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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #38 Wily Peralta

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As we continue to inch our way toward Opening Day on April 6, we sit 38 days away today on February 27. That’s the bad news. The good news today is that all the players have reported (with one not-quite-official free agent signing as the exception), the first full squad workout has been completed by now, and we’re less than a week away from the Cactus League opener.

As everyone gets better and better each day, shaking the rust off of their throwing shoulders and batting eyes, the anticipation is building toward actual, honest-to-God, on-the-field, competitive baseball where they actually keep score.

But today, we continue my “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” series counting down to Opening Day. As such, let’s review and look ahead on the man who switched to number 38 before the 2014 season…

Wily Peralta.

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The workhorse right-hander from the Dominican Republic with the heavy fastball, Wily Peralta continued 2014 where he left off 2013. That is to say that he took another step forward in his development.

Peralta had a number of problems as a younger pitcher, both in terms of starting seasons slowly from a production standpoint, as well as letting the mental side of the game overwhelm him at times. 2014 was the first season where we saw almost all of that gone from Peralta. He was much more even in his demeanor and when situations arose where he’d think or emote himself out of his game, he was able to calm himself down quickly and get back to it. Probably the only issue I saw in this realm was in August. That’s when the offense was scuffling and both Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza were on the shelf. It felt to me like Peralta pressed that month. His team needed him and he put too much pressure on himself and suffered for it. Once the rotation got back to full strength, he settled back down and finished the season strong.

Now for statistical backing. Let’s throw Peralta’s month-by-month splits from Baseball-Reference.com. You’ll see April and May were strong, August (and July) were rough, and September was very good.

BBRef-PeraltaSplits2014

Ironically, Peralta won just one game in May, won all of his starts in June despite a 4.22 ERA and went 3-1 in five July starts. But as you can clearly see, Peralta got off to a nice start and his finish was even stronger.

Speaking of strong, the 6’1″, 245 pounder certainly has a big fastball that he runs into the high 90s, mixed with a power slider. He generates a ton of ground balls when he’s going right (53.6% in 2014 and a career mark of 52.5%) and mixes in plenty of strikeouts. Peralta can be prone to some BAbip concerns as his worst statistical months carried his highest BAbip figures.

Bottom line for Peralta is how big of a next step he takes. Some decriers will say he’s even due for regression, but conventional thought is that Peralta maintains or improves on most of his overall stats. He may not win 17 games in 2015, but smart fans know that win total isn’t the best way to tell how well a pitcher performs. There’s room for improvement in terms of consistency and within each start. There’s a chance that the nearly 26-year-old hurler will assume the mantle of best pitcher on the staff this year.

He’s capable, but he needs to continue along the same path of improvement he’s been on. He nearly pitched 200 innings, an in-season benchmark of a top-of-the-rotation starter, and with a bit more in the way of positive results, he’ll be right where he and his teammates need him to be.

I’m as interested in watching the continued development of Peralta as I am nearly anything else about this year’s Brewers. I think you should be too.

Catch up on the countdown!

Breaking News: Return of the K-Rod

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Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com broke the news via Twitter, so you know it’s good.

Francisco Rodriguez has agreed to a two-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers with a team option for a third year. (Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Scott Boras agreed to a deal with Mark Attanasio, but that’s an argument for a different time.)

Rodriguez closed games for the Brewers last year, stepping in (after stepping on a cactus) for the injured Jim Henderson. He posted 44 saves and pitched mostly effectively, but he was hammered by the long ball at a frightening clip. He was a streaky performer, with his struggles coming in bunches for the most part (confirmation bias alert!), but still can be an effective pitcher. He needs to maintain his fastball command more consistently though to aid him in avoiding posting another career-worst home runs allowed total. For the record, it was 14 last year in just 68.0 innings pitched. That’s a 1.9 HR/9, math majors.

The ISO against his fastball in 2014 was .301. That’s terrifying. Still, Rodriguez did post a career best WHIP at 0.985 and struck out more than a batter an inning en route to a 3.04 ERA across 69 games.

But for this multi-year marriage to work out, the home run ball needs to exit from Rodriguez’s repertoire.

***UPDATE***

Tom Haudricourt tweeted full contract details.

