Small returns to Triple-A after rough 2023 Majors debut

May 28th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- After what he termed an “awful” 2023 debut with the Brewers, was looking for positives as he packed his bags for Triple-A Nashville this weekend.

Small, MLB Pipeline’s No. 11 Brewers prospect, has embraced a bullpen role since making the switch last season but learned how cruel it can be on Friday night against the Giants, when he surrendered nine hits and five runs over three innings of a 15-1 loss at American Family Field. He was optioned back to the Minors the following morning.

“They ping-ponged me around a little bit,” said Small, 26, Milwaukee’s first-round Draft pick in 2019. “The swing-and-miss stuff was there. That’s probably the takeaway, right? How do we turn the five strikeouts into getting that in fewer hitters? You know what I mean?

“It’s still awful. But it’s a lot better than last year up here, too.”

Last year, Small surrendered five runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings in a pair of Brewers starts with more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven). When he continued to struggle in starts at Triple-A Nashville, he and the Brewers agreed on the merits of a move to the bullpen, where Small could focus on letting it go during short stints.

He enjoyed the change, and had some success this season. Small came to the Brewers this week with a 2.33 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings spanning 12 relief appearances. The walk count (13) was still higher than he’d like, however. But it was good to be back.

“It’s pretty special to be back here again because I went through some pretty tough struggles last year,” Small said. “I kind of reinvented some things and earned the right to be back here. Now I'm trying to hopefully earn the right to stay awhile. … I'm really trying to simplify everything from delivery to thought process. A lot was going on with my body and my head, and there were too many things moving around. I'm trying to simplify that."

Small estimated that 85 percent of his trouble last year was mental.

He was refreshingly frank about those struggles.

“After a certain point there was some fear, anxiety, hesitancy to even throw a pitch over the plate for whatever reason,” he said. “That lasted pretty much through the rest of the year last season and then I trained hard in the offseason and got back after it this year.

“The big thing was I was just dreading trying to get through six innings and 100 pitches. Those shorter outings let me get out there, throw an inning, have some success and then shut it down. It helped me build a little bit of confidence and I carried it into this year.”

Now, he’ll have to go back to Nashville and overcome this latest hurdle.

“These short glimpses when you get one shot and then you get sent out -- it's dangerous to draw grand conclusions from one outing,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “So, he had a job to do [against the Giants]. He did one part of the job really well, in that he finished the three innings that we needed him to finish. The results didn't go his way. Then you just kind of assess it and learn from it and get better from it and move forward.”

Here’s more from around Milwaukee’s farm system:

Triple-A Nashville
It’s been six weeks since (Brewers No. 2) tore a ligament in his left thumb, and Tuesday will mark five weeks since he underwent surgery. The original prognosis was that Frelick would miss 6-8 weeks following surgery, and that timeline remains intact as Frelick recently resumed some light baseball activities. He will probably play some games in Arizona (Milwaukee’s Arizona Complex League affiliate opens on June 5) before returning to action for Nashville, farm director Tom Flanagan said.

Double-A Biloxi
The Shuckers beat Montgomery, 10-4, on Saturday behind a career-high seven innings, 11 strikeouts and 100 pitches from reigning Milwaukee Minor League pitcher of the year (Brewers No. 10), who became the second Southern League pitcher to reach 60 strikeouts in 2023. Rodriguez ranks among the league leaders in strikeouts (second, 62), innings (second, 44 2/3), opponent batting average (second, 173), WHIP (third, 1.07) and ERA (fifth, 2.82).

He was backed Saturday by (Brewers No. 5), who went into Sunday’s series finale riding a league-best 23-game on-base streak, and top Brewers prospect (MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 overall prospect), who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs, two stolen bases and a run scored. Chourio will be featured in the latest installment of the Brewers’ documentary series “The Freshmen” on Tuesday.

High-A Wisconsin
Brewers 2022 first-round Draft pick Eric Brown Jr. (Brewers No. 6) collected 10 hits in his first 19 at-bats this week in Cedar Rapids before going 0-for-5 on Saturday. It’s part of a major turnaround for Brown, who had a .137/.267/.157 slash line for the Timber Rattlers in April but went into Sunday with a .333/.418/.464 slash line in May.

“For whatever reason, he’s found it of late,” Flanagan said. “He swung it really well in Spring Training and now he’s doing the same thing. He does a little bit of everything. He gets hits in bunches and he’s in a nice stretch now.”

Single-A Carolina
The Brewers have one of baseball’s most electric pitching prospects in 6-foot-7 right-hander , who struck out nine in five hitless innings on Thursday as the Mudcats took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Down East Wood Ducks, a Rangers affiliate. The outing followed Misiorowski’s first rough start of the season, a May 19 game in Kannapolis in which he surrendered four earned runs in three innings while pitching in the rain.

Among Minor League pitchers who have worked at least 20 innings this year, Misiorowski ranks second across all levels with a 47.7 percent strikeout rate (Royals prospect John McMillon led the Minors at 52.5 percent) and third in FIP (1.66).

“They came within two outs of a no-hitter and he set the tone,” Flanagan said. “I watched some of the video and it looked really under control, which is good for him. The ball just explodes out of his hand. Now he went five innings, which is a good benchmark for him. He has slowly worked up to that.”