Aaron Ashby’s Return is an Underrated Brewers Storyline in 2024

After missing a year from injury, Aaron Ashby is finally healthy once again. His rebound is an under-the-radar Brewers storyline to monitor.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 22: Aaron Ashby #26 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws live batting practice during a spring training workout at American Family Fields of Phoenix on February 22, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

It has been well over a year since the Milwaukee Brewers have seen Aaron Ashby take the mound. The young left-hander underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder last year and did not throw a single inning at the big league level.

Without Ashby in the rotation, the club did just fine – winning 92 games and leading the National League Central by 9 games over the Cubs. His tenure in the big leagues has not gone quite according to plan, as he sports a 4.47 ERA across 139 innings to kick off his career at the game’s highest level.

However, we’re talking about a special hurler who can, and one day will, turn into a legitimate threat on this Brewers pitching staff. At just 25-years old, he’s right on the cusp of breaking out, and his return from injury this year is going to be a storyline to watch.

Aaron Ashby is Going to be a Very Important Piece for the Brewers

While early results weren’t exactly dominant for Ashby, the Brewers saw enough to lock him up to a five-year contract extension before he even had 50 big league appearances under his belt. The numbers aren’t great, but some under-the-surface stats suggest that his best days are still to come.

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Speaking strictly from an arsenal perspective, Ashby has one of the deepest repertoires from a left-handed pitcher in the league.

In 2022, Ashby’s mid-to-high 90s sinker was the pitch he used the most. Batters hit .273 against it, which is not great from Ashby’s point of view, but the offering had a ton of movement on it and has helped him post a 59% groundball rate to kick off his career.

His fastball is good, but his breaking pitches are what could be great. Ashby threw a mid-80s slider 30% of the time in 2022 and allowed just a .203 average against it. His high-70s/low-80s curveball is just as lethal. It has significant sweep to it and is almost Kershaw-esque.

There’s also a straight four-seam fastball and a still-developing changeup in Ashby’s toolbox. He’s got a ton of different weapons that he can throw at hitters at any given point, regardless of which side of the plate they swing from. This either makes him a strong starting pitcher or a deadly relief pitcher.

Looking strictly at his numbers as a starter, Ashby has a 25.2% strikeout rate and 55.9% groundball rate. Since he broke into the league, league average was 22% and 42.6%, respectively. He does a lot of things well, but racking up strikeouts and putting the ball on the ground are above the rest.

The Cause for Concern

Of course, the fact that he recently underwent a significant surgery on his throwing shoulder is somewhat concerning. Ashby’s seven-inning rehab stint in September resulted in 14 walks and 12 earned runs, as well as decreased velocity.

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However, this offseason gave him plenty of time to recharge and reset. Speaking to Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he said, “all my pitches are moving how they used to move, which has been really nice. Everything feels good.” He continued, saying that his velocity is “close” to returning to where it was post-surgery, which is certainly encouraging.

There’s not many recent examples of other pitchers who had this surgery specifically on their shoulder. Shane Baz and Nate Eovaldi had arthroscopic surgery on their elbows. Brandon Marsh, Kevin Kiermaier and Byron Buxton on their knees.

Both Frankie Montas and Jake Odorizzi had it done on their shoulders but are also both still recovering. There’s not much to go off of when trying to evaluate what Ashby could look like once he retakes the mound.

For now, all we know is that his velocity is nearly back to normal and that he’s ready to go for the upcoming season. To date, he’s only made two spring appearances for the Brewers in spring training, but he’s surrendered six runs (five earned) on four hits, walking four and striking out three in as many innings. The progress has not been made instantaneously but the potential is still there.

Now the question is where he’ll start the year.

Where Does Aaron Ashby Fit in the 2024 Brewers’ Plans?

If Ashby is able to show that he’s back to his old self, there’s little doubt that he’ll be in the Brewers’ starting rotation this year. It’s a group that has already lost Corbin Burnes and Adrian Houser, and will not be getting much of Brandon Woodruff this year.

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Point being, there could easily be an open spot in this rotation for Ashby if he’s up for the challenge. According to recent reports, including one from MLB.com’s David Adler and Brewers GM Matt Arnold himself, Ashby is being viewed as a starter during spring training.

Ashby himself prefers it this way. As relayed by Adler, the left-hander told him that that’s what he’s here for – to compete for a spot in the starting rotation. Manager Pat Murphy and pitching coach Chris Hook have made similar comments in recent days as well.

Freddy Peralta and Wade Miley are the only two “sure things” in the Brewers’ rotation as of right now. DL Hall, acquired in a mega-deal for Burnes, should be able to secure a spot as well, which leaves the final two spots up for grabs.

Veterans Jakob Junis and Colin Rea likely have a leg up over someone like Ashby, who could conceivably start the year in Triple-A to further build himself up. Joe Ross is also on hand as a starter/long-relief, as are Janson Junk and non-40-man options like Robert Gasser and Jacob Misiorowski.

Closing Thoughts

When Ashby is on, he’s shown immense promise early on in his career. He’s a crafty left-hander who strikes out a ton of batters, keeps the ball on the ground, and has an expansive repertoire. Any pitcher who has a ton of different ways to get batters out is one to keep an eye on.

Now that he’s healthy and ready for the 2024 campaign, Ashby’s return to the mound is going to be one of the more interesting storylines to watch from the Brewers. Could the replacement for Corbin Burnes already be in-house?

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