Rumor: Francisco Rodriguez “Agrees to Sign”…Somewhere

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According to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, free agent relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez won’t be a free agent much longer.

Spencer tweeted out the following blurb Thursday morning.

With the word that Rodriguez isn’t headed to Miami, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports checked in on whether the Blue Jays were the team who had successfully wooed the man they call K-Rod.

So combine those reports with what FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal revealed the other day…

…and it certainly seems as though the Brewers could be reconciling with their most recent closer.

Stay tuned.

MLB Network’s Top 100 Players Right Now Entering 2015

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As I did last year, and the year before, and the year before that, I’ll be keeping a running list of the Top 100 Players Right Now as they are revealed on MLB Network, eventually compiling the entire list.

They will have revealed all 100 by the end of Friday, February 27th. I’ll update this same space as they reveal the remaining entries.

As always, I will understandably highlight the Brewers players on the list. The Brewers had six players on the list entering 2012. Rickie Weeks was 83, John Axford was 77, Yovani Gallardo was 72, Aramis Ramirez was 66, Zack Greinke was 64, and Ryan Braun was too low at number 9. Entering 2013, the Brewers only had three players featured on the list (at the time it was revealed). Yovani Gallardo repeated his position at 72, Aramis Ramirez jumped all the way up to 32, and Braun settled in at 6. Kyle Lohse made last year’s list as well. As for 2014, just three players once again. Jean Segura checked in at 60, Carlos Gomez debuted at 44, and Ryan Braun dipped to 24.

The criteria for the list remains the same:

  • Emphasized stats from the last three (3) seasons, weighting 2014
  • Projected 2015 performance
  • Defensive position
  • Accolades
  • Intangibles

Here now are the Top 100-1* Players as listed by MLB Network:

