Aaron Ashby Begins To Emerge As Brewers Next Pitching Success

Image credit: Aaron Ashby (Dennis Poroy/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO—For most of the past decade, the Guardians and Dodgers have been heralded as baseball’s two best organizations at developing starting pitching.

The reputations are well-deserved, and neither has done anything to lose their place at the top of the sport. At the same time, it’s becoming clearer and clearer the Brewers have joined them in baseball’s upper echelon of pitching development.

The Brewers drafted reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes in the fourth round out of St. Mary’s, a mid-major program that has made one NCAA Tournament appearance in its 58-year history. They drafted Brandon Woodruff in the 11th round out of Mississippi State, where he pitched so poorly he lost his rotation spot his junior year. Freddy Peralta had an 84-87 mph fastball when he signed with the Mariners as an undersized teenager and was one of three unheralded, low-level prospects the Brewers acquired for Adam Lind.

Little in their track records portended future stardom. After coming up through the Brewers system, all three became all-stars.

Now, Aaron Ashby appears next in the line of Brewers pitching development success stories.

Ashby made his first start Wednesday since moving into the rotation for good following Peralta’s shoulder strain and showed he’s up for the assignment, tossing 5.2 innings with one unearned run allowed in the Brewers 2-1 win over the Padres. The 24-year-old lefthander allowed four hits, walked three and struck out five, helping the Brewers win the rubber match of the three-game series between two of the NL’s winningest teams.

Ashby faced questions about whether he would be a starter or reliever throughout the minors and spent time in both roles early on for the Brewers. Now, following Peralta’s injury, he’s an unquestioned member of the rotation moving forward.

“There’s definitely a comfortable feeling there (in the rotation),” said Ashby, the No. 37 prospect on the BA Top 100 entering the season. “But I think we’ve kind of had that feeling the whole time with the relief appearances and everything like that. It’s just continuing to do what we’ve been doing.”

Though Ashby is lefthanded unlike righthanders Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta, the parallels in their development stories are striking.

Like Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta, Ashby came from humble beginnings. The nephew of longtime major league starter Andy Ashby, he arrived as a freshman at Crowder (Mo.) JC with an 83-86 mph fastball and lacked the strength to repeat his delivery. His stuff progressively ticked up over the next two years, and the Brewers took a shot on him in the fourth round of the 2018 draft.

The similarities continued throughout his rise in pro ball. Like Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta, he arrived without an elite pedigree. Like Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta, he emerged as a Top 100 Prospect as he climbed the Brewers system. Like Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta, he bounced between the bullpen and rotation in the majors before moving into a regular role as a starter. And like Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta, he’s missing bats and putting the Brewers in position to win games.

“I think there is a lot of good people trying to help these kids get better,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It starts with good scouting, next step is player development and then they hand it over to us at some point. I think it takes everybody. It takes a coordinated effort. It takes time, You gotta give these guys time. You gotta go through things, there is going to be failures, but stick with it, good people with good arms.”


Ashby showcased just how far he’s come in his start against the Padres. After sitting in the upper 80s when he was drafted and the low 90s early in his minor league career, his sinker averaged 96 mph and touched 98 on Wednesday while getting both swings and misses and called strikes. His slider, an afterthought in his arsenal when he was younger, got a called strike or a whiff nearly half the time he threw it. He kept the ball on the ground when batters did make contact, inducing 10 groundouts against only one flyout. Most importantly, he threw strikes and held his command aside from a brief moment in the third inning when he walked consecutive batters. After struggling with his control at various points throughout his career, it represented a flash of what he’s capable of, and what the Brewers have helped unlock.

“I just think we have a great foundation of what we want out pitchers to do in the minor leagues,” Ashby said. “With what (pitching coach Chris Hook) is doing, with what (bullpen coach Jim Henderson) is doing, Cam Castro our pitching coordinator, everyone has just kind of bought in. It makes it easy to buy to in what we’re doing here with all the success that our pitchers have had.”

Now, the task for Ashby will be to continue that success. He has yet to make consecutive starts this season and hasn’t done it since last summer, when he made his major league debut with three starts before shifting to the bullpen and moving into a spot starter/long reliever role.

But unlike in his previous starts, he now knows he’ll be staying in the rotation. He threw a career-high 91 pitches against the Padres, and Counsell made clear after the game that the reins are now off.

“I think he could have frankly gone more,” Counsell said. “I think we got him to a really good spot and feel like we just treat him as a regular starter from this point forward.”

With Peralta out for the foreseeable future with a shoulder strain, Ashby has a chance to establish himself as a starter the Brewers can build with moving forward. If he is indeed following in the footsteps of Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta, the Brewers will soon have yet another pitching development success story.

“I wish it was maybe under a different circumstance of getting into this rotation, but it’s nice,” Ashby said. “Everything is coming together.”

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