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Crew rotation hopefuls set for spring battle

In-house candidates include prospects, veterans
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

Editor's note: With Spring Training rapidly approaching, MLB.com is taking a look at different aspects of the 2018 Brewers. Last week, we covered What's the Vision? and "Excited to see ..." and took a stab at predicting the 25-man roster. Today: Biggest camp battle.

MILWAUKEE -- Jimmy Nelson's uncertain timetable means an opportunity for someone else as the Brewers use Spring Training to sort out the back end of the starting rotation.

Editor's note: With Spring Training rapidly approaching, MLB.com is taking a look at different aspects of the 2018 Brewers. Last week, we covered What's the Vision? and "Excited to see ..." and took a stab at predicting the 25-man roster. Today: Biggest camp battle.

MILWAUKEE -- Jimmy Nelson's uncertain timetable means an opportunity for someone else as the Brewers use Spring Training to sort out the back end of the starting rotation.

On the eve of pitchers and catchers reporting to Maryvale Baseball Park, three spots were set with Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and free-agent acquisition Jhoulys Chacin. Nelson, Milwaukee's best starting pitcher last season when the team's rotation ranked 10th in the Major Leagues with a 4.10 ERA, will start the season on the disabled list and will miss a still-unknown portion of the first half as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

In his stead comes a group of in-house competitors -- including Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter, Yovani Gallardo, Junior Guerra and Aaron Wilkerson -- who technically begin Spring Training on equal footing.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"That [is] where we are going to make some decisions," manager Craig Counsell said. "Some of that can spill over to the bullpen as well. That's how I am looking at our starters right now."

A closer look at the incumbent options:

Woodruff
In his favor: The 25-year-old will rank third on MLB Pipeline's list of the Brewers' top prospects when it is unveiled this spring and has sailed through Milwaukee's Minor League system. He already got a taste of meaningful games in the Majors last year.
Working against: Woodruff's performance in those games was respectable -- 4.81 ERA in eight starts -- but he has multiple options remaining and it probably wouldn't hurt his development to give him some more Minor League starts.

Video: Top Prospects: Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Brewers

Suter
In his favor: He's the only left-hander in the mix, and despite never finding his way onto a prospect list, Suter has gotten outs at every level. As a swingman last season shuttled back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A Colorado Springs, he compiled a 3.42 ERA in 81 2/3 Major League innings, including a 3.45 ERA in 14 starts.
Working against: Suter has options, which could work against him if the Brewers opt to preserve as much depth as possible. He also is an intriguing possibility for the bullpen, where Suter could give Counsell a third left-hander.

Video: CIN@MIL: Suter strikes out Kivlehan in the 1st

Gallardo
In his favor: He's one of the best pitchers in franchise history, the Brewers' all-time leader with 1,226 strikeouts and a member of the team's top 10 in innings and wins. Injuries contributed to Gallardo's troubles in the past two seasons with the Orioles and Mariners, but he showed an uptick in velocity down the stretch last year. If he performs, he'd be a bargain at $2 million plus incentives.
Working against: Those numbers with Baltimore and Seattle were not pretty -- a 5.57 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP in 248 2/3 innings. Gallardo's low-risk contract could also work against him, since the deal is non-guaranteed and the Brewers can release him before Opening Day and owe only a portion of his salary.

Guerra
In his favor: The Brewers believed in him enough after Guerra pitched to a 2.81 ERA in 2016 that they made him the 2017 Opening Day starter. He's also coming off another solid winter season in Venezuela and is out of options.
Working against: Guerra injured his calf while bunting in the third inning on Opening Day and never really recovered. He had a 4.96 ERA when the Brewers demoted him to the Minors in late July, and he was seldom used as a September callup.

Video: MIL@NYM: Guerra fans four over six scoreless innings

Wilkerson
In his favor: He went 11-4 with a 3.16 ERA at Double-A Biloxi last season to earn a late-season callup. Wilkerson finished strong with seven innings of one-run, two-hit ball in the season finale in St. Louis.
Working against: Wilkerson has the shortest track record of all the Brewers' competitors. He also has a full complement of options.

Video: MIL@STL: Wilkerson flirts with perfect game in win

Of course, there also exists the possibility of an addition before Opening Day in spite of GM David Stearns' recent suggestions that Brewers officials are "comfortable with our group." Free agents Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner remained unsigned as of Tuesday, and a number of teams reportedly remain open to trading a starter. The Rays' Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, the Tigers' Michael Fulmer and Jordan Zimmermann, the D-backs' Patrick Corbin and others could be had.

"I think we came into the offseason with a goal of supplementing our starting rotation and our pitching staff as a whole. I think we've been able to do that," Stearns said. "If there are ways for us to further do that and it makes sense, we're certainly going to pursue it."

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

Milwaukee Brewers, Yovani Gallardo, Junior Guerra, Brent Suter, Aaron Wilkerson, Brandon Woodruff