MILWAUKEE -- Every day that passes without a new arm in the Brewers bullpen is a good day for David Goforth, a pitching prospect hoping to make an impression in Spring Training.
The 25-year-old, Milwaukee's 17th-best prospect according to MLB.com, is not on the team's 40-man roster but has a chance to garner an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp, general manager Doug Melvin said last month. Goforth will be entering his first full season since converting back into a reliever, and at the perfect time for a team with few set relief roles.
"From what I've been told, it is permanent," Goforth said of his switch back to the bullpen. "That was the big question I had when they wanted to make the move. I didn't want to get into the pingpong match of bouncing back and forth from starting to relieving. Closing, being a late-inning guy, that's something I've always wanted to do."
The opportunity came in late June, just after Goforth had been promoted to Double-A Huntsville. A seventh-round Draft pick of the Brewers in 2011, he had pitched both as a starter and reliever at Ole Miss and began his professional career in the bullpen to limit his innings. But he was moved into a starting role for 2012 at Class A Wisconsin, where Goforth was 10-8 with a 4.66 ERA in 28 regular-season starts on the way to a Midwest League championship. He was back in the rotation for the start of 2013 and went a respectable 7-5 with a 3.10 ERA in 14 starts for Class A Advanced Brevard County before a bump up to Huntsville.
It was there, in a meeting with Brewers Minor League pitching coordinator Rick Tomlin, then-Huntsville manager Darnell Coles and pitching coach Chris Hook, that the organization proposed a change back to bullpen work. The idea was to help Goforth maximize his power fastball, potentially as a closer, and to speed his ascent to the Majors.
The player bought into it.
"I was all smiles when I heard that they were making the transition," Goforth said. "I really had been waiting on that. It's something I had wanted to do."
He finished the first half as a starter, then returned from the break to begin a transition to relief. At first, Goforth pitched on a set schedule.
"The idea was to work into it," Goforth said. "The first outing was three innings. Then I had three days off, and I would throw two innings, a couple days off, then two innings again. It was a progression to get to where I was throwing with fewer days off. The organization wanted to make it an easy transition for me."
It worked. Goforth picked up a victory with three scoreless innings in his relief debut and went on to post a 3.38 ERA out of the bullpen with a .188 opponents' average and only one home run allowed in 24 innings. His strikeout rate went up, his walk rate went down, and he logged five saves.
After 16 relief outings for Huntsville, Goforth went to the Arizona Fall League for extra work and held opponents to a .234 average. He finished with a 3.75 ERA in 12 appearances and 12 innings.
"I'm not saying that I can't stretch out and give you innings. I can still do that as well," he said. "But, primarily, the focus from here on out is being a reliever out of the bullpen."
Even though he worked out of the bullpen during his first two of three seasons at Ole Miss, it was an adjustment.
"It's a totally different animal," Goforth said. "It's something I had to get used to. As a starter, I would build up, try to save some bullets because I was trying to go six, seven innings, throw 100 pitches. As a reliever, especially a late-inning guy, you have to come in with your best stuff right then. You don't have time to work in. If your breaking ball is not working that day, you don't have time to fix it. That was an adjustment."
He enjoys that challenge.
As a bonus, the Brewers bullpen has openings. Jim Henderson is back as closer and Brandon Kintzler as setup man. Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny should be recovered from a minor offseason shoulder surgery by Opening Day or soon thereafter. After that, spots are up for grabs among candidates like Rob Wooten, another former Minor League closer, plus Michael Blazek, Donovan Hand, Alfredo Figaro and perhaps Will Smith, Hiram Burgos and Mike Fiers if they are not assigned to starting roles.
Even if Goforth begins the season as the closer at Triple-A Nashville, he will be poised to contribute to the Brewers at some point in 2014.
"It's the fastest way to get where I want to be," he said.