Washington Nationals rookie right-hander Blake Treinen is off to a decent start in the major leagues. Through 17 innings covering two starts and three relief outings, he has a 1.56 ERA. His component ratios (22 hits, 13 strikeouts, seven walks) aren't as strong but his FIP still comes out nicely at 2.93. He's also been clocked as high as 98 MPH, which will get your attention faster than any sabemetric breakdown. Let's take a look at Treinen as Friday's Prospect of the Day.
Hailing from Osage City, Kansas, Treinen was not a hot prospect initially and played junior varsity baseball in 2007 as a freshman for Baker University, a small liberal arts school about 20 miles south of Lawrence in Baldwin City. At the time he had an 83 MPH fastball. He was at the University of Arkansas in 2008 but never got into a game, then transferred to South Dakota State University in 2009 and had to sit out due to NCAA transfer restrictions. He finally got to pitch in 2010, posting a 6.09 ERA in 75 innings but sowing some arm strength. He was much better in 2011, posting a 3.00 ERA with an 84/25 K/BB in 84 innings, enough to get drafted in the seventh round by the Oakland Athletics.
His pro debut was solid enough ,with a 3.67 ERA and a 29/7 K/BB in 27 innings for Burlington in the Midwest League. Oakland moved him up to High-A in 2012 where he posted a 4.27 ERA for Stockton in the California League, with a credible 92/23 K/BB in 103 innings. Traded to the Nationals in the Michael Morse deal, he adapted well to Double-A with a 3.47 ERA for Harrisburg in '13, with a 93/33 K/BB. In addition to his big league innings this spring, he has a 1.96 ERA with a 17/5 K/BB in 23 innings for Triple-A Syracuse.
Treinen is a 6-5, 215 pounder born on June 30, 1988. Arm strength has never been the issue: as noted he's been up to 98 MPH this year, works in the 94-95 range, and gets very good sinking action on the fastball. For all of this heat, his control is pretty good and he didn't issue a large number of walks in the minors.
Secondary pitch development is the key for Treinen. He has a slider and a curveball; neither pitch has consistently impressed scouts, but they are better than they were when he was struggling to find a college team to pitch for and the slider has very decent moments. He used a changeup in the minors but like the breaking pitches, it isn't special. Most scouts project him as a future relief pitcher, based on the idea that he can get through a batting order with his quality fastball and occasional breaking stuff, but that the hitters will get a better read on him the second or third time around.
That said, he's performed well enough as a starter in the minors to merit a look in that role. You don't find that many guys with mid-90s sinkers who can throw strikes, and Treinen can do that. He could be a useful number four or five starter, but even if he's 'just" a middle reliever, that's a great outcome for a guy who was a junior varsity college pitcher at a tiny school.