Given the journey of Tyler Thornburg during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the pitcher may have needed a GPS to find out where he is.
The 25-year-old former top prospect made a total of ten different stops from Double A Huntsville through Milwaukee since Opening Day 2012.
While Thornburg’s two stints with Triple A Nashville in 2013 were largely unsuccessful after going 0-9 in 15 starts, he was able to maintain consistency at the Major League level including his first career Major League victory June 8 against Philadelphia.
It was during the final stretch of the 2013 season when Milwaukee shuttled him between the rotation and bullpen where he posted a 2.11 earned run average through 64 innings pitched.
Not even Thornburg knew what the cause of his Major League success was.
Thornburg’s travels began June 2012 after he made a jump from Double A Huntsville to make one Major League start against the Toronto Blue Jays but allowed five earned runs through 5.1 innings June 19.
Consequently, he was then shipped to Triple A Nashville to make yet another sole appearance striking out six Memphis
RedBirds through five innings allowing two earned runs to earn a victory July 4.
Following his Sounds’ victory at Memphis, he was given a ticket back to Milwaukee to make four appearances including one start for the Brewers July 14-26 striking out ten in 8.2 innings, but allowing four earned runs.
Thornburg then spent all of August with Nashville making seven starts striking out 36 batters in 32.1 innings. The right-hander produced a respectable strikeout-to-walk ratio of 36-13, he needed to reduce the amount of hits allowed.
It was during September’s roster expansion when he was given his third taste of Milwaukee pitching two of three games out of the bullpen. While it is a small sample size, he struck out eight batters and allowed two earned runs through eight innings.
He came into Spring Training with the Brewers’ rotation committed to Wily Peralta, Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada in 2013.
Since Fiers eventually was lost for the season, Milwaukee gave pitching prospect Hiram Burgos and journeyman Alberto Figaro a chance before making the call to Thornburg.
Although Thornburg did not convince the Brewers to recall him the first two months of the 2013 season after posting an 0-7 record through 11 starts, he was given two appearances June 5 and June before being optioned back to Nashville.
In three appearances in his second Nashville stint, he suffered two tough losses June 13 and 19 where he combined for 13 strikeouts in 13 total innings allowing two earned runs but the Sounds were unable to provide the support to give him the winning decision.
Thornburg’s last appearance with Nashville June 25 yielded him ten strikeouts in 5.2 innings but allowed four earned runs – and was recalled to Milwaukee for the remainder of the season.
Milwaukee will need to make a long-term decision with Thornburg entering the 2014 season given his frequent travels and the right-hander with just one minor league option remaining.
Pending the two final rotation spots, if the Brewers decide to have him start the season with Nashville – he will be down to the “use him or lose him” scenario at the conclusion of 2014 where he will only be 26-years-old.
It would be beneficial to see how well he pitches in April for Milwaukee and allow him time to formulate into the pitcher he is meant to be.
Otherwise, by the 2015 season he will not pass waivers and end up being claimed off waivers at the worst-scenario.
Brewers will need to recognize the long-term implications on Thornburg and how the constant travels and changes in pitching roles hindered his development in less than 24 months.
With two spots open it will leave him, top prospect Jimmy Nelson, third rated prospect Johnny Hellweg and the possible return of Marco Estrada in competition.
Nelson will likely start the 2014 season with Nashville to allow more minor league seasoning and the least amount of service time on the team’s 40-man roster.