Results tagged ‘ BBtJN ’

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #41 Jake Elmore

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The lack of Monday columns this year has been disturbing. Think about it. I normally shout Mondays from the rooftops once this series begins because not only are we another day closer but the week counter always ticks down to a whole number.

We got a 63 (Junior Guerra) but 56 and 49 are coaches this year and 42 is retired throughout baseball…but you already know that. Finally next week Monday we’ll get to 35 and Shane Peterson and I’ll be able to properly acknowledge the week ticker.

Regardless, we’re now inside of six weeks until Opening Day and since we just took a three day break due to retired numbers and a coach and tomorrow is also a coach, I wanted to make sure we talked about…

Jake Elmore.

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(First, let’s say how great it is that Elmore tweeted this on his BBtJN profile day.)

This is normally the kind of profile I wouldn’t do for “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” for two major reasons. First, Jacob David Elmore isn’t exactly much of a prospect. He’s 28 years old and has spent parts of the last four seasons in the big leagues after debuting in August of 2012 for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was a 34th round pick in 2008 by the D’backs so even reaching the big leagues is an unlikely accomplishment in and of itself, but what I mean in saying he’s not a prospect is that he likely doesn’t have a significantly better future ahead of him.

Does that make sense? He’s not some 20-year-old with tools coming out of his ears and unrealized potential. It doesn’t mean he can’t be useful. It doesn’t mean he’ll get cut and retire. It just means that people normally don’t like to read about guys in his situation.

Part of that situation is the second reason I normally wouldn’t write about him, that being that he doesn’t really have much of a chance — barring a significant rash of injuries — to break camp with the big league club.

So why bother writing this? First, for the people like you who clicked to read it. Second, it’s simply that when telling the story of Jake Elmore’s baseball career, there are some fun and interesting things to tell.

As I mentioned above, Elmore was originally a 34th round draft pick. How many other draft picks in the last decade have reached The Show having been taken that late or later? I’d wait why you look it up because it’s not an incredibly long list but the point is that for every Kenny Rogers, Junior Spivey, Keith Hernandez, Mark Buehrle, or even the holy grail that is Mike Piazza, there are hundreds of players who never get a sniff. So that’s cool that Elmore not only broke through but has remained in consideration over the past four years.

Here’s another thing. Elmore has been in the big leagues with four different teams in those four years but was a part of seven organizations. He debuted with Arizona (1) in 2012 but was waived after the season. Houston (2) claimed him and he got back to the big leagues as an Astro in 2013. He was waived again following that season but picked up by the Chicago White Sox (3), for who he never played. The Oakland Athletics (4) purchased Elmore’s contract from the White Sox three months and a week after Chicago claimed him. Elmore played in 47 games for Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate before finding himself back on the waiver wire. This time it was Cincinnati (5) who was found claiming the well-traveled player. He played in 25 games for their Triple-A club before a September call-up brought him back to the dance.

That’s five teams. How do we get to the Brewers being number eight? Elmore was granted free agency on November 4, 2014 but signed back with Cincinnati the very next day…who promptly waived him. Two days after that the Pittsburgh Pirates (6) were awarded a claim but less then three months later Elmore was granted free agency again. A week blowing in the wind ended with a free agent contract on February 9, 2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays (7). Elmore found his way into 51 games for the Rays, making a career-high 158 trips to the plate.

Now granted, Elmore only slashed .206/.263/.284 in the big leagues last year but this is where the most fun part of Elmore’s back story comes to light as it’s what has kept him relevant at times throughout his career. He’s versatile.

You sometimes hear of a player’s defensive versatility and you think of a guy who can play second, third, and short. Or a corner infielder. Or someone who can line up in each outfield position. Or maybe even someone like Jonathan Lucroy or Buster Posey who spend some time at first base when they aren’t catching. Or how about Brewers cult favorite Brooks Kieschnick who played corner outfield, pinch-hit, and pitched in relief?

Jake Elmore is all of those people.

