Expected to be in the thick of the 2019 NL Central race, the Brewers are bringing back most of a roster that won 96 games last year and went all the the NLCS. If anything, they’re adding to it, bringing in the likes of Yasmani Grandal, Ben Gamel, and getting Jimmy Nelson back from injury.
There are concerns throughout the roster, mostly pertaining to the starting rotation. Nelson hasn’t pitched in a big league game in over a year. Jhoulys Chacin has shown inconsistencies in his year-to-year performance, while inexperienced pitching prospects will likely shuffle in and out of the rotation, most notably Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes.
A pitcher who could play a big role in the success of the Brewers rotation is the one I want to talk about here. Corbin Burnes, a top pitching prospect that already has 38 big league innings along with some postseason experience, all in relief, already under his belt will get a good look at a rotation spot this spring.
A fourth round pick in the 2016 draft, Burnes has dominated every level he’s pitched at. Even pitching in the Pacific Coast League this year, with his home ballpark being Colorado Springs’ Security Service Field, a venue known to be one of the worst pitcher-ballparks in all of the sport, he still managed to post a 5.15 ERA, 4.22 FIP, and 3.52 DRA. Pitching conditions there are near unimaginable, causing a high rate of fly balls and balls in play to go for home runs and hits, while also impacting the pitches coming into the plate, making it harder to net strikeouts and easier to walk batters. The home and road splits for him in Triple-A this season are pretty telling.
- Home: 32.1 IP, 7.24 ERA, 18 BB, 27 SO
- Road: 46.1 IP, 3.69 ERA, 13 BB, 54 SO
In less extreme conditions, Burnes essentially dominated. His first pitching stint in the major leagues was only encouraging, as Burnes became one of the more reliable relievers for the Brewers down the stretch, having the ability to work in both shorter and longer outings. As a reliever, he only had to rely on his best secondary to pair with his fastball (which was his slider), almost ditching his curveball, which by most accounts was considered a plus-pitch. He also left the changeup behind.
Putting reliance on the slider was a great decision, as evidenced by the following metrics (ranks out of 279 pitchers with at least 150 sliders thrown).
- K%: 93rd
- SwStr%: 23rd
- xwOBA: 73rd
- O-Swing%: 23rd
- Spin Rate: 26th
The fastball garnered dominant results. Standing at 6’3” 205 lbs, he was a fairly imposing figure on the mound, able to touch upper-90s with his four-seamer. Opponents hit for a lowly .174/.237/.244 off his heater. Probably thinks to the high combination of spin and velocity.
The pair of the fastball and slider were dominant. Among pitchers with as many results as him, he posted the 22nd lowest wOBA among fastball/slider combos, standing at .250 between the two.
Pitchers with a lower wOBA on FB/SL combo than Corbin Burnes
The key for Burnes in fighting for a rotation spot will be showcasing the abilities of his curveball and/or changeup. If he can get at least one of those to be a serviceable pitch at the major league level, and considering his possible ceiling, the spot should be his. If he can’t impress with his secondary offerings, he might be destined for the bullpen. Looking farther ahead, the performance of his curveball and changeup could be the deciding factor in his career as a starter. The good news is, by most accounts he has the ability to do this.
#Brewers No. 2 prospect Corbin Burnes (@Burnes16) had his curveball working for @skysox, recording a career-best 13 strikeouts over seven innings. @Brewers— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) May 7, 2018
STORY: https://t.co/PUoKvuZ8YB pic.twitter.com/Cs7FMXiJ4k
The production of Corbin Burnes and a selection of a few other young pitchers for the Brewers could play a big role in where their 2019 season ends. Without them, they’ll almost surely be running out a very subpar rotation by contender standards. With them, they have the capability of making some noise.