The Brewers had a wide slate of injured players during Spring Training — some expected to be key contributors in 2020 — and president of baseball operations David Stearns tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel that most are progressing well through their rehab.
Former closer Corey Knebel, who underwent Tommy John surgery last spring, is “getting pretty close” to being able to join the bullpen mix, per Stearns. He’s been on a throwing program and seemingly hasn’t had any setbacks, though Stearns noted that the final test is always to see how players fare in competitive settings with adrenaline flowing, and that obviously hasn’t been possible during the COVID-19 shutdown.
It’s easy to forget just how important Knebel was to the Brewers’ bullpen prior to his injury. Josh Hader’s breakout as MLB’s strikeout king has somewhat overshadowed Knebel, but the two form one of baseball’s best late-inning tandems when both are healthy. From 2017-18, Knebel gave the Brewers 151 1/3 frames of 2.54 ERA ball (2.74 FIP) with a ridiculous 14.7 K/9 and a 40.2 percent overall strikeout rate. He agreed to a $5.125MM salary this offseason — the same as in 2019 — and is under club control through the 2021 season.
Shortstop Luis Urias should be up to speed once play is able to resume, Haudricourt writes. Stearns notes that Urias was already close to getting into Spring Training games at the time of the league shutdown, and he’s of course now had nearly three additional months to mend from the fractured hamate bone he sustained during winter ball. Urias was acquired in the trade that sent Trent Grisham and Zach Davies to the Padres. And while lefty Eric Lauer, the other player the Brewers landed in that swap, was slowed by shoulder troubles this spring, he’s healed up and should be in the rotation competition again when Spring Training 2.0 kicks off (assuming an agreement is reached).
Both players could well hold important roles for the Brewers in 2020 and for years to come. Onetime top prospect Orlando Arcia has yet to seize the everyday role at shortstop, opening the door for Urias — a touted prospect in his own right but one who the Padres felt comfortable dealing to upgrade in other areas. The 22-year-old Urias hasn’t hit in the Major yet but did turn in a ridiculous .315/.398/.600 slash in 73 Triple-A games last year (137 wRC+).
As for Lauer, the 2016 first-rounder was a quick riser to the Major, debuting in 2018. Since that time he’s tossed 261 2/3 innings of 4.40 ERA ball with 8.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 1.20 HR/9 and a 38.9 percent grounder rate. He’s likely more of a mid-rotation or back-of-the-rotation arm, but for a Brewers club that uses its pitching staff in less conventional manners than many other clubs, there could be some ideas to maximize his effectiveness through the use of openers, limiting times through the order, etc. He’s controllable all the way through 2024, so whatever games are able to be played in 2020 will serve as a proving ground of sorts for Lauer. With Brett Anderson lined up for free agency in the 2020-21 offseason, there’s a clear path to innings in future seasons if Lauer or another young Brewers hurler impresses when play resumes.