Seriously. He’s played all nine defensive positions, and designated hitter. And not just in the minors like Brewers prospect Nate Orf did for Brevard County (in one game, no less), but at the Major League level. He doesn’t hit as well as the guys who moonlight at a secondary position or keep their bats in the lineup by spelling everyone in the infield in a rotating manner, but Elmore truly does it all defensively.

Check out this breakdown of just his MLB fielding statistics.

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I’m counting and that’s 10. Which is where his value lies for this club. I don’t expect Elmore — in big league camp on a minor-league contract — to head north to Milwaukee on April 4, but what I’m thinking he offers is absolute emergency coverage should something happen as well a good approach at the plate if not always good result.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said about him last year, “Jake is an interesting player. He gives you a good at bat and he can play everywhere.”

While “everywhere” will almost certainly mean “Colorado Springs” to begin the season, don’t be shocked to see Elmore find his way into a Brewers uniform at some point.

But also don’t be shocked to see him waived at the end of the season only to catch on with another new club. He’s already played all the positions. Maybe he can get to a majority of the teams.

Follow Jake on Twitter: @JElmo10

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #46 Corey Knebel

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In an effort to squeeze this in before midnight, I’m going to make this short and sweet. We’re 46 days away from Opening Day and by now you know how “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” works.

We’re gonna do the short-short version.

Here comes an unfortunately short look at…

Corey Knebel.

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For the background on how the Brewers acquired Corey Andrew Knebel and some of his history prior to the 2015 season, check out last year’s profile. This will save me some typing time.

As for that 2015 season, Knebel experienced some significant growth throughout the course of it. Appearing in 48 games in relief and tossing 50.1 innings, the right-handed Texan finished the year with an ERA+ of 124, which is to say that his park-adjusted numbers were 24 percent better than league average. A lot of that had to do with his strikeout numbers (58 K) and his ability to minimize damage.

Knebel did walk 17 hitters in his 50.1 IP, and that can be a huge problem for relievers, but his 3.22 ERA at the end of the day signifies a decent strand rate. You’d rather he not need to pitch his way out of trouble, but the fireman role is one he could really be useful in for 2016 as he continues to mature.

Entering a “we desperately need a strikeout” situation can be brutal on pitchers in terms of leverage and stress but Knebel did well, allowing only three inherited runs to score all year.

With the bullpen now being constructed the way it is in terms of returning back-end arms, the role which manager Craig Counsell is going to rely on Knebel should increase as well.

This is a player who shot through the minor leagues after being picked in the 2013 draft. He’s still just 24 years old and refining his craft. He looks like he’ll be a good one for a while, something the Brewers certainly want to have a lot of as they move toward their next competitive window.

Follow Corey on Twitter: @coreyknebel29

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #47 Adrian Houser

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Sorry for the extreme delay due to real world responsibilities. Let’s ride.

This article should have been posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 because that day was 47 days away from Opening Day and we should have profiled…

Adrian Houser.

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Standing 6’4″ and listed at 230 pounds, Adrian D. Houser has a prototypical “pitcher’s frame.” As a former 2nd round draft pick by the Houston Astros out of Locust Grove High School in Oklahoma, Adrian Houser has a prospect profile. After making his MLB debut on September 26, 2015 at the tender age of 22, Adrian Houser is just scratching the surface but is starting to fulfill a lot of people’s dreams on him including his own.

As the “RHP Adrian Houser too” of the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers to Houston trade last year, there was some wonder what kind of player the Brewers had received in Houser. After all, in his seven games at Double-A Corpus Christi before the trade, Houser scuffled to a 6.21 ERA allowed 39 hits and 15 walks in 33.1 innings pitched.

Well all he did in 37.0 IP for the playoff bound Biloxi Shuckers was post a 2.92 ERA. He allowed 33 hits but only walked six. The difference in BB/9 between the relatively similar sample sizes? An untenable 4.0 in Corpus Christi against a superb 1.5 in Biloxi. That was a big factor in his success.

