Breaking Through: Arodys Vizcaino and Garrett Richards Plus Four

Reaching the major leagues marks the achievement of a significant milestone in any player’s career. Whether it is a high profile prospect or an aging, grizzled veteran of the minor leagues, there is something about a debut that strikes a chord with me. For that reason I will take a look at each player that makes his major league debut in a regularly occurring article which will typically appear on Wednesdays.

Thanks to a wicked storm last night and some other things I had to handle on Wednesday this column is published far later than I had hoped. Regardless, from August 10th to the 16th, 6 players (4 P, 1 C and 1 SS) made their major league debuts. While none of the six were upper echelon (top-5) prospects, several of them figure prominently in the future plans of their respective teams.

RHP Arodys Vizcaino (20) – Atlanta Braves

Preseason Ranking: #7 on BA’s Braves Top-30

2011 Minor League Performance: 3.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9 and 9.3 SO/9 in 97.0 IP (26 G/17 GS) combined for the Lynchburg Hillcats (A+), Mississippi Braves (AA) and Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

Debut Date: August 10th

For the 2nd straight season, Vizcaino was ranked as a top-100 MLB prospect and he’s well known as the prize in the trade that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees in December of 2009. He’s been a starter for most of his career, but his time in Triple-A was spent in the bullpen. His fastball, changeup and curve give him 3 plus pitches and his future remains as a starter provided he can stay healthy and ease concerns about his durability.

In his debut he got 2 outs in the 9th inning against the Marlins. He walked 2 and struck out 1 but did not allow a hit. The walks were likely a case of debut jitters and Vizcaino has been lights out since. He’s now thrown 5.1 innings of relief for the Braves and has yet to give up a run. He’s allowed 2 hits, 3 walks and has struck out 5. Starting Vizcaino out in the bullpen is a shrewd move for the Braves

C Salvador Perez (21) – Kansas City Royals

Preseason Ranking: #17 on BA’s  Royals Top-30

2011 Minor League Performance: 0.283/.329/.427, 14 2B, 9 HR, 16 BB and 30 SO in 286 AB (79 G) for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (AA) and 0.333/.347/.500, 5 2B, 1 HR, 0 BB and 6 SO in 48 AB (12 G) for the Omaha Stormchasers

Debut Date: August 10th

For Kansas City the future is finally now behind the plate. Don’t let the ranking fool you, in any other farm system Salvador would have easily been a top-10 guy. Perez possesses a strong bat for the position but it’s his defensive prowess that sets him apart. In 4 out of his 5 minor league seasons he’s thrown out over 40% of would be basestealers and beyond that is the organization’s best defensive catcher by a wide margin. At just 21 years old he’s still got a lot of potential to tap into as a hitter but even if he remains the same offensive player that he is today he remains a legit everyday major league catcher.

Perez went 1-3 with a sacrifice fly in his debut against the Rays and has a hit in 5 of his first 7 games. He’s currently hitting just 0.231/.222/.308 in 26 AB for the Royals but any offense he provides right now is just a bonus. Defensively he’s already been a huge upgrade and has the look of a natural leader.

RHP Henderson Alvarez (21) – Toronto Blue Jays

Preseason Ranking: #17 on BA’s Jays Top-30

2011 Minor League Performance: 6.48 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 1.1 BB/9 and 4.3 SO/9 in 8.1 IP (2 GS) for the Dunedin Blue Jays (A+) and 2.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1.7 BB/9 and 6.8 SO/9 in 88.0 IP (15 G/14 GS) for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)

Debut Date: August 10th

I’ve made my disdain for promoting a starter from AA straight to the big leagues several times over the last several weeks so I won’t get up on that soap box again. He does have an excellent BB/9 rate this season which is right in line with his career mark so it’s reasonable to assume he’ll be able to maintain that. According to the incomparable Jays Journal, his velocity has picked up, that coupled with his control should result in a much better SO/9 rate. We haven’t seen that materialize yet which is a bit of a concern since he tends to give up an inordinate number of hits for a guy with his stuff (10.0 career H/9).

