obscure relief pitchers of interest: callups edition: stephen pryor, elvin ramirez

maybe i can even do two guys at once.  kick it up a notch.

stephen pryor

pryor’s not quite as obscure as some of these guys because he managed to get the Official Relief Prospect label somehow.  i’m never sure exactly how that works.  it seems almost random.  i guess maybe throwing 100mph helps.  pryor does that.  it’s not clear what else he does, but maybe it doesn’t matter.  already pitched a couple times, his ML debut yesterday and again today (sunday).  so far he gave up a homer on a slider in between striking out a bunch of guys with the fastball.  trend starting to emerge.

dr. detecto over at seattle sports insider, one of my favorite obscure bloggers of interest, has an entertaining-as-always series of pryor writeups which is way better than anything i’ve got right now, so go read those and come back.

contextual factors: the mariners pen is word salad right now.  league is out, nobody knows for how long, and it’s hard to say who’s in.  wilhelmsen is the theory, but they haven’t really had a save situation arise to test the theory.  all the other guys have come out first in non-save situations, which is all the clue we have.  iwakuma‘s gotten 2 saves in 3 days, which probably already sent all the 13-year-olds scampering to the wire for him in 12-team yahoo leagues, but one of those was a 12th inning save after everybody else had already pitched and the other one was a three-inning save in that 21-8 opposite-day blowout of the rangers.  delabar was supposed to be a factor but he got demoted for pryor.

so wilhelmsen is probably the guy, for the moment, and he’s looked strong lately.  and at any rate they were always going to give pryor some kind of a trial period.  but if closing his eyes and pumping that fastball in the general direction of the catcher’s torso seven out of eight pitches works as well as it seems like it might, general principles of bullpen buoyancy ought to float him into the saves-holds rich mixture inside of a month or so.  shawn kelley?  no.  bottom line, use your head about your league and team situation, but as a general piece of advice, get pryor if you have room.  fastballs: why not.

elvin ramirez

real talk, i had never even heard of this dude until i started crossposting all this stuff about obscure relief pitchers of interest over on minorleagueball last week and the mets fans threw his name at me.  but that makes him obscure, and you know how i feel about obscure relief pitchers.  he got called up within hours of my hearing his name, around the same time as pryor.

all i really have on him is two things: numbers, and the fact that he got rule 5′d by the nats last year but sat out the entire season injured, had some kind of shoulder surgery  and eventually got returned to sender.

the numbers look very nice, as they usually do in these cases.  he’s got about 14 innings each at AA and AAA this year, with an identical 11 K/9 at each stop.  that’s a bump up from his old rates before he missed 2011 injured.  before that he was a 6-8 K/9 guy in A-ball with bad walk rates.  his AA walk rate was also bad, but then he didn’t walk barely anyone in AAA.  so i’d keep an eye on the walks, because the AAA sample is meaninglessly small.  everything else looks good though, and from whatever thumbnail sketch scouting reports it sounds like the arm’s good.

things in the mets pen aren’t quite as crazy as they are in seattle, at the moment.  frank-frank likes to keep it interesting but it doesn’t feel like he’s losing the big job any time soon, and there’s a variety of other bodies hanging around.  but it does feel like there’s some room for opportunity here if elvin can keep his AAA ball rolling.

there was a wild rumor for a few minutes that elvin had joined mike baxter as casualties of johan’s no-hitter with the dreaded Celebration Injury, but it turned out to be a mistaken identity thing; that was actually ramon ramirez, not elvin.  Wrong Ramirez.

so instead of heading to the DL without even making his debut, elvin’s already moved up a slot.  looks like he took advantage of the confusion to coldcock ramon’s elbow in the middle of the pile.  he should go far.

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hey internet what about colin walsh

this post isn’t about a relief pitcher.  i’d be worried that this would kill my audience, luckily i don’t have one.

Colin Walsh

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=walsh-001col

This fella Colin Walsh was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round in 2010 as a second baseman out of Stanford.  He made it to low-A Quad Cities in his draft year, 2010, and then spent the whole season there last year, but his stats never even really fogged the mirror – .695 OPS the first time, cranked it all the way up to .738 the second time.  Apparently he wasn’t dropping the jaws of the scouts with his tools or intangibles either, because going into this year BA didn’t even list him on the Cardinals depth chart thing in the handbook, let alone the top 30.

But then 2012 started.  Walsh got sent back to Quad Cities again, which is better than getting promoted to Groinstown, maybe.  Only this time he’s doing a better job boosting his year-over-year OPS.  Actually, as of this morning he’s raised it 321 points, to 1.059 – .324/.439/.620 – which tops today’s midwest league high scores board.  He’s second only to Tyler Austin in all of low-A.  He’s got 12 homers, 26 total XBH, more walks than strikeouts, not many strikeouts at all (13%).  His line is so generically, across-the-board good that it’s almost boring.  It’s hard to really get much specific information out of it beyond the sense that this guy should probably be playing at a higher level than he is.