Houser earned himself a late, post-playoffs September call-up to the Brewers. He got into two games, throwing an inning in each. He gave up a total of one hit and two walks but nary a run did cross on his watch.

For 2016, Houser won’t be beginning the season in Milwaukee. He’s got some maturing to still do in the minors. That taste of the big leagues was a success though and it should push his confidence along in the correct direction while at the same time making him hungrier to get back.

I expect Houser to start and there’s room for him in the Colorado Springs rotation but after just 70.1 innings at Double-A it wouldn’t shock me, nor would I consider it a setback, should Houser begin the year back in Biloxi.

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #48 Pat Misch

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Less than seven weeks!

With bench coach Pat Murphy occupying jersey #49, we jump over yesterday and arrive at the owner of #48 in Spring Training…

Pat Misch.

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The professional path that Patrick Theodore Joseph Misch arrived as a non-roster invitee to Brewers big league camp at Maryvale is a long one. After all, he’s had a 13-year career as a pro ballplayer.

Let’s start at the end though. Misch started Game 7 for the Lamingo Monkeys in the Taiwan Series which is the championship of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. The Monkeys won 11-0 but the real story was the pitching of Misch as he threw a no-hitter. The only thing between Misch and a perfect game was a 5th inning walk. It was the first ever no-hitter in the Taiwan Series.

That amazing moment in Misch’s career came after a lengthy journey throughout Major League Baseball. Drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2003, Misch would spend parts of seven seasons in the Giants system including parts of four years in the Giants uniform.

Misch was waived in 2009 after posting a 10.80 ERA in four appearances that season which finished his Giants career with a Major League stat line including a 5.20 ERA in 97.0 innings pitched across 38 games. He started in 11 of his appearances for San Francisco.

After being claimed by the New York Mets, Misch joined the big league club and pitched to a 4.12 ERA in 59 games. Two more seasons in the Mets organizations begat a season each with the Triple-A affiliates of Philadelphia and Detroit.

Then, Misch kept the dream alive with some Independent League & Winter ball before securing a 2015 contract with the Marlins. He went to Triple-A again, pitching to a 3.25 ERA in 16 games (11 starts).

Misch would not finish the season with Miami as he was released in early July and, after playing a week with the Independent League Lancaster Barnstormers, found himself on his way to Asia which connects the ends of the path.

He comes to the Brewers on a standard minor-league deal that comes with an invitation to big league camp. He’s a southpaw, something the Brewers only have one of on the 40-man roster, but the season likely will begin at Miller Park without Misch on the 25-man roster.

That doesn’t change the fact that, at 34 years old Pat Misch pitched his way into the history books. I’m sure he’d like the opportunity to see if he can handle MLB hitters again.

And given the state of the Brewers roster, this is as good a spot as any to continue keeping that dream alive.

UPDATE: Pat Misch requested his release to pursue an opportunity to pitch with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. The request was granted and he is no longer coming to Brewers camp.

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #50 Yhonathan Barrios

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Brewer Nation! We’re just 50 days away from Opening Day which puts us just over seven weeks out. Each time the tens digit rolls over it’s like clearing a little mental hurdle.

So let’s finish our approach to this hurdle by profiling a first-timer to “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”…

Yhonathan Barrios.

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Or should I write “Jhonathan” because the Facebook page for the 24-year-old reliever from Venezuela spells his first name with a “J” and that’s basically how you pronounce it. I digress though.

Barrios was acquired by the Brewers from the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 23, 2015 in exchange for Aramis Ramirez (and cash). At the time, many people wrote things about not being able to expect much in return for a guy who has said he’s going to retire at the end of the season and who, quite frankly, wasn’t playing all that great at the time of the trade.

People found a myriad of ways to bemoan the acquisition.

“He’s only 5’10”.”

“All they got was a Double-A relief pitcher?”

“Who is Yuh-honathan?”

“WHY DIDN’T THEY GET MOAR!!!1!”

