The Brewers have settled on their Opening Day rotation, and they’ll be placing a good bit of faith in a young core of arms with limited big league experience, as Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes. Veteran Jhoulys Chacin was named the Opening Day starter earlier in camp, and it’s now been confirmed by the team that he’ll be joined by right-handers Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Zach Davies. While the 26-year-old Davies has been a presence in the Milwaukee rotation for the past couple of seasons, this will mark the first time that Burnes, Woodruff and to a lesser extent Peralta are penciled in as long-term starters. (Peralta did start 14 games for the Brewers last year but finished the season with a pair of relief outings.)
The decision to sandwich that trio of young arms between Chacin and Davies means that 2018 Opening Day starter Chase Anderson will begin the year in a bullpen role. So, too, will right-hander Junior Guerra, who has started 60 games for the Brewers over the course of the past three seasons.
The decision on Anderson is of particular note given that he signed a two-year, $11.75MM contract in October 2017. He’ll earn $6.5MM this year under the terms of that pact, but the Brewers have a pair of club options on him valued at $8.5MM and $9.5MM, respectively. The shift to the bullpen seemingly makes it less likely that he’d be valued at that price point, though Anderson would remain under club control as an arbitration-eligible player even if next year’s option is bought out, as he won’t have six full seasons of MLB service time.
The Brewers drew some criticism for not doing enough to address their rotation last winter in an offseason that saw them sign both Chacin and Wade Miley (who signed as a free agent with the Astros earlier in the current offseason). This winter, they didn’t make a single big league addition to their rotation, knowing full well that the trio of Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta were now ready for big league roles.
It’s unconventional for a team with World Series aspirations to effectively begin the year auditioning three young starters, as promising as they may be, for long-term rotation roles. But, it’s also not difficult to see why the trio has earned the faith of the front office. Both Burnes and Woodruff have previously carried top 100 prospect billing and found some success in Triple-A despite playing their games there in an awful pitching environment (Colorado Springs). Both pitched well in relief roles at the MLB level last season, with Burnes in particular creating intrigue based on his spin rates (99th percentile in fastball, 89th in curveball) and velocity. Peralta, too, fared well in the hitter-friendly Colorado Springs in addition to turning in a 4.25 ERA (3.72 FIP) in his first 78 1/3 MLB frames.
It should also be noted that this iteration of the rotation is hardly permanent. Top starter Jimmy Nelson is on the mend from 2017 shoulder surgery and is nearing a return to the active roster. It’s also possible that either Anderson or Guerra could work his way back into the fold in the event of an injury or some shaky performance from one of the team’s younger arms. Righties Adrian Houser and Aaron Wilkerson are also on hand as 40-man options in Triple-A. And, as ever, the summer trade market will bear numerous options whom the Brewers could consider should the rotation prove to be an area of definitive need.