100. Joe Mauer – 1B – Minnesota Twins

99. Albert Pujols – 1B – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

98. Justin Verlander – SP – Detroit Tigers

97. Prince Fielder – 1B – Texas Rangers

96. Yordano Ventura – RP – Kansas City Royals

95. Pablo Sandoval – 3B – Boston Red Sox

94. Ben Zobrist – 2B – Oakland Athletics

93. Adam Eaton – OF – Chicago White Sox

92. Gerrit Cole – SP – Pittsburgh Pirates

91. Devin Mesoraco – C – Cincinnati Reds

90. Russell Martin – C – Toronto Blue Jays

89. Jake Arrieta – SP – Chicago Cubs

88. Lance Lynn – SP – St. Louis Cardinals

87. Kenley Jansen – CL – Los Angeles Dodgers

86. Jose Reyes – SS – Toronto Blue Jays

85. Andrelton Simmons – SS – Atlanta Braves

84. Nolan Arenado – 3B – Colorado Rockies

83. Chris Carter – 1B – Houston Astros

82. Jeff Samardzija – SP – Chicago White Sox

81. Starling Marte – LF – Pittsburgh Pirates

80. Jose Fernandez – SP – Miami Marlins

79. Christian Yelich – LF – Miami Marlins

78. Julio Teheran – SP – Atlanta Braves

77. Alex Cobb – SP – Tampa Bay Rays

76. Jayson Werth – LF – Washington Nationals

75. J.D. Martinez – RF – Detroit Tigers

74. Todd Frazier – 3B – Cincinnati Reds

73. Neil Walker – 2B – Pittsburgh Pirates

72. Carlos Santana – 1B – Cleveland Indians

71. Salvador Perez – C – Kansas City Royals

70. Sonny Gray – SP – Oakland Athletics

69. Stephen Strasburg – SP – Washington Nationals

68. Doug Fister – SP – Washington Nationals

67. Freddie Freeman – 1B – Atlanta Braves

66. Nelson Cruz – DH – Seattle Mariners

65. Alex Gordon – LF – Kansas City Royals

64. Josh Harrison – 3B – Pittsburgh Pirates

63. Ryan Braun – RF – Milwaukee Brewers

62. Yasiel Puig – CF – Los Angeles Dodgers

61. Aroldis Chapman – CL – Cincinnati Reds

60. Matt Harvey – SP – New York Mets

59. Masahiro Tanaka – SP – New York Yankees

58. Adrian Gonzalez – 1B – Los Angeles Dodgers

57. Kyle Seager – 3B – Seattle Mariners

56. Yan Gomes – C – Cleveland Indians

55. Matt Kemp – RF – San Diego Padres

54. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF – New York Yankees

53. Anthony Rizzo – 1B – Chicago Cubs

52. Dustin Pedroia – 2B – Boston Red Sox

51. Evan Longoria – 3B – Tampa Bay Rays

50. Cole Hamels – SP – Philadelphia Phillies

49. Edwin Encarnacion – 1B – Toronto Blue Jays

48. Hunter Pence – RF – San Francisco Giants

47. Hisashi Iwakuma – SP – Seattle Mariners

46. Matt Holliday – LF – St. Louis Cardinals

45. Yu Darvish – SP – Texas Rangers

44. Jason Heyward – RF – St. Louis Cardinals

43. Jon Lester – SP – Chicago Cubs

42. Carlos Gonzalez – RF – Colorado Rockies

41. Jhonny Peralta – SS – St. Louis Cardinals

40. Greg Holland – CL – Kansas City Royals

39. Wade Davis – RP – Kansas City Royals

38. Carlos Gomez – CF – Milwaukee Brewers

37. Justin Upton – LF – San Diego Padres

36. David Ortiz – DH – Boston Red Sox

35. Jordan Zimmermann – SP – Washington Nationals

34. Craig Kimbrel – CL – Atlanta Braves

33. Victor Martinez – DH – Detroit Tigers

32. Joey Votto – 1B – Cincinnati Reds

31. Anthony Rendon – 3B – Washington Nationals

30. Jose Altuve – 2B – Houston Astros

29. Ian Desmond – SS – Washington Nationals

28. Zack Greinke – SP – Los Angeles Dodgers

27. Hanley Ramirez – LF – Boston Red Sox

26. Madison Bumgarner – SP – San Francisco Giants

25. David Price – SP – Detroit Tigers

24. Bryce Harper – RF – Washington Nationals

23. Jonathan Lucroy – C – Milwaukee Brewers

22. Adam Jones – CF – Baltimore Orioles

21. Michael Brantley – LF – Cleveland Indians

20. Adrian Beltre – 3B – Texas Rangers

19. Yadier Molina – C – St. Louis Cardinals

18. Josh Donaldson – 3B – Toronto Blue Jays

17. Troy Tulowitzki – SS – Colorado Rockies

16. Johnny Cueto – SP – Cincinnati Reds

15. Corey Kluber – SP – Cleveland Indians

14. Adam Wainwright – SP – St. Louis Cardinals

13. Paul Goldschmidt – 1B – Arizona Diamondbacks

12. Jose Bautista – RF – Toronto Blue Jays

11. Max Scherzer – SP – Washington Nationals

10. Robinson Cano – 2B – Seattle Mariners

9. Jose Abreu – 1B – Chicago White Sox

8. Buster Posey – C/1B – San Francisco Giants

7. Miguel Cabrera – 1B – Detroit Tigers

6. Andrew McCutchen – CF – Pittsburgh Pirates

5. Chris Sale – SP – Chicago White Sox

4. Giancarlo Stanton – RF – Miami Marlins

3. Felix Hernandez – SP – Seattle Mariners

2. Mike Trout – CF – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

1. Clayton Kershaw – SP – Los Angeles Dodgers

Ryan Braun has been revealed as the 63rd best player in Major League Baseball “Right Now” entering 2015. As the criteria for the rankings weights 2014 the most and pretty much only relies on the last three years of stats at all, this is an understandable position for Braun right now. I have a feeling though that at this time next year Braun will have rebounded a bit.

Carlos Gomez moves up six spots from 44 last year to check in at 38. I’d rather have Gomez than Justin Upton at 37.

And due to a Twitter tease, we know (or at least Brewers fans do) that Jonathan Lucroy will be number 23 when they get there.

I’ll update more once I see who is around the Brewers, but that’s the only three I expect to make the list.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #40 Johnny Hellweg

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Back in the saddle again.