But the facts that have come to light once Barrios got a chance are that this guy can pitch. He can also throw as evidenced by his four-seam fastball averaging 96.4 MPH during his time in the big leagues (per Fangraphs). And though in his five games he was primarily a two-pitch pitcher (fastball/change-up), he also lightly sprinkled a slider as well.

The two pitches worked for him during his September call-up though as he put up 6.2 scoreless innings in five appearances, striking out seven and walking exactly zero. It’s obviously a small sample size and is predictive of almost nothing, but as I always say it’s certainly better than getting lit up in a small sample size.

Barrios is going to be in the mix for the Opening Day roster if in the Cactus League he performs even close to how he did last September. That said, he could get squeezed out with the options situation surrounding the other bullpen arms (assuming no one else gets traded).

If the Brewers go with a seven-man bullpen — the norm, though it’s certainly not uncommon to roll with eight at times — they’ll have tough decisions to make. Right now the locks given last year’s performances and current roster considerations are Michael Blazek, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, and Will Smith. Tyler Thornburg & Ariel Peña are both out of options and Zack Jones (Rule 5 pick) either makes the team or needs to be offered back to Minnesota. That leaves worthwhile 2015 contributors like Barrios and David Goforth working at Colorado Springs. New 40-man adds Damien Magnifico and Jacob Barnes should probably start in minors for a bit more seasoning, but what of Junior Guerra (he has options)?

The point is that Barrios could find himself beginning the year in Colorado Springs and if his 53.3% ground ball rate in September translates back down to the minors he’ll be fine there. It’ll also help that he allowed just two home runs in 60.1 combined innings pitched in the minors last year.

Bottom line: Barrios is a useful asset for this team who could prove effective for several years as the complexion of the roster continues to change.

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #52 Jimmy Nelson

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This was finished late, so no real intro. It was intended for posting on Friday, February 12 when we were 52 days away from Spring Training, a day on which we would have profiled…

Jimmy Nelson.

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What a difference two years can make. At this point in 2014, James Jacob Nelson was coming off of a September call-up but faced a full big league rotation. He would end up starting the season at Class-AAA Nashville, dominating the top minor league circuit en route to an All-Star Game selection and eventual Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award for the Pacific Coast League. He would eventually be promoted due to the ineffectiveness of Marco Estrada.

A year ago at this time, the 6’6″ right-hander from the University of Alabama was ticketed for the starting rotation but realized that he needed to be more consistent with his pitch sequencing and execution. He also was tinkering with a new pitch to compliment his fastball/slider combination for when he change-up proved ineffective during games.

The mystery pitch turned out to be a knuckle-curve, also called a spike curve. He broke it out during the spring and it was an excellent offering. In fact, he rode its effectiveness to an opponent slash line of .216/.318/.270 over his first four starts in 2015. Despite the weak results, Nelson still found himself with a 1-2 record in four starts and a 4.03 ERA on May 1st.

May was a far worse story for Nelson in many ways as the .430 slugging against was due to 15 extra-base hits including seven home runs, more than double any other month. Despite all that, his ERA was actually better at 3.83 in 40.0 innings pitched across six starts. Still, come June 1, Nelson was sitting with a 2-5 record.

Nelson’s best month of the year, for what it’s worth, was by far July. Not only did he hold opponents to a .294 on-base, but he struck out 32 against 12 walks in 33.0 innings pitched, and allowed just eight extra-base hits. He allowed just six earned runs all month which was good for a 1.64 ERA and 3-1 record.

NelsonAttendEvery statistic almost became moot though on Thursday, September 17. That was the day where Nelson took a line drive off the side of his head. It was a 108 MPH line drive off the bat of Tommy Pham. I was in the ballpark that night. Nelson went down and laid motionless seemingly forever. He would recount after the game that he chose to lay still until the athletic trainer reached him and they told him not to move initially as well. He rolled up onto his knees and walked off the field a lot sooner than any of us thought he would.