So that gets your attention.  But there are plenty of curves to grade him on here.  He’s a college hitter in low-A, and he wasn’t even drafted recently – depending on how you look at it this is his third year at the level.  He’s played most of his games this year at DH.  Just looking at his listed height and weight (6 foot even, 190) and the fact that he got drafted in the 13th round and nobody’s ever heard of him, it really doesn’t look like he’s some kind of untapped tools kraken.

But there’s also some factors here that seem favorable.  One is age.  Considering the college, low-A, and repeating low-A factors just mentioned, you’ll notice that he’s still only 22, which is the normal age for fresh college draftees in their first full season, even though that’s not what he is.  So he was unusually young coming out of college.  Another is the fact that in spite of spending parts of 2 years at low-A before this one, the prior experience still only adds up to 396 total plate appearances before this year.  I’m not sure why he didn’t play more last year, but he didn’t.

And finally – and this is kind of speculation on my part – but it’s worth noting that the college he came out of is Stanford, which is notorious for being Weird About Swings.  If you google Walsh, there isn’t a lot to find, but in every article you do find from this season, you’ll see Walsh talking about how he’s decided to “swing harder” this year.

“The whole year, I’ve been trying to swing harder and hit balls harder to both right and left field and that seems to be working,” Walsh said. “The whole approach has been to swing the bat harder. That’s where it starts.”

So what does that even mean.  Is this a shed-the-Stanford-swing thing, or just a Colin Walsh thing?  I have no idea, really.  But when a guy “decides to swing harder” and the result is a tangible power spike while his walk rate stays the same and his strikeout rate actually goes down, it seems like that beats most of the alternative outcomes, at least.  Like, if Yuniesky Betancourt came out this year saying he was going to “swing harder” I’d be worried he was going to helicopter a bat into the stands and kill a family of 5 by april 17th on the outside.  But it seems like this Walsh cat can handle it, no pun intended.

Then there’s a couple of recent reports that the Cardinals, after playing Walsh as kind of a utility dude in LF and DH and wherever the past year or so, are now kicking around the idea of letting him take another stab at 2B.  He’s only played 5 games there so far this year but it sounds like he’s being worked out at the position with an eye to giving it another real shot.  Even beyond the obviously positive implications of keeping his bat in the middle of the field, this seems like a more general sign that St. Louis management is beginning to take Walsh seriously as a prospect, even if nobody else is.  That’s their job, I suppose, but still, better to see them taking him seriously than to see them not taking him seriously.

I’m not sure what all of this means and I’ve never seen this guy, but I thought I’d mention it in case you, the internet, can take this and run with it.  Here’s one last tweet I turned up.

Todd Gold ‏@TGold_PG

Did I just like the bat speed of a 22 y/o DH in 3rd stint @ LowA after being a 13th rounder? Weird. Quad Cities’ Colin Walsh can swing it.

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obscure relief pitchers of interest: adam ottavino

i got no intro this time.  just a pitcher.

adam ottavino

first-round pick as a starter out of northeastern by the cardinals back in 2006, seen as one of those “safe” college pitchers that never actually seem to be safe or work out at all.  or maybe that’s just me.

was on the young side for a college pitcher, pitching at baseball-age 20 after he signed that year.  but never really panned out as a starter.  plugged along through the cards system from ’06 until last year, with unremarkable K rates (7.5 or 8 per 9), too many walks, nothing about him ever jumping off the page.

cards bumped him off their 40-man this spring and he got claimed by the rockies, who immediately converted him to relief.  (i assume this is done by putting the guy in one of those big fluid chambers like they did with luke skywalker in empire strikes back.)  similar to dude from the last writeup, brayan villarreal, this is his first year pitching out of the pen and it seems to really agree with him so far.  after 20 innings in AAA this year, basically all of his peripherals have gone from boring to awesome.  his K rate’s jumped from 7 or 8 to 11.5.  walks dropped to a manageable 3.2 per 9 (ok, that might not be “awesome”, but it’s improved, and good enough).  and he did it in colorado springs, which of course is a really horrible place to pitch.

that’s all in a small sample, of course, but small samples own.  the rockies have called him up a couple of times and the early major league returns are just as good.  the only other major league data on him is from 22 innings he threw for the cards two years ago, but PITCHf/x says he’s gained a mile on the fastball, from 93 up to 94, and his whiff rate (SwStr%) has doubled from a lame 5 to a solid 10.  uncannily, his K/9 has also doubled from 5 to 10.

so what is he.  6’5″ righthander with, as noted, good velocity (94 doesn’t sound exciting because everybody in prospecting always talks about how their guy “touches” 97, but a 94 average FB by PITCHf/x data is actually very good; only the truly elite velocity guys are doing better) who appears to throw harder and miss more bats out of the pen than he ever did as a starter.  so the tools are there.  the rockies, whose bullpen is a little bit messy right now, already seem to be inching him towards high-leverage work; he got a hold the other day.  he’s not likely to hunt down rafael betancourt like the predator in “predator” and take his job within the next three weeks.  he still has to get past matt belizzle and josh roenicke in the RHP setup pecking order before he can get close enough to betancourt even to contemplate harpooning him with a wrist sword or shooting him with a triple laser or coating himself with cold mud and hiding on the warning track waiting for betancourt to step out of the bullpen with his guard down.  but he might be up for good, depending on how the roster machinations work out, and he looks like he could be a pretty good arm, which makes him interesting, even though he’s obscure.

