After much interest was shown by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Chicacgo Cubs, Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres , Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, and Miami Marlins; the Cincinnati Reds land Vladimir Gutierrez. The 20-year old right-handed Cuban prospect inked with Cincinnati to the tune of $4.75 million, this being about two months after the club signed 22-year old shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez to a $7 million deal, who is also from Cuba.
So what does this mean? Who is Vladimir Gutierrez? What can he do, what’s his potential, and where does he fit in to this increasingly crowded group of high-level pitching prospects in the Cincinnati Farm System? Let’s do some analysis on the newest addition to the organization and see if the Reds are set to get their money’s worth.
Talented, if Untested Arm
Vladimir Gutierrez can certainly pack some electricity into his pitches. MLB.com ranks him as the #4 International Prospect, and there is plenty of production to back that up. In 2013 in the Pinar del Rio; Gutierrez started in 3 of his 27 appearances, tossed 67 innings, produced a 3.90 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, allowed poor rates of 5.4 BB/9, and 5.9 K/9, but did only allow 0.4 HR/9.
That 2013 season in Cuba earned him the Pinar del Rio “Rookie of the Year” award. The next season in 2014, Gutierrez came out of the bullpen for all 51.1 IP, and the results were phenomenal. He had a 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, held his ground at 0.4 HR/9, improved his walk rate to 3.3 BB/9, and his whiff rate to 8.6 K/9.
That was back when he was just 18 and 19 years old. His fastball, until very recently, ranged from 88-91 mph with a peak velocity of 93. That was then, and the reality is now far different. He now tops out at 97 mph, and that is a big difference for a player who most likely has a future in relief. When considering that his repertoire still contains what Ben Badler of Baseball America called, “arguably the best curveball in Cuba”, Gutierrez is packing some nasty tools on the journey to Cincinnati, OH.
Where Does He Fit?
According to MLB.com, five out of the Reds top eight prospects are pitchers. That includes Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson, Tyler Mahle, Rookie Davis, and Keury Mella. 23-year old Brandon Finnegan and 26-year old Anthony DeSclafani have found encouraging success out of the big league rotation this season in a combined 41 starts. 23-year old Cody Reed, 24-year old Jon Moscot, and 25-year old John Lamb put in work and found some mixed success at the MLB level this year in 139 total innings pitched.
Finally, 24-year old Michael Lorenzen and the 26-year old pair of Raisel Iglesias and Tony Cingrani have all been on fire out of the bullpen in the second half of the season, while current #30 Reds prospect and 2016 5th round selection Ryan Hendrix has emerged as a potential “closer of the future” through the Billings Mustangs and the Dayton Dragons this year. Oh yeah, and I just remembered mid-sentence that veteran workhorse Homer Bailey is signed through 2019 on a $105 million deal.
The point is: there isn’t a single role on the Reds big league pitching staff that isn’t a highly competitive gig. So how, when, and where will Gutierrez find his niche? He is pretty young at 20, and with limited experience at an elite level, it is doubtful he will be getting his feet wet with the handful of prospects who are gaining MLB experience as we speak.
Of the Reds top 30 prospects as listed by MLB.com, there are about eight guys in Gutierrez’s age range: Tyler Mahle, Antonio Santillan, Nick Travieso, Sal Romano, Max Wotell, Ian Kahaloa, Nick Hanson, and Ryan Hendrix. Including Gutierrez, that group averages an age of exactly 20 years old. That is a lot of talented youth that Cincinnati is going to try to cram on the mound in the next few seasons.
The good news is that while many of these pitchers still have to play the guess and check game with the rotation and bullpen, Gutierrez comes in already being almost certain that he is a future reliever. While it is true that the Reds like to convert relievers into starters and vice versa, Gutierrez shouldn’t be one of those cases. With his heavily improved fastball, notoriously deadly curveball, and track record of being purely better on the mound out of the bullpen, one would hope that the Reds would play the role of mad scientist with another relief man.
Did the Reds get their money’s worth? That answer is a long way from being answered. Adding up Gutierrez’s youth, physical gifts, mechanical improvement, and successful track record, it would seem as if he has the ceiling to pay the Reds back their dividends and far greater.
If the organization puts him on the closer fast-track with Ryan Hendrix then we could see him at the MLB level quite soon. If they make Gutierrez a starter and try to irk out five innings per outing, they may see their shiny new acquisition struggle to be average and struggle with the command of his pitches, just as he did in 2013-2014 in Cuba.