After staying in the hospital for observation for a short time, Nelson was released none the worse for wear, however his season would end on that play. There simply wasn’t a reason to risk any physicality for Nelson after that kind of situation.

All told for his first (nearly) full season in the big leagues, Nelson would finish 11-13, 4.11 ERA, 30 GS, 177.1 IP, 163 H, 89 R, 81 ER, 18 HR, 65 BB, 148 K, 13 HBP (led the league), 1.286 WHIP. All that equates to a 96 ERA+ meaning that Nelson was four percent worse than league average overall.

Nelson broke though to the big league in 2014 and cemented himself in the rotation in 2015, but there is room to improve. Nelson will tell you, as he told me, that he knows he needs to get more consistent results by way of more consistent execution. Four of his final five starts are ones Nelson will tell you aren’t good enough. In the four combined, Nelson threw 15.1 IP and allowed 18 ER. They would balloon his season ERA from 3.60 on August 25th to the 4.11 at which he finished. Nelson also took the loss in all four of those games.

As for his future outlook, Nelson should be fine mentally going forward. He wanted to pitch before the season was over last year and has no doubt been itching to get back on the mound in a game setting. He’ll be counted on to help lead this rotation that despite the rebuilding efforts returns primarily intact. Both Mike Fiers (trade) and Kyle Lohse are gone from the Opening Day rotation, but both pitchers were out of the rotation for the final two months of the year. The biggest change is the addition of Chase Anderson to round things out instead of, for example, Zach Davies who finished the season in the rotation or one of the other young starters.

Regardless, Nelson will be in the front part of the rotation and will be looked at to take another step or more forward as the team positions itself for contention in a couple of years.

Just remember going in that wins and losses really won’t matter much for individual pitchers this year. It’s definitely more about how they’re pitching and how their development continues at the big league level. That’s as true for Nelson as it is for Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, and even Anderson.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @Jimmy_J_Nelson

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #54 Michael Blazek

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We are 54 days away from Opening Day. That’s less than two months, less than 8 weeks. As was once infamously said about Paris practically being a suburb of Berlin, “It’s a nothing commute.” In other words, it’ll be here before you know it.

Just think about the milestones we’ve already left in our collective rear-views this winter.

No, wait, don’t think about that. Think about my guy who wears #54 for the Milwaukee Brewers, my favorite baseball team…

Michael Blazek.

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Last winter I took a particular interest in Michael Robert Blazek, being the only person to bend his ear for a time at the annual On Deck fan fest event. We talked about his off-season program and the things he was focusing on in order to get better and have the best season of his career.

Well, I’d say it paid off.

I say that for a number of reasons. It was Blazek’s first full season in the big leagues for starters…er…to start with. He pitched exclusively in relief and, get this, posted his best full-season ERA (2.43) of his professional career. That’s at any level. He prevented runs better in 2015 against MLB competition than he had at any point along his winding ascent to the big leagues following his being selected in the 35th(!) round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. His previous best was a combined 3.00 in 2013 which was compiled between two minor league levels for St. Louis, and big league time in both St. Louis and Milwaukee that year.

It goes beyond ERA though. Blazek’s FIP was a career-best 3.17, his WHIP a career-best 1.042. He allowed just 6.5 H/9 and 2.9 BB/9. Both figures are, you guessed it, career-bests.

Blazek appeared in 45 games, 32 of which were scoreless appearances. He also inherited runners nine times (13 total inherited) in 2015 (once with the bases loaded) and only allowed any of them to score twice. Those days were the Opening Day team-wide disaster against Colorado and a 10-1 loss to the Braves on May 21st.

About the only thing that went wrong for the 6’0″ right-handed Las Vegas native was a signifcant one. Blazek suffered a broken hand at some point. I say “at some point” because no one is really certain when it happened. One day, while throwing long toss, Blazek’s right hand just started to swell. There wasn’t any pain involved which is why it could have been undetected for some time.

