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Around the Horn: Crew relying on rotation depth

Brewers sticking with approach that worked last season
February 4, 2019

This is the first in a series of stories examining the Brewers' various positional units as Spring Training approaches. For starters: The rotation.MILWAUKEE -- An emphasis on depth over star power for the starting pitchers worked for the Brewers last season, and they appear poised to try it again.Just like

This is the first in a series of stories examining the Brewers' various positional units as Spring Training approaches. For starters: The rotation.
MILWAUKEE -- An emphasis on depth over star power for the starting pitchers worked for the Brewers last season, and they appear poised to try it again.
Just like a year ago, when reports of interest in then-free agent Yu Darvish tuned out to be exaggerated, the Brewers have been linked this winter to a number of high-profile pitchers. They include the Indians' Corey Kluber and Giants' Madison Bumgarner in trade rumors, and Dallas Keuchel on the free-agent front. But president of baseball operations David Stearns has given no public indication that he wants to spend on a traditional ace, so there's a chance the team will go into the season with its current crop of starting pitchers, which runs seven, eight or more deep, and covers innings as a collective.
Eleven men made a start for Milwaukee last year and combined to rank tied for eighth of 30 MLB teams with 1.24 WHIP, 11th with a 3.92 ERA and 17th with 9.4 wins above replacement. Those numbers were pulled down by the absence of Jimmy Nelson while he recovered from right shoulder surgery and less-then-anticipated contributions from Chase Anderson and Zach Davies. But the team won 96 games, tops in the National League, thanks to a terrific defense and stout bullpen.
Can the Brewers do it again? Here is our best guess of where things stand heading into Spring Training:
In
RHP Jhoulys Chacín

The lead horse for last year's rotation is entering the second season of his two-year contract as the front-runner to start Opening Day against the Cardinals. Chacin was 15-8 with a 3.50 ERA while leading the team in starts (35) and innings (192 2/3) with a career-best 1.16 WHIP.

In ... we think
RHP Chase Anderson
RHP Zach Davies

Anderson posted a 3.93 ERA in 30 starts, but he averaged less than 5 1/3 innings per outing and was yanked from the rotation after his 30th start and was then left off the postseason roster entirely. Davies was limited to 13 starts by right shoulder and back injuries, and only made the NL Championship Series roster after Gio Gonzalez was injured. But both have authored solid seasons for the Brewers before, and that track record should earn them starts in 2019.
In ... if healthy
RHP Jimmy Nelson

Nelson said at the end of January that he feels great and is going to camp with the mindset that he's competing to start on Opening Day. Stearns pumped the brakes a bit on that enthusiasm, saying Step 1 was to ensure that Nelson was fully recovered from the shoulder surgery that cost him all of last season. If he looks anything like the pitcher who led the staff in 2017, Nelson could provide a huge boost.

In ... at some point
RHP Brandon Woodruff
RHP Corbin Burnes
RHP Freddy Peralta

Some fans may prefer to plant these young pitchers in the rotation and let them go, but the past few seasons have reinforced that depth is vitally important. Because Woodruff, Burnes and Peralta all have Minor League options -- and Woodruff and Burnes were lights-out in relief during the postseason -- there is a chance they will do some bouncing between the Majors and Minors, and the bullpen and rotation. But there's little doubt that all three will get the chance to start at some point.

In-season depth
LHP Brent Suter
RHP Aaron Wilkerson
RHP Adrian Houser

Suter had Tommy John surgery at the end of July and won't be an option until very late in the season, but he expressed confidence that he will pitch at the Major League level at some point in 2019. Wilkerson didn't impress at the big league level last year, but he has been solid in the Minor Leagues and provides depth. Houser possesses an intriguing arm; the question is whether the Brewers will use him as a starter, reliever or a combination thereof. He made 21 starts in the Minors last season and seven relief appearances for the Brewers.
Prospects to watch
RHP Zack Brown
RHP Marcos Diplan
RHP Trey Supak

Keep an eye on Brown in particular. Woodruff made his Major League debut in 2017 coming off a season at Double-A Biloxi in which he earned Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. Ditto for Burnes in 2018. Brown is in the same position heading into 2019, after he went 9-1 with a 2.44 ERA with 116 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings for the Shuckers last year.
Brewers' Top 30 Prospects

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.