Just a few short weeks into the offseason, the Milwaukee Brewers may have already made one of the better under-the-radar signings of the winter when they agreed to sign right-handed reliever Michael Olmsted back on November 3rd. The minor league free agent has already been added to Milwaukee’s 40-man roster, protecting him from being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in early December.
Standing 6’6” and weighing 245 pounds, the big-bodied righty looks more like a linebacker than a pitcher on the mound, perhaps making his fastball (clocked between 95-97) even more intimidating. His hard throwing nature is likely one factor that appealed to the Brewers organization, who’ve long been searching for such a pitcher to work into their bullpen mix according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but it’s far too early to assume he’ll play a big role in Milwaukee’s plans for the 2013 season.
Split between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, Olmsted made 47 appearances during the 2012 season, pitching 59.1 innings in the Boston Red Sox system. He went 1-4 in that stretch, saving 19 games with a 1.52 ERA, 0.860 WHIP, 14.0 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9. During a 14-game stretch to end the year with Portland (covering his last 20.0 innings) he didn’t allow a single earned run. It was an impressive enough year overall to earn him a spot among 12 finalists for the 2012 MiLB.com Reliever of the Year Award (he’d finish 7th in fan voting).
For his minor league career, however, he’s thrown just 161.0 innings over 86 appearances since being drafted in the 9th Round in 2007 by the New York Mets. As Peter Gammons discussed in late August, Olmsted’s story is a unique one. After signing with the Mets, he’d appear in games for the team’s affiliates in the Gulf Coast League, Appalachian League, and New York Penn League over the next two seasons, making just 18 appearances before blowing out his elbow. Tommy John surgery and a year of rehab later, and suddenly Olmsted found himself released after reporting to the team’s Extended Spring Training home in Florida. Dejected, he went home to California before finding himself pitching for a Japanese minor league team affiliated with the Softbank Hawks. His international career would be brief once his mother, who’d been suffering from cancer, slipped into a coma, prompting him to come home. He’d ask for a release from his contract shortly after her passing.
He kept throwing at his old high school before finding himself at an open tryout for the Independent Golden League in the Spring of 2011. Allan Baird, Boston’s Director of Pro Scouting, was in attendance at the tryouts and came away impressed with both Olmsted’s presence on the mound and his poise off of it (apparently sparked by a quick comment directed towards Jose Canseco, according to Gammons’ story). Baird signed Olmsted to a minor league deal and brought him to the Red Sox organization. With some coaching and a few refinements to his mechanics, the Boston coaching staff was able to coax a little more velocity on his fastball while improving upon his other pitches (notably a strong slider).
Boston elected not to add Olmsted to their 40-man roster at the end of the season, in what appears to be a situation where they just simply did not have the room to attempt protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft. Olmsted had the option to remain with the organization, but elected instead to become a free agent and Milwaukee quickly stepped in, swaying the decision by offering to place Olmsted directly on their 40-man roster with an invitation to Spring Training.
Having never pitched above Double-A (and still only have 20.0 innings under his belt at the level), the chances are remote that Olmsted breaks camp with the Brewers next Spring as he’s just simply not going to be ready. It would be a safe guess to expect him to begin the year with Double-A Huntsville with an eventual promotion to Triple-A Nashville by mid-season. Olmsted’s followed a unique path to get to this point in his career, putting a little more intrigue into watching where things proceed next. If he can continue developing and live up to some of his perceived potential, he’s an arm Brewers fans could see coming out of the bullpen before long.