The bone eventually would heal and Blazek worked hard to return before the end of the year. That would end up not being in the cards as the team moved Blazek to the 60-day disabled list to open a 40-man roster spot for one of the Biloxi troop which was called up late in the year. Blazek told me that he was disappointed by the move as he was near a clean bill of health and really didn’t want his season to end on the sour note of injury.

As for the injury itself, it certainly would help explain his rough patch leading up to the diagnosis. Beginning on July 30, Blazek allowed runs in four of five appearances including allowing all three of his home runs for the season, the last of which resulted in a walk-off win for the Chicago Cubs on August 12th.

This led to speculation that Blazek injured his hand nefariously striking something out of frustration because everything’s a conspiracy, apparently. That wasn’t the case here and a bone in Blazek’s hand broke.

I spoke to Blazek about it again at Brewers On Deck last month and he told me that he’s doing some exercises to make sure his grip strength is where is needs to be but he’s healthy and ready to go when Pitchers & Catchers report on February 19.

(Sidebar: His hair is also most definitely ready.)

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And to follow up on the question I asked him a year ago, I wondered what his goals were for 2016. After getting through the baseball stuff (BOR-ING!, right??) he said he desires to become the greatest FIFA player of all time on PS4. Any challengers feel up to letting Blazek hone his skills?

Seriously though, on the baseball stuff Blazek said he’s on track with his preparations which are strikingly similar to last season. You know, that season when he was the best he’s ever been.

Works for me. Good answer.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelBlazek34

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #57 Chase Anderson

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While I expect to find this post with low readership because there’s some kind of football game on television later, I thank each of you who decided to click today. I’ll try to save you some time by not drawing out this introduction. Instead, let’s get right into today’s profile of…

Chase Anderson.

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I was tempted to simply make this blog post a redirect link so that you could read Tim Brown’s excellent profile of who Robert Chase Anderson is as a man. Instead, I decided to still give some additional background and go over his performance on the field like I tend to do in these things. You absolutely should read Brown’s piece too though, and probably first.

Anyway, Anderson comes to Milwaukee this off-season as part of the return for sending Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Anderson is a right-handed pitcher who has worked exclusively as a starting pitcher for four of the past five seasons after spending his first two professional years splitting time with a bit more spent entering games in relief. 2013 is the oddity as he worked in 26 games but only 13 starts.

That decision was made in no small part because of, as is so often the case with pitchers, injury. Anderson first suffered a sprained flexor tendon in his pitching elbow in 2011 which caused him to miss almost the entire season. He had additional, likely related, elbow issues each of the next two years which ultimately led to the D’backs shifting him to the bullpen for part of the year to see how Anderson reacted physically.

Anderson didn’t pitch well out of the bullpen though so the move back to the rotation was made. Fortunately, Anderson had been healthy since (up to midsummer 2015) and was able to showcase his abilities to the point where he’s not only made his MLB debut (May 11, 2014) but stayed in the big leagues. Outside of one start on August 2nd last year with the rookie ball team, Anderson has been a big leaguer since he became one.

Now 28 years old, the 6’1″ Anderson is firmly in what is often considered the prime of one’s baseball career. He started 27 games for the D’backs last year, throwing 152.2 innings. His overall season numbers don’t look great (4.30 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 95 ERA+) but there’s nuance inside of those numbers.

Anderson’s worst stretch of the year came in the five starts leading up to a stint on the disabled list with right triceps inflammation. In those five starts prior, Anderson struggled to a 9.12 ERA. He would miss about three weeks with the injury and pitched much better afterward overall.

From a business standpoint, Anderson offers a lot of value for the rebuilding Brewers. There exists a full five seasons of team control for Anderson which means the next two are pre-arbitration. Brewers brass indicated that Anderson will join the rotation immediately which more or less sets the starting rotation (barring injury or trade).

But obviously the true test of value comes in the execution of the baseball skills. If you can pitch effectively, you’ll be worth the paycheck. If Anderson is healthy, all signs point to his being good enough to be worth more than he’ll deposit into his bank account this year.

