It didn’t take long to see triple digits from Twins fireballing sensation Brusdar Graterol.
While the pitch was actually clocked at 99.6 MPH, Graterol’s long awaited call up starts an era unlike almost any other Twins hurler. As the youngest Twins pitcher to make a MLB debut in almost 30 years, Brusdar Graterol did not disappoint with a heater that has no equal in Minnesota’s franchise history.
So what impact will Graterol have this season and beyond? There are a few factors at play in for both his immediate future and his long-term potential with the team, so let’s break it down.
Factors Affecting 2019
“The Buffalo” as he has been nicknamed, hasn’t been a wild pitcher by any means. His career walk rate of 2.7 is lower than the MLB average of 3.3, so the free pass hasn’t been a big issue for him so far in his career. However, he will need to keep that area sharp in the big leagues, as his elite velocity won’t be enough to blow mistake pitches past batters quite as often in the major leagues. With only a handful of innings with the juiced ball in AAA, Graterol hasn’t experienced much of the homer-happy big league baseball to this point. One key for him making the postseason roster is showing that he can avoid mistake pitches and walks here in September.
The rest of the bullpen
The bullpen as a whole has actually been pitching quite well lately. Since August 15th they have put up a 2.21 ERA as a unit. While Graterol does possess a talent that no one else in the ‘pen does, he may have to beat out more experienced option like Trevor Hildenberger or Zack Littell if the Twins make the postseason. If everyone stays healthy Rogers, Romo, Dyson, Duffey, and May are probably all guaranteed a spot. There’s a chance the Twins keep just two more relievers (as you don’t need as many with more days off in the playoffs). Graterol will have to be effective first in a low leverage role and then likely in a medium leverage role to earn himself a spot on the postseason squad.
Graterol’s ability to command the slider
Graterol’s fastball has gotten quite a bit of publicity (as it should), but he also has a pretty solid slider. Fangraphs currently rates the pitch as a 50 value with potential to become a good plus pitch with a 60 value. If Graterol can command both his fastball and his slider here in the month of September, it seems likely that he will continue to see success that has led him to a 1.92 ERA across three levels this season. If the young Venezuelan can get batters out with a breaking ball as well as the heater, he is going to be fun to watch down the stretch and potentially in the postseason.
Factors affecting the future
Graterol’s ability to have three plus pitches
The Twins will likely transition Graterol back to a starting pitching role at the beginning of next year, likely starting the season with the Rochester Red Wings (unless things go really well or really poorly). Graterol is one of the highest ranked pitching prospects in Twins history, and his ability to stay as a starter and not have to transition to a full-time bullpen role will largely depend on his slider and his change-up. Both have shown flashes of being plus pitches, with the changeup likely the X factor as the third offering. Fangraphs currently rates his change as a 45 grade pitch, with potential of hitting a 55 grade. If Graterol can reach this grade, it would seem likely that he will make an appearance in the Twins rotation sometime next season.
Graterol already has had to sit out an entire year recovering from injury and surgery (2016), and guys who throw 100+ MPH as starters usually seem to be pretty susceptible to arm maladies. The 21-year-old was out for around two months earlier this season with a mysterious “shoulder impingement” and has only thrown 214 total innings since he began playing in the Twins minor league system in 2015. If it isn’t his ability to command three pitches that lands him in the bullpen, it may be his long-term health. Look for the Twins to be uber-careful with him this season and in the future.
How the Twins front office views him and their strategy going forward
Is the Twins front office all in on Graterol as a starter or do they think a move to the bullpen is likely? How much faith do they have in their other starting pitching prospects as well as their ability to acquire starting pitching talent in the free agent and trade markets? With just Jose Berrios under contract for next season for Minnesota’s rotation, a lot could change within the next year regarding the rotation. It’s unlikely that the Twins front office gives up on Graterol as a starter anytime soon for such a reason, but they do have promising starting talent in the minors such as Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic.
Graterol’s wide range of possibilities and electric stuff are what make him so exciting and intriguing as a prospect for the Twins future. Will he follow the path of Jose Berrios and become an established frontline stater, or will he go down the road Fernando Romero has trod to the AAA bullpen? Only time will tell, but we with Graterol now on the big league roster we will start to get some answers sooner rather than later.