that seventh and final spot should he prove himself healthy and not totally incompetent on the mound over the final two weeks of camp. While the three veterans are perhaps more likely to produce better results in 2016 Jones, a 25-year-old whose fastball sits in the mid- to upper-90s, is a more valuable commodity to a franchise whose competing window is at least a year or two away from opening.
Should Milwaukee choose not to retain Jones' services -- or if he is stashed on the disabled list to start the year -- I would guess that Capuano is the front-runner to grab that last spot in the bullpen. He would add another left-handed arm to the Brewers' arsenal, his veteran presence would be a valuable addition to a very young pitching staff, and his status as a fan favorite certainly doesn't hurt his chances in a season in which Milwaukee will be looking to do whatever it can to draw fans to the ballpark to see what is likely to be a sub-.500 ballclub.