No. 4 prospect Small pitches way to Triple-A

June 23rd, 2021

PHOENIX -- Milwaukee’s top pitching prospect is moving to the doorstep of the Major Leagues.

The Brewers on Tuesday promoted left-hander Ethan Small, the 24-year-old left-hander ranked No. 4 on MLB Pipeline’s list of Milwaukee’s prospects, to Triple-A Nashville, where he will continue to pitch as a starter beginning Thursday against Charlotte. The move came after Small posted a 1.96 ERA in eight outings at Double-A Biloxi, with 67 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings and a .184 opponents’ average.

“We assumed that at some point the logical progression would be to get him to Triple-A, but if anything, he’s kind of forced our hand to where he’s just dominated the last several outings,” Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan said. “It made the decision really easy to get him to Triple-A and let him continue to develop there.”

Said fellow Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff: “It’s big. That was the biggest step for me, Triple-A, because you’re facing some big league hitters and guys who have time. It’s a little bit of an adjustment. You’re one step closer.”

Small’s first outing at Biloxi’s MGM Park was historic as he tossed the first five innings of a combined no-hitter on May 15 against the Mississippi Braves. In June, Small had a 0.37 ERA over four starts while striking out 40 batters in just 24 1/3 innings, including a 12-strikeout performance against Mississippi on June 12. In his final outing with the Shuckers on June 18 against Rocket City, Small threw a career-high seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits while striking out nine.

He’s done it mostly with fastballs and changeups, according to Flanagan.

“He’s been able to dominate with those two pitches,” Flanagan said. “He has more weapons to go to if he needs them, but those two pitches, in particular, have been so effective playing off each other.”

Two of the Brewers’ top three pitching prospects, Small and fellow lefty Aaron Ashby, are now pitching for the organization’s top affiliate. Ashby recently moved into a multi-inning relief role in anticipation of an eventual callup to the Brewers’ bullpen.

Now, Small is similarly knocking on the door.

“If [Small] can keep this up at Triple-A, it will really force his way into that conversation where he could be an asset and be in the big league picture at some point if things fall into place,” Flanagan said.

Kelly faces hitters for first time

Brewers pitching prospect Antoine Kelly took a big step Tuesday when the 21-year-old left-hander -- No. 6 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the top Brewers prospects – threw 20-30 pitches while facing hitters for the first time since a November surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. The live batting practice session took place at the Brewers’ rehab facility in Phoenix, where Kelly has been gaining strength since the start of the year.

“Felt awkward, but healthy,” Kelly said.

He called the session a “big deal” since it represents a significant step toward escaping the Arizona heat in favor of a Minor League affiliate.

“I feel really good, honestly,” Kelly said. “It feels different than before surgery, but the more I keep throwing, I feel more normal. It feels like I have a whole new shoulder; my body is just not used to it.”

The thoracic outlet lies at the lower part of the neck, beginning just above and behind the collarbone and extending into the upper arm and chest, and thoracic outlet syndrome results when the nerves and blood vessels in this area are compressed. During surgery to correct the condition, both the uppermost of the ribs and some adjacent musculature are removed to clear space for the nerves in the thoracic outlet.

Kelly’s symptoms date back to his participation in last year’s alternate training site, when he noticed that his left arm was swollen. But he felt fine and was pitching great, so he kept going. He didn’t stop until after his first outing in the Fall Instructional League. Surgery was several weeks later.

“I was told that I’m not going to feel exactly the same as before,” Kelly said. “I mean, I got my rib taken out. My body has to get used to working without that rib. Because everybody is different, I can’t say exactly how I’m supposed to feel right now, but I don’t feel bad.

“From what I was told -- I could be wrong -- I was up to 92 [mph] in my bullpen, which is better than before. I suck at bullpens. I can’t ever run it past 90 [mph]. I could be wrong, from what I know, I have a hard time with them.”

Kelly throws much harder with the adrenaline of game situations. He’s hoping to get that experience again soon, though he isn’t sure where the Brewers plan to send him when he’s ready.

“I feel like I shouldn’t be down here too much longer,” Kelly said. “I’m just taking it day by day at this time.”

Cozens leaves to pursue NFL career

In a case of going from one kind of power hitting to another, Brewers Minor League slugger Dylan Cozens announced on Tuesday that he’s retiring from baseball to pursue an NFL career. Cozens, 27, was a top recruit out of football powerhouse Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., before the Phillies made him their second-round Draft pick in 2012.

He made it to the Major Leagues for brief stints with Philadelphia in 2018 and ’19 and was in Milwaukee’s big league camp this spring before playing at Triple-A Nashville. Cozens slashed .177/.343/.329 in 100 plate appearances for the Sounds.

“I want to thank the Phillies, Rays and Brewers organizations for giving me the opportunity to play professional baseball,” Cozens tweeted, “but more importantly the people, experiences, and memories I’ll keep forever.”