After what was ultimately a five day hiatus from “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” as I decided to skip a pair of non-roster invitees (#45 Brent Leach & #41 Pete Orr) around a two retired numbers and a coach, I was able to recharge my batteries. While today begins the disjointed “through the coaches” stretch, where we only have four scheduled pieces over the next 10 days (including today), it might even allow me to work ahead a little bit and be better prepared for the Thornburg to Lind corridor which has a new article every day for a full week.

But enough about the upcoming schedule. We’re here today to talk about…

Johnny Hellweg.

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There’s nothing quite like a season-ending injury in your fourth game of the year to eradicate the good feelings and confidence gained by coming off of a “PCL Pitcher of the Year” performance. Despite poor results in his first taste of the big leagues in 2013, Johnny David Hellweg had a very solid year two seasons ago. He not only was named as the Brewers’ Minor League Organizational Pitcher of the Year, but he won the aforementioned and similarly titled honor from the Pacific Coast League as well.

Last year around this time, I wrote about his future and how he might be contribute at the big league level again in 2014, but during the fourth start of his Triple-A season Hellweg felt a pop in the elbow of his throwing arm. He would leave the April 20th game fearing the worst.

Those fears confirmed, an increasingly common plan was set in motion within days to get Hellweg into surgery and on the comeback trail. Dr. James Andrews performed Hellweg’s surgery on April 29, 2014 so as I type Hellweg is 302 days out of surgery.

There exists good news which is that Hellweg is throwing off of a mound and rehab has gone according to plan. Hellweg remains a viable candidate to pitch competitively in 2015. Nothing is certain until it happens of course, but Hellweg is right on schedule if not a bit ahead.

This is not without bad news though as Hellweg is still a little ways off from being physically ready to contribute to any pitching rotation. As Doug Melvin recently implied, Hellweg’s availability is something they’re counting on. They hope to have it shortly into the season, but the 6’9″ right-hander will still need to build up stamina and strength while avoiding any physical setbacks over these next several weeks.

Depth at starting pitching is a known concern right now for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers, but that’s why Hellweg’s rehab is important to get right. If something catastrophic happened where you’d need two or three extra starting pitchers in mid-April, the Brewers would be scrambling a bit. Don’t misunderstand though. There are enough bodies to have somebody throw, and it’s not like the new Class-AAA affiliate Colorado Springs is going with a three-man pitching rotation, but suffice it to say that when Hellweg is ready to return, there’ll be an opening for him.

He waits for that full medical clearance at this point, with a target date no doubt already identified by he and the Brewers medical staff. And as he waits, the Brewers have decided to stretch out Tyler Thornburg for possible inclusion as a Triple-A starter if need be.

Once Hellweg returns, if he’s able to build on his solid 2013 season, it’ll be a nice win for the Brewers who could be beginning to wonder about what they actually did get in return when trading away Zack Greinke during the 2012 season. Ariel Peña was recently removed off of the 40-man roster, Jean Segura struggled in the second half of 2013 even before off-the-field mental anguish torpedoed his 2014 season, and Hellweg now carries a question mark albeit a much smaller one than it was years ago. As I said, this surgery, it’s rehab, and the resultant shelf life of pitchers who have had it is becoming a well-read book.

Still, 2015 shouldn’t be a lost season even if 2014 was. Still just 26 years old, Hellweg has plenty of time to take the next step (or three) in his development this year by ironing out his mechanics and becoming more consistent. It’s just that he’ll be a bit behind from the jump.

Catch up on the countdown!

Wily Peralta Bobblehead Revealed

This came out Monday on the Brewers social media channels, but in case you missed it…

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The News You May Have Missed From Brewers Spring Training Over the Weekend

We got a boatload of information in tweet form and in longer-form pieces from the Brewers beat writers fortunate enough to already be down at Spring Training covering the Brewers as camp opened up over the weekend.

Here’s a compilation of what you might have missed if you weren’t paying attention.

FRIDAY

P&C weekend began with Brewers.com’s Adam McCalvy reminding us just how beautiful green baseball fields are.

Then the information started coming. We learned that Tyler Thornburg, less than a week removed from being labeled as hopefully a “viable candidate” for the bullpen by Asst. GM Gord Ash, was expecting to open camp with no restrictions.

From there, McCalvy talked to Jonathan Lucroy about the All-Star’s expected workload this spring.

The Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak also spoke to Lucroy along with Kyle Lohse after the Friday morning announcement about the changes related to the game’s perceived “pace of play” issues.

