As with any major league team, the 15 guys who go from the active 25-man roster to the 40-man expanded roster are often unknown guys who may be there simply because they don’t have any options left to be in the minor leagues. In the last two posts on the projection series, we’ll look at some of those depth pitching guys and bench filler players. We’ll start with the pitchers (alphabetically):
Ryan Buchter, LHP – Ryan Buchter will remind a lot of Braves fans of the guy acquired for Scott Diamond in the trade with the Twins, Billy Bullock. He throws hard, strikes out a ton of batters, but he also has very little control on his pitches. The big difference is that he’s left-handed, which will certainly get him more chances. If Buchter could get his BB/9 down around 3.5-4, he’d be looking at a dominating career as a middle reliever and even a lefty closer possibly, but that’s much easier said than done.
Cory Gearrin, RHP – Braves fans are plenty familiar with Gearrin as he spent all of his 2013 pitching time with the major league club. He’s ideally utilized in the role of a ROOGY (right-handed one out guy), as his splits vs. RH (career .209/.322/.282 line vs. RH in the majors) and LH (.313/.404/.485) show. He’s also well utilized as a ground ball specialist as he gets 54% of his batted balls on the ground. He’ll likely be in the running for the final bullpen position this spring, and if he stays up all season, he’s likely going to be a 45 IP sort of guy who will give ~3.00 ERA and strikeout around a batter an inning if used in the right situations.
David Hale, RHP – Hale was a run-of-the-mill sort of prospect for the Braves before 2013 when he significantly improved his control in AAA and dominated in his first exposure to the major leagues. Hale’s stuff suggests that pitch to contact and control is more likely to be his best way to stay in the majors, though his heavy sinking action on his pitches could play up in a bullpen role. Hale will compete for a starting rotation spot to start the season, and he’ll likely spend all of 2014 in Atlanta either starting or pitching in long relief. He’s likely to be more around a 6.5-7.5 k/9 guy than the 11+ k/9 guy we saw in his 2 late-season starts, but his ground ball tendencies should help him keep runners off base in either role.
Juan Jaime – As a six-year minor leaguer, Jaime had to be added to the 40-man so as to not be exposed to the Rule V draft. Jaime is similar to Buchter in that he’s a strong thrower with wicked stuff in the bullpen, but he simply struggles with commanding it. Jaime’s also a righty, so his leash will be shorter than a lefty like Buchter. Jaime did strike out 70 batters in 42 AA innings last season, so he’s had success overpowering hitters at an advanced minor league level. Jaime will likely start out at AAA and be one of the first call-ups if the Braves need a short reliever.
Aaron Northcraft – Another pitcher who needed to be added to the 40-man in order to not be exposed to the Rule V draft, Northcraft has been a starter his whole way up through the minors, and he’s developed into a solid inning-eater type of workhorse. Northcraft lives on his ability to create weak contact, which he’s done well up to AA ball thus far. He’s got a good frame at 6’4, 215 and doesn’t turn 24 until late May, so there’s lots of projection still to be realized, and we’ll start to get those questions answered in AAA this season.
Wirfin Obispo – Obispo’s back story is one of the more crazy stories in baseball (google his name and “marriage” and read the whole story), and it led to extensive time in Japanese baseball before coming back to the states in 2012 with the Reds. He’s got a very deceptive delivery, which generates a lot of weak contact, but it seems to hinder his control. He’s a hard thrower, though at 6’1 and quite lean, you couldn’t imagine it if you saw him without a baseball in hand. He blew away hitters at AAA last year to the tune of nearly 10 k/9, but his fastball is very straight, so when batters can pick it up from his deceptive delivery, they tend to hit him well, which is evidenced by his 3.53 ERA in spite of otherwise dominating numbers. His story is very interesting to say the least, and he’d be a fun one to cheer for if he gets to Atlanta, though I’d imagine he’s likely 2nd or 3rd in line to get that call from AAA.
Carlos Perez – Braves fans that have been prospect followers for years would recognize Perez’s name as a young fireballing lefty that was high on prospect lists as recently as two years ago. Last season, he was moved to the bullpen, and he flourished. Perez struck out hitters at a 10 k/9 rate while keeping the ball in the park, which had been somewhat of an issue for Perez. His stuff is absolutely electric, but he’s not ready at all for MLB time at this point, having only pitched at high-A at the highest in 2013. He had to be added to the 40-man to keep him protected from the Rule V draft this offseason and will be fun to follow as he starts in high-A or AA most likely in 2014.
Anthony Varvaro – Varvaro was a key middle relief cog for the Braves in 2013 and will likely be penciled in to a spot in 2014 as well. He and Gearrin are similar in skill sets with different delivery styles, so if he’s not in the 2014 bullpen, it’d be in deference to someone like Gearrin. Varvaro’s stuff leaves some room for improvement from his 2013 line of 5.28 k/9 as he has strikeout stuff, but he also posted a very low BABIP, so his overall ERA numbers are likely to be more in the low- to mid-3′s instead of the 2.82 ERA he posted in 2013.
Luis Vasquez – Many outlets have talked about Vasquez as yet another Braves hidden gem, along the lines of David Carpenter and Eric O’Flaherty. Vasquez was in the Dodgers system until this offseason, when the Braves signed him as a minor league free agent. Vasquez was a fairly forgettable pitcher until 2013 when he lowered his arm slot and suddenly his mid-90s fastball and hard slider became nearly impossible for right handers to hit (and not much easier for lefties). Vasquez has some big-time control issues, but also big-time stuff. If the Braves could help him harness that control, he could be 2013′s David Carpenter.