Our second international free agent was profiled in Prospect A-Z yesterday with Nippon Ham righty Yu Darvish. The Rangers won the posting auction for exclusive negotiating rights with him, and it seems likely that a deal will get done at the end of the negotiating window. They’re a team in need of pitching after losing Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson in free agency in consecutive years, and Darvish has the potential to be a #2 starter in a championship rotation. Today, we’ll stay on the mound and go to the Atlanta organization with fireballer Arodys Vizcaino.
Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Atlanta Braves (2011: A+ Lynchburg, AA Mississippi, AAA Gwinnett, MLB Atlanta)
Buhner, McGee, Drabek, McGriff… 18 years ago, Kramer entertained viewers in an episode of Seinfeld complaining about George Steinbrenner’s penchant for trading away prospects that became quality major leaguers. In the present day, did the Yankees add another player to the list in the trade that brought them Javier Vazquez before the 2010 season? That would be Arodys Vizcaino. He hadn’t even pitched in a full season league at this point, but analysts recognized that he had great stuff and could eventually make an impact for Atlanta. He joined the Braves at the end of 2011 to chip in for an overworked bullpen.
At the time of the trade, Vazquez was coming off a great 2009 season with the Braves. Keith Law generated controversy by voting him 2nd in the Cy Young balloting that year, but it was certainly a defensible pick. He pitched 219 innings, a season high since he was traded from Montreal and posted career bests in ERA, WHIP and K/9. However, plenty of people thought the Yankees were making a mistake by acquiring Vazquez. He had an awful second half in his first stint in New York in 2004 and some felt he couldn’t handle the pressure of pitching in a market like New York. However, advocates of the trade pointed out that he wouldn’t be expected to be the team’s ace this time around. It still didn’t work out.
Somewhat reminiscent of the 90′s Braves, Atlanta has a deep rotation in the majors and throughout the minors. In July, they refused to part with their minor league arms for Carlos Beltran, a decision that may have cost them a playoff berth in 2011. In the majors, they already have Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy. Their salary dump of Derek Lowe to Cleveland opened up a spot for Mike Minor or Randall Delgado to stick in the majors, and of course Julio Teheran and Vizcaino appeared for them in 2011 as well. That’s a lot of potential ML starters, ranging from top of the rotation to back end guys.
That could be why Vizcaino ends up in the bullpen long term. He’s had injury issues in the past, including an elbow injury that cost him significant time in 2010. In 2011, he pitched a career high 114.1 innings between the minors and majors, and it’s fair to say he probably would’ve thrown more had the Braves not spent the last month or so prepping him for a September callup as a reliever. He’ll need to prove he has the durability to remain in a rotation, but if not, he could be a great late inning reliever in a bullpen already stocked with them.
He offers three potential plus pitches now that his changeup is developing, so he has the arsenal to start if he can pitch 180 innings in a season. His fastball sits in the 92-94 range as a starter, and he can touch higher with movement. His out pitch is a curveball with sharp movement, and his changeup allows him to have success against left handed batters. Sometimes pitchers who have a cloudy future in terms of starting or relieving are limited because they can’t throw a changeup, but it’s the durability concerns that would keep Vizcaino out of a rotation. In addition to his prior injuries, his 6’0, 190 pound frame is a bit small compared to most major league starters.
Vizcaino should start 2012 back at AAA Gwinnett. The Braves rushed him, and not necessarily in a bad way, to the majors last year, and he could use some more minor league experience. There’s not really a spot for him in the majors now anyway. Minor, Delgado and Teheran should all be in front of him in the competition for the last spot in Atlanta’s rotation, and Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty should have the late innings covered until Fredi Gonzalez runs them into the ground again. Vizcaino can take time and prove he can start in the International League as long as he Braves don’t have injury issues.
Will the Yankees regret the trade? It’s certainly possible. For the last two seasons, they’ve had a hard time filling out their rotation behind C.C. Sabathia. A.J. Burnett appears to be a bust, and although Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia filled in admirably last year, but they need more choices with upside because it’s tough to count on pitchers like Garcia every season in the AL East. It looks like Hal Steinbrenner is going to have to admit that “Vizcaino was a good prospect, no question about it, but my baseball people love Javier Vazquez’s arm. They kept saying ‘Javier Vazquez, Javier Vazquez!”
Come back tomorrow for the last Friday entry in Prospect A-Z. Will it be the Mets’ new top prospect, a Mets infielder many say is overrated or the Mets’ rival’s top outfield prospect?