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  • A Post-Deadline Review of the “Overlooked” Prospects (Relief Pitchers)

    Harold Hutchison

    If there is one player group where the “overlooked” prospects are not-so-overlooked, it is in the bullpen. Just about every season sees the Brewers bring up some nugget who provides crucial contributions to the team out of the bullpen. At least one such nugget has made his MLB debut for the Brewers. Who could the other nuggets in the future be?

    Image courtesy of Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

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    There were several contenders over the offseason. Lucas Erceg was traded to Oakland, where he’s struggled as a MLB reliever, and Pablo Garabitos is also gone, released after a stint on the 60-day injured list. Let’s look at how they have fared. All stats are as of August 5.

    Right-Handed Relief Pitchers
    Michele Vassalotti, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A+)
    0-0, 6.83 ERA, 0 saves, 29 innings pitched, 26 walks, 37 strikeouts

    Vassalotti has had a 2023 to forget, but is still striking out almost four batters every three innings. His walk rate went up this year, and he added six hit batters to the mix and uncorked seven wild pitches. He will be looking to rebound after a rough season

    James Meeker, Biloxi Shuckers (AA)
    6-3. 3.31 ERA, 1 save, 65.1 innings pitched, 7 walks, 57 strikeouts

    Meeker might be 28 years old, but he has had a major breakout in Biloxi, and this was after a superb 2022 run. He moved to the rotation earlier this year after injuries to starting pitchers Brandon Knarr and Adam Seminaris and has locked it down. It could be an interesting offseason as the Brewers decide whether to keep him in the rotation, or to return him to a shut-down relief option.

    Jeison Pena, Carolina Mudcats (A)
    4-2, 6.75 ERA, 1 save, 38.2 innings pitched, 21 walks, 41 strikeouts

    Pena has still been racking up the strikeouts, but he has given up four homers in just under 39 innings, which has hit his ERA hard. He’s also been pretty wild on the mound, with nine hit batters and seven wild pitches. He’s only 20, though, and there is plenty of time for him to develop.

    Quinton Low, Carolina Mudcats (A) - Two-Way Player
    1-3, 4.26 ERA, 0 saves, 31.2 innings pitched, 26 walks, 46 strikeouts

    .207/.324/.345 in 29 AB with 1 double, 1 home run, 5 walks, 11 strikeouts

    Like Meeker, Low is making a move to the rotation – at least for now. Low has been hard to hit for the most part, allowing only 5.4 hits per nine innings, and punching out nearly three batters every two innings. The big issue is when pitches get away from him – he’s uncorked 12 wild pitches and hit four batters. He also is a potential force at the plate, but has only had 29 at-bats. The Brewers always can use relievers, but how rare is it to have one who would also be a credible option at first base or designated hitter?

    The going has been rough for some of the right-handed prospects, while others are seeing time in the starting rotation. Meeker and Low both have potential to dominate – Meeker with outstanding control and Low with sheer stuff, while Vassalotti and Pena will look to turn things around in 2024.

    Left-Handed Relievers
    Clayton Andrews, Nashville Sounds (AAA)/Milwaukee Brewers (MLB)
    3-1, 3.59 ERA, 4 saves, 42.2 innings pitched, 26 walks, 56 strikeouts

    2018 17th-round pick Andrews has taken his spot on the Nashville-Milwaukee shuffle, completing a comeback after struggling with injuries in 2021 and 2022. Pre-pandemic, he not only appeared to be a poor man’s Josh Hader, but even saw time in center field for 16 games.

    Karlos Morales, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A+)
    4-4, 4.71 ERA, 2 saves, 42 innings pitched, 34 walks, 46 strikeouts

    Morales has had some struggles adjusting, but still has been quite solid, striking out more than a batter an inning. Control is an issue, with 34 walks and eight wild pitches hurting his cause on the mound. He’s given up only three home runs, though, and gives up just under seven hits per nine innings pitched.

    Darrell Thompson, Biloxi Shuckers (AA)/Nashville Sounds (AAA) - New
    3-4, 4.60 ERA, 1 save, 43 innings pitched, 17 walks, 60 strikeouts

    Another older prospect, Thompson broke out in Biloxi earlier this year, and while he’s come down to earth somewhat in Nashville, he’s still racking up some good numbers overall, and could be a credible option in 2024.

    Justin King, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A+) - New
    1-1, 3.22 ERA, 0 saves, 22.1 innings pitched, 14 walks, 42 strikeouts

    King is a bit old for High-A ball, but the numbers are not lying. He’s been punching out hitters and emerging as a legit prospect, like James Meeker has. While he’s giving up nine hits every ten innings, part of that is due to an absurdly high .452 BABIP. If those are numbers when he’s unlucky, just imagine when things regress to the norm,

    Andrews has become another late-round hit for the Brewers, while King and Morales both are flashing potential. Thompson could be the left-handed equivalent to James Meeker for the Crew.


    Edited by Robocaller

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  • Brewer Fanatic Contributor
  • Posted

    RHP James Meeker's low walk rate is incredible and I hope he gets a taste of AAA ball this year, with an eventual MLB call-up in 2024.

    RHP Nick Merkel has also done a terrific job limiting walks (78 Ks vs. 17 BBs), although the 5.24 ERA in High-A ball and age (25) give some pause. His OPS against in High-A is just .699 after registering .643 in Low-A, so he's worth monitoring.

    RHP Shane Smith is also an interesting arm - 23 - Low-A/High-A - 1.99 ERA. 0.95 WHIP. 71 Ks vs. 16 BBs in 49.2 IP. This is all coming after barely pitching in 2021 (college) and 2022 (MILB) due to injury and recovery.

    RHP Ryan Brady is also doing special things in his first full minor league season - 24 - High-A/AA - 2.88 ERA. 1.11 WHIP. 66 Ks vs. 17 BBs in 68.2 IP.

    LHP Luis Amaya dominated High-A ball, but is now trying to figure out AA - 24 - High-A/AA - 3.35 ERA. 1.10 WHIP. 54 Ks vs. 15 BBs in 53.2 IP.

    RHP Chase Costello is still sitting in Low-A for some reason. It's tough to assess him and whether his low K-rate will inhibit him until he's given some time at Wisconsin - 23 - Low-A - 2.53 ERA. 0.95 WHIP. 44 Ks vs. 15 BBs in 57 IP.

    LHP Justin King didn't stand out in Australia, but was exceptional early in the year for Wisconsin, then has recently struggled since return from injury - 25 - High-A - 3.25 ERA. 1.59 WHIP. 51 Ks vs. 21 BBs in 27.2 IP. Yes, he's striking out 16.6 per 9 innings!

    RHP Tanner Shears - last but certainly not least as he's raising eyebrows and expectations in his first season in affiliated baseball after half a year in independent ball - 24 - High-A/Low-A - 1.54 ERA. 1.34 WHIP. 65 Ks vs. 31 BBs in 41 IP. 

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