Posted by Steve
Despite the return of Francisco Rodriguez, I have my doubts that the Brewers’ bullpen will be as good as it was last year. Takashi Saito will certainly be missed, and so will LaTroy Hawkins. In fact, the Brewers are entering Spring Training with only four short relievers who had big league success last season (Axford, K-Rod, Loe, Veras).
This of course means they will need a lot of contribution from guys who didn’t play a role last year. Notice I didn’t necessarily say new pitchers, though. That’s because it’s quite likely that most of that production will be filled by old faces–the likes of Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, Mark Rogers, and Brandon Kintzler. Parra, Rogers, and Kintzler are all coming off surgeries that cost them much or all of 2011, and Braddock is attempting to bounce back from some sleep/personal issues. The (very) early report on all of them is pretty good.
The fact that Rogers, a guy plagued with one injury after another over his career, is even throwing and feeling okay is good news. The former high first round pick is out of options, which means he’ll need to make the team this season. It seems the surgery he had last season for carpal tunnel syndrome was somewhat responsible for his sometimes high walk total, if you believe what Rogers says. If that’s the case, I feel pretty good about Rogers’ chances of becoming a good reliever. He still has great stuff, even after all this time, and I hope the Brewers give him a real shot in the pen. He will miss the first eight games of the season, however, as he finishes a 25-game suspension for a banned supplement. Seems the Brewers can’t get away from that stuff.
Another former starter who will need to be turned reliever is Manny Parra. Parra missed all of last year with shoulder surgery, but it sounds like he’s 100% this Spring. Parra and Rogers are very similar: missed last year due to surgery, former starter, and out of options. For this reason, I consider Parra all but a lock to make the team. If you remember, his last couple years he was being yanked around between starting and relieving, which yielded mixed results. Perhaps finally entering the year with a clear role will be beneficial for him.
Then there’s Zach Braddock, who not very long ago was my favorite Brewers prospect. Braddock had electric stuff, especially for a lefty, coming up through the system and into his rookie year. Then came 2011, which was a mess. Braddock battled off-field issues (which are fruitless to speculate on, in my opinion) that pretty much threw out his entire season. Reading his quotes yesterday, he sounds to me like he’s feeling great and throwing the ball well too. The Brewers basically went all of last season without a lefty reliever. Now it seems like they could have two power lefties out of the bullpen if things go well with Braddock and Parra.
Lastly, there’s Brandon Kintzler. He threw 14 strong innings before falling to injury himself last season. In 2010, he had a phenomenal year between AA and AAA. I expect him to play a role in the bullpen this season, even if he doesn’t make the big league team immediately.
Obviously, the Brewers can’t bank on all four of these pitchers have successful seasons, but if they got strong performances from even two of them, it would go a long way toward matching the production of last year’s bullpen, a huge strength of the team. You figure the locks for the pen are Axford, K-Rod, Veras, Loe, and Marco Estrada (although I’m not personally convinced Estrada should be a lock). That leaves two spots for the four I’ve mentioned, with Rogers being eliminated because of his suspension to start the season. Due to the fact that Parra has no options, I expect him to make the team. That means Kintzler, Braddock, or others such as Frankie de la Cruz, Mike McClendon or Tim Dillard will likely battle it out for one spot. Due to the nature of the long season/inevitable injuries, though, I expect to see most, if not all of these players in Milwaukee at some point in the season.