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obscure relief pitchers of interest: brayan villarreal

trying to decide whether “obscure relief pitchers of disinterest” should be a whole separate category.  (note: not implying that brayan is one, he’s not.)

brayan villarreal

if you go to fangraphs and do a sort by PITCHf/x fastball velocity, and zero out the innings minimum, the first four dudes are andrew cashner, henry rodriguez, kelvin herrera, and aroldis chapman.  the only surprising thing there is probably that aroldis is only fourth.  i guess maybe kelvin’s not really a household name yet.

but then the fifth name is some guy from the tigers called brayan villarreal.  so, who’s that.  (tigers fans, rolling their eyes, “come on, everybody knows brayan villarreal.”  shut up tigers fans.)

a glance at his fangraphs shows… i’m not sure exactly what it shows.  he’s 25.  in spite of the raw velocity i don’t really remember him generating much chatter as a prospect, although i may have missed it.  he spent 2008-2010 plugging along through the tigers system as a starter, striking out about a batter an inning, walking 2 or 3 per 9.  nothing awful, nothing spectacular.

then last year in AAA for some reason his strikeout rate backed up all the way down into the derek lowe sinkerballer zone, five and a half per 9, while at the same time his walk rate spiked from average-ish to actively bad.  maybe there was something wrong with him, maybe he didn’t like toledo, maybe just a bad year.  he got a 16-inning big-league trial out of the pen and didn’t really do much with that either.

this year, though, his K rate has gone the other way.  in his first minor-league work as a reliever, he’s got 22 strikeouts in 14 AAA innings, with 8 more in 6.2 scoreless innings in the majors as of this morning.

recent press out of detroit features jim leyland talking about villarreal in a pretty positive way, saying there’s a chance he might be this year’s al alburquerque (who i still think is spelling his name wrong):

“Right now, today, he’d probably fit right in [like] last year’s Alburquerque,” Leyland said after Villarreal’s 2 1/3 perfect innings Saturday. “Maybe [pitching] a little bit earlier, but that type of thing. That would be great for us. I mean, that’s a great arm, obviously.”

he’s still walking a few too many guys, but if the K spike indicates that he’s taking well to the relief conversion, which eyewitness accounts certainly seem to confirm, then he’s definitely reached the “interesting arm” stage of the Relief Pitcher Emergence Curve.  where he goes from here probably depends, as it so often does, on command.  if it stays good enough for the fastball to play, he could reach shiny new toy status in relatively short order.  if it proves unreliable, he’ll probably hang around annoying us with his tantalizing potential for at least the next couple years.  so it’s a win-win.

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obscure relief pitchers of interest : stuart pomeranz

haven’t thought of a clever title for this feature yet.  or any of the others, either.  heck with it.

stuart pomeranz

yes he’s drew pomeranz‘s brother.  drew and stu.  they probably enjoy hearing jokes about that.

stu appears to us as a 27-year-old minor league drifter.  recovering alcoholic, they say, hit bottom in independent ball, freshly sober, newly rededicated to life and the craft of pitching, and so on.

so he has a narrative, and he’s certainly pitching like it.  came out of the gate this year putting up lolcat numbers in the minors – struck out 13.5 per 9 in AA, they promoted him to AAA, he blinked a couple times and struck out 13.5 per 9 in AAA.  didn’t walk much of anyone either.  gave up zero runs for a zero ERA.  almost zero hits.  BABIPs so low they smell like raw too-good-for-the-level dominance, not luck.

also he’s 6’7″ and fangraphs says his average FB velo is bumping 94.  so that’s all pretty interesting.

far as his situation.  he got called up once, threw 4 scoreless, went back down.  now he’s up again.  not clear for how long, but at the very least he’s on the 40-man, in the mix.  jim johnson has the closer role in baltimore wired down for now, and pedro strop (himself also a personal favorite of mine, more on that later) has pretty clearly taken over the primary RH setup / apprentice closer niche.  luis ayala and darren o’day are both pitching well, and i suppose lindstrom comes back soon.  so i’m not saying pomeranz is some kind of sleeper for next week’s saves or even holds.  but the weather can shift quickly in any given bullpen, so you never know.

at any rate, if he can keep throwing the way he’s been throwing, sooner or later he’ll become relevant somehow.  be hard not to.

now with all of that said i haven’t even seen him.  but i’m keeping an eye on him anyway.  and i mean come on. he’s 6’7″, he throws 94… you don’t need to see him.  (i’m just kidding.  but you don’t.)

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