Breaking Through: Five Pitchers and a Catcher

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*.

*Last week a massive thunderstorm pushed this column to Friday. This week it was a malfunctioning smoke alarm in my 4 year old’s bedroom. What can I take away from these events? Clearly if I don’t publish Breaking Through on Wednesday as planned, the universe isn’t going to allow me to publish it until Friday.

The week of August 17th to the 23rd, six players made their major league debuts. None of the players involved were highly ranked in preseason prospect lists, in fact 4 of them weren’t ranked at all. But the one position player that broke out of the minor league bubble had improved his stock considerably with a excellent season, was quickly embraced by Red Sox Nation and has had an immediate impact.

C Ryan Lavarnway (23) – Boston Red Sox

Preseason Ranking: #16 on BA’s Red Sox Top-30

2011 Minor League Performance: 0.284/.360/.510, 5 2B, 14 HR, 25 BB and 47 SO in 208 AB (55 G) for the Portland Sea Dogs (AA) and 0.301/.385/.608, 16 2B, 16 HR, 26 BB and 55 SO in 209 AB (55 G) for the Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA)

Debut Date: August 18th

Meet the position player I was referring to in the intro. Lavarnway entered the season ranked as Boston’s 16th best prospect but definitely has the bat to shine as a major league catcher. His defense has always been his shortcoming, but he’s worked tirelessly to improve that aspect of his game and is no longer a complete liability behind the plate. The Red Sox have Jarrod Saltalamacchia (26) and an all but retired Jason Varitek (39) standing in his way, which means Lavarnway might just be their catcher of the future if he can continue to improve his defensive skillset and technique. If not, he has the bat to be an effective DH at the major league level.

He made his debut in Kansas City against the Royals and went 0-4 with a SO but went on to go 5-11 with 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB and 2 SO in the final 3 games of the series. He’s now played 7 games with Boston, 6 of them as the team’s DH, and has hit 0.304/.407/.391 during that time.

LHP Wade Miley (24) – Arizona Diamondbacks

Preseason Ranking: #8 on BA’s Diamondbacks Top-30

2011 Minor League Performance: 4.78 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9 and 5.5 SO/9 in 75.1 IP (14 GS) for the Mobile Bay Bears (AA) and 3.64 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9 and 9.3 SO/9 in 54.1 IP (8 GS) for the Reno Aces (AAA)

Debut Date: August 20th

The Diamondback’s parade of youngsters continued with yet another warm body thrown into the mix. If you’re keeping track at home, Miley makes 7 players to debut for Arizona this season. You wouldn’t know it if you gauged a team’s success by the number to rookies to play for a team but they have a 2.0 game lead in the NL West as I write this.

As far as his stuff, Wade has a low-90s fastball that he can bump up to the mid-90s, a low 80s slider, a plus changeup, curveball and cutter. His time in Double-A was unimpressive but he pulled off the moderately-rare feat of pitching better against more advanced competition. He maintained his H/9, dropped his BB/9 and upped his SO/9 after moving to Triple-A and that was enough to give him a shot against the big boys.

So how did his ML debut go? In the words of Venom Strikes Lead Writer, Scott Allen, “Wade Miley, you pitch more like Miley Cyrus.”

He didn’t throw his cutter in his debut but showed his other 4 pitches, with his changeup being the only one to rate above average. In 4.0 innings he allowed 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB and struck out 5.

If he can maintain the improved SO rate he showed off in Reno and his first start in the majors, his BB/9 rate is good enough to find some success at the major league level. He’s not going to front a rotation but he has a chance to become a solid mid-rotation arm if things go well.

RHP Michael Schwimer (25) – Philadelphia Phillies

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

2011 Minor League Performance: 1.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9 and 11.6 SO/9 in 67.0 IP (46 G) for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA)

Debut Date: August 21st

Schwimer may not have been ranked in the Phillies Top-30, but he’s put up strong numbers at every stop in his minor league journey. With a 2.51 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9 and 12.1 SO/9 in 4 minor league seasons plus 62 Triple-A appearances under his belt, it was just a matter of when, not if, he’d get a chance to pitch for the team with baseball’s best record.

