Brusdar Graterol has a limitless future — but what should we expect?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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

Graterol’s control

“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.

Health

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.

Comments

I try to set minimal expectations

My first expectation is that he will be able to deliver the ball where the catcher can catch it. My second expectation is that his elbow will not literally explode and leave bone fragments and gobbets of flesh all over the infield.

Anything else is gravy.

Gobbet Gravy?

Garve Sauce sounds better.

I can definitely see him making the postseason roster

Twins are pretty lackluster beyond Berrios and Pineda, but I imagine it will be Odorizzi as the third starter (Please baseball gods, do not let Gibson throw any postseason games). I think having Graterol in the bullpen to bring the heat would be a key ingredient that the bullpen/rotation just doesn’t have.

Don't try to tell the baseball gods what to do

They work in mysterious ways but they definitely don’t like being told what to do

Yeah, let's see how he does but I would expect him to be on the roster.

People beat up way too much on Gibson without knowing the BTS stuff

And since he’s been battling E. Coli and its side-effects for the better part of a year, it’s no wonder he hasn’t been playing as well as he had been for the previous 1 1/2 years.

This is a trend with Gibson

I won’t be upset when he isn’t on the Twins next year. He is terribly inconsistent. In his six full years in the league, Gibson has had only two positive ERA+ years. Every other time, he has been below 100 – and often times in the 80s (so very much below average) and this year is at 99. Color me unimpressed especially considering the fact that he is on the wrong side of 30.

so you're suggesting that a player cant get better as he enters and goes through his prime years?

Or did you just conveniently leave out that Gibson’s best years are his most recent

Gibson has had one good recent year. His other good year was 2015.

You could make an argument for the second half of 2017, but he barely completed 5 IP in a handful of his second half starts and also the strength of schedule wasn’t astounding (only two starts against .500 or better teams). History wise, Gibson has two bad years followed by one good year.

ERA+ average (for multiple years only):
80 (2013-2014)
106 (2015)
85 (2016-2017)
118 (2018)
99 (2019)

Gibson is a 4 or 5 starter.

What's wrong with a 4/5 starter?

With the way pitchers blow out their elbows and have their arms fall off, a solid 4th starter isn’t as easy to find as people think.

Nothing wrong with it

But he was considered the #2-3 before the season began (and, I imagine, still considered that by some people here). That shows how bad our rotation actually is.

Starter ERA is 10th in the league and WAR/FIP are 7th.

I don’t think they’re that bad

He was considered 2/3 before the season because of multiple factors

A) After 2018, Odorizzi was expected to be much worse than he has been
B) Nobody was sure where Pineda was going to be
C) Nobody was sure why the even picked up Perez
D) He was expected to be the healthy version of himself which has very much been a #2/#3 starter

Even with being unhealthy, he’s been incredibly serviceable in 2019 and when you pull back the curtain to realize that after he recovered from his initial bout of E. Coli, he still suffered side-effects for much of the season, that’s an even better case for him, not against.

Once again, a #2/#3 pitcher on the Twins staff

He would not be a #2 or #3 in Cleveland, New York (both), Boston, Houston, Washington, Cubs, Cardinals, etc.

He would be a #2 or #3 on Twins, Royals, Detroit, Chicago White Sox, Rangers, etc. Basically anyone (except the Twins) with a sub .500 record.

Your point?

Most guys who are 2-5 on lots of other teams wouldn’t be 2-5 if they were on different teams.
Houston is a great example as having essentially 3 or 4 "Number 1" guys. But because they are all on the same team, Greinke is a #4 pitcher in that rotation.
In better rotations, Gibson would be #5, in worse rotations he would be a #1/#2. It’s always relative to the team. However, his healthy numbers have him a solid mid-rotation guy.
It’s easy to look back and hate on him for not putting up better numbers but you keep hammering away as if his health wasn’t a factor.

If Brusdar can control his pitch speed and locations enough

To where he’s throwing 92-96 regularly and can reach back for 99+ and has his other two Plus-pitches, then I can see him being a starter.
However, if he NEEDS to throw those 98+ MPH pitches all the time, then he will be a reliever/closer as doing that (unless he has a specific arm motion), just takes its toll on the shoulder and/or elbow areas.

Where are all the naysayers?

I want everyone predicting doom and destruction on record NOW.

Honestly, I’m not too confident on him as a starter

He just feels a little too injury prone and behind the pace on building up to 160ish innings. But he’s 21, so plenty of time to catch up. As for this year, nothing would surprise me good or bad.

I’m probably one

I think he could be a good BP guy but not some stud SP. I remember a few people (might not have been here) saying that Romero and Graterol would be better than Berrios. I just never saw it. I still don’t. I’d certainly love to be proven wrong though.

Well most everyone

Looks better than Berrios for the last month or so

That’s true

But that’s not what they meant. Was more like expecting a "Strasburg-type" level better than Berrios.

It's pretty hard to rationally argue with his stuff.

That kind of velocity is hard to ignore. That said, I see him in more of an Aroldis Chapman mold. They tried for a few years to force Chapman as a starter, but it never stuck. If Graterol improves his secondary pitches he could be starter, much as JJ37 says just above. But I think he’s a likely bullpen stud, and who wouldn’t want several years of our own Aroldis Chapman.

It's Severino or Betances

If he develops the secondary pitches he has stuff like Severino, Wheeler and Syndergaard. If not he’s going to thrive in the bullpen.

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