 

How will he accomplish that? Anderson will tell you (as he did on the radio recently) that his best pitch is his change-up. It’s been that way for awhile for the native Texan. Around the time of Anderson’s MLB debut, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. (who had spent the previously three seasons as Arizona’s minor league pitching coordinator) was quoted as saying this about Anderson’s best pitch.

“It’s definitely the best in our system. Hitters obviously don’t recognize his change-up and they see fastball. He has such good hand speed and arm speed and deception on the pitch.”

A quality change should serve Anderson will in Miller Park and it’s made even better by the fact that his average fastball velocity was up over 93 MPH at the end of last year. Increased difference in the speed of those two pitches isn’t a bad thing.

The bottom line for Anderson is that the Brewers seem to be getting a hard worker with high character who is effective when healthy.

Yes, please.

Follow Chase on Twitter: @ChaseAnderson87

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #58 Ariel Peña

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Can you feel the excitement? Today is February, 6, 2016 and we’re just 58 days away from Opening Day on April 4th.

Today we profile a player who saw his stock rise in 2015 much like his jersey number did. After wearing #68 in big league camp last year, this year #58 belongs to…

Ariel Peña.

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What a difference a few months can make.

From being considered the third piece in the return when the Brewers traded Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Southern California, USA, Peña stands today as the only one left in the organization. First came the minor league free agency of Johnny Hellweg (following a lengthy rehab from Tommy John surgery) in which he decided to sign with the San Diego Padres organization. Then came the trade which sent centerpiece Jean Segura to the Arizona Diamondbacks (along with Tyler Wagner) for three different players.

Hellweg had control and command issues during his entire Brewers run (not to mention most of his professional career overall). Segura’s excellent debut and All-Star Game run looked extremely promising and while his defense continued to be a strength, his offense largely fizzled. So that leaves Peña who has had a history of command and control problems of his own but who took a step in the right direction by slashing his walk rate (in Class-AAA Colorado Springs of all places) to the lowest it had been since the first half of his 2012 Double-A season.

Some numbers still don’t look great but if you look at the improvements over 2014 and factor in the change in environments, there are enough encouraging signs to understand why Peña was called upon to finally make his Major League debut as a September call-up once the Sky Sox season ended.

Peña first appeared in relief but then started the rest of the way eventually appearing in six games and tossing 27.1 innings in the Show. He finished with a 4.28 ERA. He didn’t have a scoreless appearance and his walk rate jumped back up to 4.6. He did maintain a strong strikeout rate though as he K’d 27 batters in those 27.1 IP, putting his MLB number at 8.9 K/9 after he finished his minor league season with 83 K in 82.2 IP.

Out of minor league options, Peña is going to have to show something when camp opens in under two weeks at Maryvale. After all, he is the acquisition of the previous regime and is now 26 years old. Peña will be an inexpensive option to fill out the bullpen for 2016 and seems made for the long-relief/swingman role to begin the year. Then again, I’m very interested to see what new pitching coach Derek Johnson decides to do with Peña though. He could decide that short-relief, higher-leverage situations like 7th inning work make the most sense. There’s a chance that Peña’s command could be harnessed in a bit in shorter stints on the mound.

Regardless of the role, Peña still seems intriguing enough that the Brewers will want to keep him around to begin 2016 and see what they have in him over a long look at the big league level.

Follow Ariel on Twitter: @2Eltrabieso

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #60 Keon Broxton

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Six years ago I decided to embark on a series of blog posts which I felt would be a fun way for me to not only remind myself of what happened the previous season but also to help you wonderful readers and me alike to get to know some things about members of the Milwaukee Brewers’ 40-man roster who were new to franchise.

We began on February 4, 2010 with a look at Todd “Hot” Coffey and his role as a key member of a bullpen with some issues. Coffey wore #60 as a Brewer and Opening Day 2010 (April 5th) was 60 days away. Today, six years later, Opening day is once again 60 days away from February 4th. While Opening Day is April 4th this year, it’s also a leap year which adds in the difference. And though Coffey is no longer sprinting in from the bullpen to the late Ultimate Warrior’s entrance music, someone younger was assigned the same #60 to wear for Spring Training. That someone is…

Keon Broxton.