Tom Haudricourt posted a series of tweets with a quote from the talkative Lohse regarding the team’s collapse. Lohse had said at Brewers On Deck that he would talk to his teammates about it when they got to Maryvale and then move on.

Lohse as transcribed by Haudricourt: “Hopefully we have a group of guys that are pissed off about way things ended.”

Lohse: “We had an excellent 4 ½ months. I’m pissed. You don’t get that many opportunities to get to the playoffs.”

Lohse: “When you have it that close, it should help drive you. Let’s learn from it and not let that happen again.”

The official Twitter account of the Brewers Player Development staff got in on the news making by dropping this tweet on Friday.

But of course, we already knew about half of that the night before. (h/t @Mass_Haas)

SATURDAY

Day Two of camp opened with some news about a potential #7 starter in the person of Michael Blazek.

Speaking of starting pitchers, Rosiak told us that Johnny Hellweg, just 9.5 months removed from Tommy John surgery, is throwing off a mound and should be in games before April.

Rosiak also talked to Ash about Thornburg and Jim Henderson.

Haudricourt checked back in on Twitter with a reminder about the backup corner infielder spot.

As for the back-end of the bullpen? Well, at least for now…

Ron Roenicke spoke with reporters. Todd Rosiak tweeted that the hot corner could have more games started by not Aramis Ramirez than in years past.

SUNDAY

Adam McCalvy worked his beat hard on Saturday, and on Sunday we saw the results of some of his efforts. Included among them was this conversation with Dontrelle Willis, who is aiming to make the Brewers on a minor league deal.

From outside the Brewers beat, FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal checked in with this Sunday evening tidbit.

And this clarification…

Rob Deer Bobblehead Revealed

Courtesy of the Brewers

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Interview: Brewers 2013 Top Draft Pick – Devin Williams

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When the Milwaukee Brewers entered the 2013 season with Kyle Lohse on the team, it came with a sacrifice. That sacrifice was their first-round draft pick and with it the potential to pluck a talented player who scouts and talent evaluators agree is in the upper tier of what is available. Or at least, that’s what they assumed.

Fortunately for the Brewers, a player with a first-round grade in their opinion (as well as the opinion of some respected voices in the prospect game), inexplicably fell to them in the second round. Harvey Kuenn, Jr, who works that area of the country for the Brewers, identified this player as someone who he felt was worth even that lost first-round pick. The Brewers graded him highly enough that they didn’t think he’d get to them but when their turn was coming and it was getting closer, you could almost feel the anticipation in the room.

Don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t there. But 2013 was when the Brewers allowed FoxSports Wisconsin (their TV affiliate) to enter the draft room and prepare a 30-minute show to give fans a taste of what it was like. As that drama unfolded, it made for compelling TV. It was fun to watch the decision makers get their guy.

So who is he? Well, the information on the internet can tell us that he’s a 6’3″ right-handed pitcher out of Hazelwood West High School in Hazelwood, Missouri. He’s 20 years old and was listed at 165 pounds. I could give you stats and tell you how he performed on the field in his one and a half professional seasons.

But who is he? I wanted to find out more so Devin and I, with an assist from his agency the Beverly Hills Sports Council (@BHSCouncil), traded emails. Below are my questions and his responses.

Enjoy.

BrewerNation: What or who first got you into playing baseball?

My grandpa was the first person to introduce me to the game. We were always in the backyard playing catch or at the batting cages. He definitely played a big part in my love for the game. I owe him a lot. 

BN: When did you first realize that baseball could be a career for you?

DW: Probably the summer after my sophomore year of high school. I started focusing on strictly pitching & I started to get some attention from pro scouts after all of the showcases and tournaments I had done over the summer. 

BN: Leading up to draft day, what were your expectations both in terms of when you might go in the draft and who had shown interest in drafting you?

DW: I was expecting to be picked in the first two rounds based on what I had heard. I had in-home meetings with all but four MLB teams so I knew there was some high interest. I actually wasn’t expecting to be picked by the Brewers since I hadn’t really heard much from them throughout the whole process.

BN: What was it like when your phone rang with the news that you had been drafted? Who did you speak to and what was the conversation like?

