Opening Day is almost here for the Milwaukee Brewers and the rest of MLB. The club filled most holes adequately, and that includes the pitching staff. Just about every spot is taken, but what we know is that injuries will happen and depth is necessary to contend. That statement may be even more true this season as pitchers in 2020 did not get their normal workload and might have to build to their thresholds once again. With that, it makes sense that certain prospects that are major league ready or close will get an opportunity in 2021.
LHP Ethan Small (Age: 24)
MLB Pipeline Rank: 4
Once a fire baller with limited command, Small changed to a low-90s fastball and strong command following Tommy John surgery. He missed all of the 2017 collegiate season as a result. The Brewers drafted him in the first round of the 2019 draft, and he pitched in low-A that summer. Obviously 2020 was a wash for many minor leaguers, but Small pitched at the Brewers’ Alternate Training site.
He was an invitee to Spring Training where he covered 2.2 innings with a 6.75 ERA. He won’t see time with the big league club to start, but if he demonstrates effectiveness at the upper levels of the minors, he might get a call later in the season. A good change up and deception with an ability to induce weak contact are his calling cards. A middle-of-the-rotation starter is not out of the realm of possibility at some point for this big left-hander.
LHP Aaron Ashby (Age: 23)
MLB Pipeline Rank: 7
Ashby has swing-and-miss stuff as he demonstrated in three appearances in Cactus League this past Spring Training.
Aaron Ashby, K'ing the Side. pic.twitter.com/103FIWUTUO— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 4, 2021
Milwaukee drafted Ashby in the fourth round of the MLB draft. He is the nephew of former major league pitcher, Andy Ashby. The left-hander possesses a devastating slider rating at a 65 on MLB Pipeline’s scouting scale. He is reputed to have a potential 5-pitch mix with exceptional swing-and-miss stuff. His fastball falls in the 92-95 mph range. He also throws a quality change up, and he has a curve and sinker. He also utilizes timing and deception in an effort to keep hitters off balance. Scouting reports suggest a mid-rotation starter, but the small-sample, overly biased, eye-test take of this writer is that he could be more than that.
RHP Zach Brown (Age: 26)
MLB Pipeline Rank: 17
Since winning the Brewers’ 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year honor, Brown has not been very good. Now 26, he is at a point where he really need to perform and eventually contribute to the major league squad. His regression began in 2019 once he started facing AAA hitters. Word from the Alternate Training site in Appleton during 2020 was that he made strides. A couple of areas of concern about Brown beyond his 2019 performance levels is (1) he was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft for two season in a row and went unclaimed (2) in two appearances this Spring, he was touched up pretty good to the tune of a 13.50 ERA. It is mission critical for Brown this season. Maybe he steps up and gets it done starting in 2021, because his stuff has the potential to play.
RHP Alec Bettinger (Age: 25)
MLB Pipeline Rank: 22
The Brewers drafted Bettinger in the 10th round of the 2017 draft. After a slow start to his professional career, Bettinger found a bit more velocity that led to better results. Brewers added Bettinger to the 40-man roster in November 2020 and president of baseball operations David Stearns predicted he would contribute at the big league level in 2021.
Bettinger has been slowed by a sore elbow, but has resumed throwing. The right-hander gets into the mid-90s with his fastball and has a deceptive crossfire delivery. He throws a curve and a slider along with a change up. Bettinger’s MLB career is apt to be a back-of-the-rotation starter or long reliever, but what better place to be that than Milwaukee.
RHP Dylan File (Age: 24)
MLB Pipeline Rank: 25
Milwaukee took File in the 21st round of the 2017 draft. File has been effective at all levels of the minors. The result was a roster spot on the Brewers’ 40-man. File is recovering from a stress fracture in his elbow that he had surgery on in February. His timeline for recovery is four months.
File has strong command of four pitches. He is reputed to have had an uptick in fastball velocity which would take him from low 90s to mid 90s range. He has a good slider that is his out pitch, and he mixes in a curve and change. His projection is back-of-the-rotation starter or long reliever. Look for him to be on the taxi squad at some point this season once his recovery from surgery is complete.
LHP Leo Crawford (Age: 23)
Leo Crawford got three innings of work in Cactus League this Spring and pitched to a 3.00 ERA. Acquire as the PTBNL in the Corey Knebel trade with the Dodgers this past offseason, the Brewers hope that his deceptiveness and craftiness on the mound lend themselves to results on the major league level. It certainly has in the minors. He is another potential back-of-the-rotation starter or long reliever.
RHP Luke Barker (Age: 29)
Luke Barker has been pretty successful in the minors. He strikes out a lot of hitters. He doesn’t walk a lot of batters. Already older than many on the team, he might get his chance in 2021. Barker was added to the 40-man and got one inning of work this Spring. He gave up four hits and a run. He will likely be on the taxi squad between Milwaukee and the Alternate Training site and eventually Nashville for much of this season.
RHP Phil Bickford (Age: 25)
Once a top level prospect, Phil Pickford has seemingly been around since Methuselah was born. Injuries and and a suspension have led to a lot of stops and starts in his development. Pickford made his MLB debut in 2020, and it did not go well. The Brewers have taken a long look at him this Spring. In fact he covered 26 innings, and he gave up 14 earned runs. Is this the year Bickford turns things around? Might he provide some level of value for what they lost when they traded Will Smith to the Giants in 2016? A mid 90s fastball and good slider says he can make it, but inconsistency has been the name of the game for this prospect for a long time.