In his debut Alvarez went 5.2 IP allowing 8 H, 3 ER, 1 BB and 1 HR while recording 4 SO. He followed that up with a 5.0 inning, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 HR, 3 SO start. Both starts came against poor offensive teams, the Athletics and Mariners respectively, and reflect the type of pitcher he is. He has two plus pitches and mid-rotation upside, but that won’t be realized until he learns to pitch on the fringe of the strike zone and get hitters to chase more often. This is a skill that should be developed in Triple-A and not the major leagues.

RHP Garrett Richards (23) – Los Angeles Angels

Preseason Ranking: #7 on BA’s Angels Top-30

2011 Minor League Performance: 3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9 and 6.4 SO/9 in 141.0 IP (21 GS) for the Arkansas Travelers (AA)

Debut Date: August 10th

 Richards was a supplemental round pick from the 2009 draft who many see as a mid-rotation starter in the long term. He offers 4 potentially average pitches and has shown a knack for keeping guys off base (1.171 WHIP) in his minor league career. His SO/9 has dropped off against AA competition from his career mark of 7.9 to the 6.4 listed above. This dropoff may just be a result of adjusting to a new level of competition or it may be a sign of things to come. I think he can have some success in the majors either way, but it’s probably too soon and the early returns support that.

In his debut he gave up 6 H, 6 ER, 2 BB and 2 HR with 2 SO in 6.0 IP against the Yankees. His second start consisted of just 16 pitches before he left with a strained groin but it wasn’t off to the best start. He had given up 2 hits and an unearned run in 0.2 innings against the Rangers before exiting.

RHP Henry Sosa (26) – Houston Astros

Preseason Ranking: #29 on BA’s Giants Top-30

2011 Minor League Performance: 4.53 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9 and 7.8 SO/9 in 89.1 IP (29 G/10 GS) for Fresno (AA)/Richmond (AAA) with the Giants and Corpus Christi (AA)/Oklahoma City (AAA) with the Astros

Debut Date: August 10th

Sosa made his way from the Giants to the Astros organization as a piece of the Jeff Keppinger trade. At the time he was dealt it was expected he wouldn’t be in the minors long before Houston took a look at him. That turned out to be the case as he had thrown just 25.2 innings in 4 starts before getting the call. Though he’s a little long in the tooth as a prospect, Sosa still has an electric arm but also has difficulty with his secondary pitches, both in terms of quality and consistency.

He made his debut against the Diamondbacks and lasted 6.0 innings while allowing 6 H, 4 ER, and 1 HR. Sosa also hit a batter, walked 3 and struck out 4 in that start. He made his second start against the Cubs on the 15th and wound up with very similar results (6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO). For Houston it makes sense to take a gamble on him in case he can magically put it all together but I don’t see much reason to be optimistic here.

SS Justin Sellers (25) – Los Angeles Dodgers

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

2011 Minor League Performance: 0.304/.400/.537, 17 2B, 14 HR, 41 BB and 57 SO in 270 AB (89 G) for the Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA)

Debut Date: August 12th

It’s hard to know where to start with Sellers. Admittedly, I was completely unaware of his existence until he got called up last week. In some ways that’s not surprising. He was off the prospect radar and was a 6th round pick back in 2005 which seems like a lifetime ago in prospect terms. On the other side of the ledger he’s primarily a SS with decent pop in his bat, a strong SO/BB rate and it’s not like 0.400 OBPs in the upper minors grow on trees. Sellers also isn’t just a single-season flash in the pan. He posted identical numbers in 90 G with the Isotopes last season. This year he started playing more 3B and OF in addition to the middle infield positions which indicates the Dodgers may be prepping him for a utility role at the major league level.

Sellers went 0-3 in his debut against the Astros but then got a hit in each of his next three games including his first HR on August 14th. Through his first 5 major league games he’s now hitting 0.188/.278/.375 on the year, but whether or not it works out with the Dodgers, he’s got a good shot to stick in the majors for a few years at least in a bench role.


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Tags: Arodys Vizcaino Atlanta Braves Garrett Richards Henderson Alvarez Henry Sosa Houston Astros Justin Sellers Kansas City Royals Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers Salvador Perez Toronto Blue Jays

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