DW: It was the best feeling in the world up to that point in my life. I just felt like all those bullpens and training sessions had finally paid off. I was with my whole family and some of my close friends when I got the call telling me that the Brewers were going to take me, but I didn’t let any of them know because I didn’t want to jinx it. When it came up on TV that the Brewers had picked me they all started screaming and ran over to hug me. My mom hugged me and was crying when she told me how proud she was. I’ll never forget that moment.

BN: Any initial thoughts on it being the Brewers as a lifelong Cardinals fan?

DW: I get this question a lot. I didn’t even think twice about it. I was just happy to get a chance to play professionally, no matter who it was. The fact that the Cardinals had two chances to pick me & passed on me both times is just a little more motivation for me to beat them when I get my opportunity, maybe steal a couple division titles from them.

BN: What went into making the decision to sign after being drafted instead of attending college?

DW: I knew that day that I was going to sign, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that was in front of me. I was really close with coach Kerrick Jackson at Mizzou and still am to this day, when he called me the next day he just congratulated me and wished me luck in my first season. He also made sure to let me know that it was only the beginning of the road & to not stop improving on my game.

BN: With a full professional season under your belt, what have you improved on in your game and as a person?

DW: I think the biggest improvements have come with the command of my pitches, I can spot up a lot better now compared to when I first signed. As a person, I would say my mental game has taken a big step, not focusing on the things that are out of my control & staying focused on what I need to do to get the next batter out. 

BN: Do you still think going pro was the right choice?

DW: Definitely, I have no regrets. I got to start my career a few years earlier than most and I think that will help me in the long haul. 

BN: What have you been focusing on this off-season?

DW: I’ve mostly been working on the overall strength of my body, trying to gain some weight. Also, trying to strengthen my shoulder to be ready for my first year with a full season team.

BN: What are your professional goals, if any specific, for 2015?

DW: My first goal is to make our Low-A team out of spring training. After that my hope is to pitch well enough to make the All-Star game for the Midwest League. That’d be pretty cool. Most importantly I want to finish this season healthy.

BN: Give us a baseball scouting report on Devin Williams. What pitches do you throw? Velo? What’s your best? What are you still developing?

DW: I throw a four-seam fastball, circle changeup, and a slider. On a good day my fastball will sit in the low 90’s possibly touching some mid 90’s. Your fastball is always suppose to be your best pitch but my favorite is the changeup. That’s definitely my best weapon. I’ve been working on a curve a little bit this off-season just to add a little something extra to my repertoire. 

BN: Give a personal scouting report on Devin Williams. What makes you tick? What are your off-the-field interests?

DW: I just like to relax and hang out with friends & family, and play some video games (FIFA to be specific). 

BN: What is a typical day like as a minor leaguer when it’s not your day to pitch?

DW: Lots of working out & conditioning, along with throwing your side pen in between starts, & doing the game charts before you pitch. Other than that there’s a lot of sitting around and watching the game, which can be helpful if you pay attention because you get to study the hitters and their tendencies before you face them. That’s a big thing for me because at the lower levels of the minor leagues you don’t really get much of a scouting report on the hitters.

It certainly sounds like Devin Williams is poised to take the next step in his career development which would be a great thing for the Brewers. I’m personally looking forward to heading up to Appleton this year to catch one of his starts in person.

Hopefully you got to know a little more about one of the Brewers’ consensus top prospects. I know I did.

Thank you again, Devin, for taking time out of your schedule to answer my questions.

Be sure you follow Devin on Twitter as well: @DTrainn_23

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #46 Corey Knebel

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Despite nobody wearing it at the big league level in 2014, 46 has a relatively thorough history as a jersey number for the Milwaukee Brewers. Bill Wegman wore it the longest (parts of 11 seasons from 1985-95) following Jerry Augustine who donned the digits from 1975-84. It was on the field in the Brewers’ first season (thanks, Dave Baldwin) and was most recently worn in 2013 by Hiram Burgos. But a new assignee is giving it a chance to be featured in the new season as well. His name…

Corey Knebel.

