The foundation of any MLB team is their minor league affiliates. The Brewers’ Triple-A squad, the Nashville Sounds, had a largely successful 2021 season. I’ll break it all down here.
The Nashville Sounds went 70-58 in the 2021 season. Nashville is a member of the Southeast Division of Triple-A East. The Sounds were actually affiliated with the Brewers previously, from 2005 to 2014. Since then, they’ve bounced around but finally ended up back under Milwaukee in the 2021 Minor League restructure.
The Sounds really turned things around in the 2021 season. Granted, the 2019 and 2021 teams don’t share much beyond the name. The 2019 season, when they were an affiliate of the Texas Rangers, marked the Sounds’ worst season since the team’s conception in 1978. With the 2020 season canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was their re-entrance to the MiLB stage, under new management and new MLB affiliation. Adam English assumed the helm as general manager. Rick Sweet rejoined the team as manager after his previous tenure the last time the team was affiliated with Milwaukee.
The 2021 season ended with Nashville in fourth place in the Southeast Division. There was no postseason in AAA due to COVID cancellations.
Names to Know from 2021
As is typical with AAA ball, many players from Nashville made big-league appearances with the Brewers in the 2021 season. Additionally, many players from Milwaukee made rehab appearances in Nashville. Out of players who spent significant parts of their season in Nashville/the minor leagues, here’s a couple to keep an eye out for.
Small is widely expected to make his big league debut sometime in the 2022 season. He’s touted to be the latest star pitcher in a long line from the Brewers’ farm system and he’s got the numbers to back up these predictions. Small racked up a number of awards in college, including 2019 Pitcher of the Year, and has added a few more to his resume in the minors. This season, he was named to the All-Star Futures Game and won MiLB.com’s Organization All-Star for the Brewers’ Left-Handed Starting Pitcher slot. Small will join a talented roster in Milwaukee and get to learn behind some of the best in the game.
Turang split the season between AA Biloxi and AAA Nashville. As the Brewers’ #2 prospect, he’s garnered a lot of attention, particularly in trade talks earlier this year. However, Milwaukee held onto the young shortstop and he’s expected to keep turning heads this season. Turang is powerful on offense, which is a huge need for the Brewers.
This reliever was named to the Triple-A East All-Star Team after going 7-5 with an ERA of 2.35. Though he’s already almost 30, Barker is another example of the strong pitching development in the Brewers’ minor league system. The Chico State alumni hasn’t gotten as much media attention as some other prospects, but 2022 could be his year to break into the Big Leagues. The Brewers have a rock-solid bullpen, with big-name closers like Devin Williams and Josh Hader. However, there’s definitely room for another middle-inning reliever in the lineup, especially as Devin Williams returns to pre-injury form.
Bettinger spent most of this season in AAA, but made his MLB debut and pitched in three other big-league games this season. His debut was memorable for all the wrong reasons, as he gave up grand slams in back-to-back innings, contributing to his 13.50 MLB ERA. Back in AAA, Bettinger had an inconsistent 2021 season, ending the season with a 4.75 ERA.
This is definitely an unpopular opinion among Brewers fans, but I think 2022 is the 26-year-old pitcher’s year. So far, Bettinger has been good but not great in the Brewers organization. That said, it takes some serious guts to get out and pitch again after giving up two grand slams in two innings. You can see the hunger in Bettinger; he’s not going to go out quietly.
The Brewers farm system is especially known for pitcher development. Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff both came up through the Brewers MiLB system, all the way from the draft. Aaron Ashby debuted last year as the latest gem in the Brewers’ homegrown pitching crown. Ethan Small is projected to be next.
The 2021 season was largely a success for the Sounds and by derivation, the Brewers’ future. And with the MLB players locked out, these are the players we actually get to officially see for the foreseeable future. Players in Triple-A are just one opportunity away from donning the navy and gold, and those in Nashville give us a lot to be excited about. Beyond that, the Sounds just play good baseball and they’re fun to watch and cheer for in and of themselves.
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