The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Arodys Vizcaino

Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.

When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.

This time, I’m taking a look at Braves reliever Arodys Vizcaino.

The majority of players I’ve looked at thus far in this series have been hurlers with average or worse velocity. But, of course, there hasn’t suddenly been a proliferation of soft-tossers in this year’s rookie class; it just happened to be that the first few pitchers I looked at didn’t have overwhelming velocity.

Arodys Vizcaino decidedly puts an end to the string of “finesse” hurlers, as he’s been clocked as high as 98 mph in his rookie campaign, averaging 95.7 mph with his fastball. That’s decidedly higher than the “92-94, peaking at 96″ that Baseball America had him at prior to 2011, but that’s to be expected, as Vizcaino has (at least temporarily) moved from the rotation to the bullpen in 2011.

Baseball America also credited Vizcaino with a “hammer curveball,” which his results thus far certainly back up. His breaking ball has drawn 43 swings, and 20 of them have come up empty.

With the plus-plus velocity and the whiff-inducing breaking ball, there’s little question that Vizcaino has the stuff to be an impact late-game reliever. Two questions persist: a) Is he throwing enough strikes and b) Does he have enough of a third pitch to transition back to a starting role in the big leagues?

In 15 2/3 innings, Vizcaino’s walked eight batters and struck out 15, which points to spotty control. He didn’t have major walk problems in the minors, though, and even though Leo Mazzone is long since gone as Atlanta’s pitching coach, he seems to subscribe to the old Mazzone “down and away” philosophy of pitching. Here are his locations to righties this year:

And lefties:

We can see that Vizcaino does occasionally miss way up and arm-side with his fastball, and he buries some his breaking balls out of the bottom of the zone, but in general, he’s fairly controlled. We shouldn’t just assume that because he’s a 20-year-old Dominican flamethrower, that he’s all over the place; in fact, it looks like he should eventually settle in with solid control.

That leaves the changeup as his only major question. He’s thrown a grand total of five changeups thus far, as there’s little reason for him to use the pitch in the relief role. For what it’s worth, the pitch has averaged 85.0 mph this season, which is over 10 mph below his average fastball velocity. The pitch doesn’t have a whole lot of movement, but played off his fastball and curveball, it’s possible it could succeed in the future. At age 20, he’s got plenty of time to improve the pitch.

In any case, with Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran ready to take over four rotation spots, Vizcaino may not be needed in the Braves’ rotation. Heck, with Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters locking down the final two innings, it’s going to be tough for Vizcaino to crack one of the seven most coveted pitching jobs on the staff. That makes the Braves’ staff for 2012 and beyond look downright scary; certainly, if they want, they can also trade some of these guys for a huge return in other areas.

Given that he’s undersized, uses his breaking ball heavily, and in an organization with a number of other top arms, Vizcaino is the rare case that I wouldn’t gripe about if he were permanently installed in the bullpen. If things do play out that way, he would make for an interesting trade target in a couple of seasons for a team in need of young starters.

I expect Vizcaino to be very effective in Atlanta’s bullpen in 2012, with his two-pitch arsenal neutralizing batters from both sides of the plate. If he does wind up in the rotation at some point, it’s quite possible he could become a stud in that role as well.

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Tags: Arodys Vizcaino Atlanta Braves

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