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Acquired from the Texas Rangers one month ago on January 19, Corey Andrew Knebel is a relief pitcher with a blossoming high-leverage profile. A closer in college at the University of Texas at Austin (Longhorns), Knebel skyrocketed through the minors in 2013 after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers 39th overall in the competitive balance round of that year’s draft. The Texas native signed right away and reported immediately to Low-A ball where he put up a 0.87 ERA in 31.0 IP across 31 games. He struck out 41 batters and walked 10 en route to recording 15 saves.

Knebel pitched so well, in fact, that the Tigers sent him to the Arizona Fall League. In nine games, he would maintain many of his ratios though he gave up more hits and allowed four earned runs in just 8.2 innings pitched. In such a small sample size environment, Knebel’s results weren’t a concern. Just getting him the innings and experience against mostly Double-A level competition was why he went.

Last season for Knebel must have felt like a whirlwind at times. He broke camp with the Double-A affiliate where he would pitch just over a month (April 4 – May 8) compiling a 3-0 record in 11 games out of the bullpen. His 1.20 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched took him on a promotion to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. He would make his first appearance there on May 12, ultimately pitching to a 1.96 ERA in 18.1 innings, complete with 20 strikeouts. His Triple-A WHIP as a Mud Hen was 0.818 and he didn’t allow a home run. Knebel was then promoted to the big leagues on May 23. He would make his debut on May 24, allowing three earned runs on two hits and two walks in just one inning of work. (Welcome to The Show, rook!) Knebel would make seven more appearances as a Tigers reliever around another trip back to Toledo. His final MLB line in 2014 was 8.2 IP, 11 H, 7 R (6 ER), 3 BB, 11 K, 0 HR, 6.23 ERA.

Then, on July 23, just four days after being recalled again back to Detroit, the Tigers packaged their young fireballing righty with another pitcher in a trade with the Rangers for Joakim Soria. The Tigers’ loss would eventually be the Brewers gain, but not before an injury scare.

Knebel was optioned to Texas’ Class-AAA affiliate after being acquired. He would pitch in nine games for Round Rock but his numbers weren’t quite the same. Perhaps the tumult of the yo-yoing in Detroit and the upheaval of his world by being dealt to another organization had something to do with it, but it might have been because he was hurting. Knebel was shut down with a damaged UCL ironically following one of his best outings for the Express (2.0 IP, H, BB, 5 K). His FIP for Round Rock was 3.53, far worse than any other minor league stop he made.

When the Brewers identified the Rangers as a trade partner to unload Gallardo, it was slowed by what was reported as medical review. After we learned that Knebel was in the deal, the slow up made sense. A pitcher with a damaged UCL needs to be looked at extra closely. That said, the Brewers must have been comfortable with what they saw. The medical staff also has experience with a pitcher working his way through a UCL injury without requiring Tommy John surgery, though it certainly could be something that needs to happen down the road. Knebel passed his physical though, so everything must have been no worse than “as expected.”

Knebel would attend the annual Brewers On Deck fan fast which was less than a week after he was acquired. During his media availability he said that he’s been throwing for a little while and feels good. His elbow his healthy. That’s great news moving forward.

What it means for 2015 is that Knebel is very much in the mix for a 25-man roster spot. There should be quite the competition if everyone is healthy. Like Knebel, Brandon Kintzler, Jim Henderson, and Tyler Thornburg are all coming off injury and, in two cases, surgery. Chris Pérez will be in camp on a MiLB deal. Rob Wooten will also be in the mix as I stated in his BBtJN column yesterday. If the Brewers don’t acquire another bullpen arm that’s still not enough jobs with Jonathan Broxton, Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith, and Neal Cotts all factoring in too.

All things being equal, I believe that the Brewers would let Knebel begin the year at their new Class-AAA affiliate in Colorado Springs and be at the ready should someone get hurt. As I said at the top of this piece, Knebel absolutely profiles as a late-inning, high-leverage reliever. The Brewers could want him to close games for the Sky Sox while waiting his turn instead of jumping into middle relief in 2015. Then again, that’s part of why they have Spring Training. Knebel and the other competitors should get plenty of work against MLB-level hitters in an attempt to figure out who can separate themselves from the pack.

Bottom line: Even if Knebel starts in Colorado Springs, I fully expect him to contribute along the way in Milwaukee in 2015.

Follow Corey on Twitter: @coreyknebel29

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