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Keon Darell Broxton is a 6’3″ outfielder out of Lakeland, Florida. Listed as 195 lbs, the lanky but strong Broxton was first drafted out of high school by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 29th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft but decided to increase his stock by spending a year at Santa Fe Community College in relatively nearby Gainesville.

After leading that team to the JUCO World Series (played in Grand Junction, Colorado), the Arizona Diamondbacks would draft Broxton in the 3rd round in 2009. Broxton signed very quickly and was assigned to rookie ball at Missoula of the Pioneer League.

It’s been a steady, if somewhat slow, rise through the minor leagues for Broxton. He played the full 2010 season at Low-A South Bend and started there again in 2011 for 20 games before finishing the year with High-A Visalia for 110 games. Broxton repeated High-A in 2012, spending the entire season there.

With 240 High-A games under his belt, he finally got the chance to start at Double-A in 2013 which he did in Mobile. After missing the first month of the 2013 season, and finished with just 101 games played, Broxton went to winter ball in the Australian Baseball League for the Sydney Blue Sox.

Following the 2013 season, Broxton had a career minor league batting average of .241 and had seemingly regressed from 2012 to 2013. There was enough doubt about his future that the Diamondbacks sold his rights to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates would give Broxton a second full season of Double-A development and he would respond with a solid season in 2014 (.275/.369/.484) despite a still somewhat disconcerting strikeout rate (122 K in 407 AB). He also worked 66 walks in 571 plate appearances, demonstrating his patience and mature approach.

After a 45-game Double-A stint to begin 2015 in which Broxton slashed .302/.365/.464, he was finally promoted to Triple-A where he would play 88 games in the final stop before the big leagues. Broxton would get a late September call-up and appear in seven games (no starts) for the Pirates as the season wound down. He only got two at-bats and perhaps fittingly struck out in one of them, but he scored three times and stole a base. Hey, it’s more than many ballplayers ever get to do in the big leagues.

BroxtonHeadshotBroxton was acquired by the Brewers (along with Trey Supak) on December 17, 2015 in exchange for Jason Rogers who was viewed as a valuable piece to the Pirates puzzle entering 2016. For the Brewers it was a chance to get a high-ceiling if volatile arm in Supak and an outfielder who could handle what was more or less still a vacancy in centerfield. Broxton can, after all, play all three outfield spots.

I had the chance to talk to Broxton at Brewers On Deck and asked him to about seizing the centerfield job for himself.

“I have a job everyday that’s just to get better regardless of where I am. That’s all I’m going to do in Spring is just get better, work on every aspect of my game and see whatever happens. If they need me in the outfield or not, either way I still gotta get better so I’ll be ready.”

Finally, while Broxton told me he had a little bit of experience playing in the altitude of Colorado from that previously mentioned JUCO World Series experience (in which he slashed .520/.600/1.320 in 25 at-bats over six games, by the way), he said that playing in Triple-A Colorado Springs “would be a lot of fun too, but that’s not exactly where I want to be — you know?”

Would that maybe be playing in Milwaukee instead? With a warm smile and laugh, “Yeah.”

I think Broxton has a solid chance to break camp with the Brewers, though working against him are his minor league options. He has some and others he’s in direct competition with for a job do not. If everyone performs on par, Broxton is likely to be sent down to maintain depth. Still just 25 years old, Broxton is a valuable asset that Brewers General Manager David Stearns won’t readily risk losing.

It’s going to be one of a couple of fun competitions in the Cactus League for the Brewers. Regardless of whether Broxton comes out on top what can we expect from him as a player in the Brewers organization? In his own words:

“Good speed, a little bit of power, good defense.”

Not bad things to have, to be sure.

Follow Keon on Twitter: @KeonDDBroxton

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