It was a lovely and warm holiday weekend in Milwaukee. It's too bad that it had to end with one of the worst teams in the National League hanging 14 runs on the Brewers bedraggled pitching staff.
For Ned Yost, watching his 13-man staff get torched is painful but hardly unfamiliar. In the month of May alone, the Brewers allowed 10 or more runs four times. In fact, the staff allowed 14 or more runs three times, an embarrassment that should be a twice- or thrice-a-year occurrence. Through Monday's disaster in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee has allowed 6.3 runs/game in May.
Incredibly, the Brewers are still over .500 (26-25 as of Tuesday morning), which is a testament to the team's hitting and general fortitude. But as May turns to June and the pennant races officially begin, Milwaukee's realistic wild-card chances could vanish quickly unless some pitching help is found.
Of course, that help currently sits on the disabled list in the form of Ben Sheets, Tomo Ohka and Rick Helling. And right now it's anyone's guess when any of that trio will return to the active roster.
But what about the long-term prognosis on the Miller Park mound? We know the Brewers youth movement is in full swing, but that youth is mainly relegated to the batting order: Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Bill Hall and Corey Hart to name a few. As a result, we feel good about the team's ability to hit tape-measures home runs through 2015 or so; we feel less confident about its ability to prevent them.
It seems as if none of the Brewers high-ceiling guys are hurlers, which is a bad thing -- especially with Sheets experiencing recurring shoulder and back injuries. It's also fairly obvious that even the team's mid-range pitching prospects are not ready for action. Otherwise, how does one explain names like Jeremi Gonzalez, Chris Mabeus, Brian Shouse and Joe Winkelsas gracing the 25-man roster?
There are a few quality prospects in the low minors, but injuries and unmet expectations have been the rule for Milwaukee's pitching prospects. With that in mind, here are a few names you may see on the parent club over the next 24 months, listed in order of potential (from greatest to least).
Yovani Gallardo -- Gallardo was selected in the second round of the '04 draft and has made a splash since. The 6-2 righty spent a full year at low-A West Virginia in '05 and went 8-3 with 110 Ks and 51 BBs in 121.1 IP. This year, he's been high-A Brevard County's best pitcher with a 2.18 ERA, 77 Ks and just 15 BBs in 57.2 IP. He's got a mid-90s fastball and a hard breaking ball. It would be fairly surprising if Gallardo made the majors by June 2008, but he's currently the team's best sub-AA pitcher.
Dennis Sarfate -- Sarfate is a big righty (6-4, 210), a commodity in extremely short supply in Milwaukee. As such, I like his chances of starting a game for the Brewers this season (he's on the 40-man roster), if not winning it. While Sarfate's numbers haven't been jaw-dropping at any minor-league stop, he has managed to stay healthy since an elbow injury sidelined him for most of 2002. While he's got high-strikeout stuff, he's walking a ton of batters at AAA Nashville this year (37 in 49.2 IP).
Zach Jackson -- Jackson arrived from Toronto in the Lyle Overbay trade last winter. In light of his decent AAA Nashville numbers (2-2, 2.50 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in 9 starts), it's curious that Doug Melvin has brushed aside the idea of promoting him for a few spot starts. But considering how bad Ben Hendrickson and Dana Eveland have been, perhaps that's a good idea. Jackson is a 23-year-old lefty with good control and less than overpowering stuff. While he was the main man in the Overbay trade, Jackson doesn't look like a future ace. Then again, neither did Chris Capuano.
Manny Parra -- This lefty was rocketing up the franchise's pitching depth chart until rotator cuff surgery derailed his development at AA Huntsville last summer. He's dropped a rung to high-A Brevard County this season, where he's made just 5 starts. He's been spotty thus far, compiling a 2.10 WHIP in just 16 innings. He has the same type of hard stuff as Brewers lefty Jorge de la Rosa.
Carlos Villanueva -- The 22-year-old righty already debuted in Milwaukee this season due to a roster technicality but was quickly returned to AA. He was great at high-A Brevard County (8-1, 0.98 WHIP) in '05. His strikeout numbers have been impressive in Huntsville so far this year (52 in 53.2 IP), but K numbers are often inflated at that level. Realistically, he won't be ready for full-time Milwaukee employment before 2008.
This list omits a few recognizable names, including Mark Rogers (Brewers No. 1 pick in '04), Josh Wahpepah (Rd. 3, '04), Mike Jones (Brewers No. 1 in '01) and Will Inman (Rd. 3 in '05). Here's why: Rogers is laboring badly at high-A Brevard County and is still a long way to go; Wahpepah is doing well at Brevard County, but he's also young (21); Jones has been bedeviled by injuries and is still in high-A after reaching Huntsville in '03; Inman is just 19 and is only in low-A ball.
Sports shots columnist Tim Gutowski was born in a hospital in West Allis and his sporting heart never really left. He grew up in a tiny town 30 miles west of the city named Genesee and was in attendance at County Stadium the day the Brewers clinched the 1981 second-half AL East crown. I bet you can't say that.
Though Tim moved away from Wisconsin (to Iowa and eventually the suburbs of Chicago) as a 10-year-old, he eventually found his way back to Milwaukee. He remembers fondly the pre-Web days of listenting to static-filled Brewers games on AM 620 and crying after repeated Bears' victories over the Packers.