His first opportunity came against the Nationals when he entered in the 6th inning. He threw 43 pitches in 3.0 innings of work and gave up 2 hits and 1 earned run. He struck out 4 and didn’t walk a batter. Schwimer made his 2nd relief appearance for the Phillies on the 24th against the Mets and gave up 1 H, 1 ER, 2 BB and 0 SO in his one inning of work.

The early returns haven’t been great, and relievers are notoriously difficult to predict and project from year to year, but all the signs point to Schwimer having a solid career in the majors.

RHP Steve Edlefsen (26) – San Francisco Giants

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

2011 Minor League Performance: 2.70 ERA, 2.40 WHIP, 10.8 BB/9 and 16.2 SO/9 in 3.1 IP (4 G) for the AZL Giants (Rk) and 5.66 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9 in 41.1 IP (32 G) for the Fresno Grizzlies (AAA)

Debut Date: August 21st

Let me open by pointing out that Edlefsen was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota went to high school in Minnesota and pitched for the summer league Duluth Huskies while enrolled in college at the University of Nebraska. He’s the type of guy I automatically root for because of these factors alone. He’s also had some real nice (not great) minor league seasons since being selected by the Giants in the 16th round of the 2007 draft. As you can see above, 2011 was not one of those seasons and his debut came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Edlefsen made his debut against the hapless Astros and pitched 1.1 innings of hitless, shutout baseball while striking out two. His second appearance came against the Padres 2 days later. He went just a third of an inning, walked and hit a batter but did not give up a hit or a run.

He’s less likely than a guy like Schwimer to have a long run as a major league reliever, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he turned in a few league average relief seasons along the way.

LHP Anthony Vasquez (24) – Seattle Mariners

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

2011 Minor League Performance: 3.77 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 1.7 BB/9 and 5.3 SO/9 in 100.1 IP (16 GS) for the Jackson Generals (AA) and 3.21 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9 and 5.4 SO/9 in 53.1 IP (8 GS) for the Tacoma Rainiers (AAA)

Debut Date: August 23rd

Baseball America didn’t include Vasquez in their preseason top-30 but he did enough to fit in at #24 on Sodo Mojo’s current top-40 published yesterday. Anthony doesn’t have great SO numbers (6.3 SO/9) but he has displayed excellent command in his minor league career (1.8 BB/9). The biggest hindrance to his status as a prospect however is his penchant for giving up hits. He has a career 9.5 H/9 but that number has ballooned to double digits at 3 different stops. He has the look of a back of the rotation arm who is always going to be in danger of being replaced.

Vasquez got the start in his debut and went 5.1 innings against the Cleveland Indians. He allowed 9 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 HR, 2 BB and 2 SO in 98 pitches. It wasn’t the most memorable debut but thanks to some run support and a 12-7 final, he got the win.

RHP Joel Carreno (24) – Toronto Blue Jays

Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

2011 Minor League Performance: 3.41 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 4.5 BB/9 and 10.2 SO/9 in 134.2 IP (24 G/23 GS) for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)

Debut Date: August 23rd

Carreno might not have been in BA’s preseason top-30, but he was ranked #21 by the staff of Jays Journal heading into 2011. Jared Macdonald provided this prospect profile of Joel on January 28th and projected his ceiling as a 4 or 5 starter in the majors.

In his debut he appeared in relief against the Royals. He came into the game in the 6th and finished out the game by pitching 3.1 shutout innings. He gave up 4 hits and struck out 2.

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If you enjoy reading Seedlings to Stars, you can follow me on Twitter @thebaseballfish and like our Facebook page to keep tabs on all our latest content and thoughts.

Topics: Anthony Vasquez, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Joel Carreno, Michael Schwimer, Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Lavarnway, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Steve Edlefsen, Toronto Blue Jays, Wade Miley

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