Prospect Retrospective: Juan Rincon
On his excellent website earlier this week, Aaron Gleeman pointed out how well Twins reliever Juan Rincon has pitched this year: 6 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 12 strikeouts. Rincon is a well-kept secret, and when he's on, he is one of the most dominant middle/short relievers in the game. I wouldn't be afraid to use him as a closer; he'd be closing for many teams already.
Rincon is still rather unheralded, and he was as a prospect, too. I thought a retrospective look could be interesting.
The Twins signed Rincon in Venezuela in 1996; they have a long-term scouting operation there. He debuted as an 18-year-old in North America in 1997, posting a 2.95 ERA in 10 starts in the rookie level Gulf Coast League, with a 46/24 K/BB ratio in 58 innings. I did not put him in the '98 book, but he would have rated as a Grade C prospect.
In '98, Rincon was used as a swingman for Fort Wayne in the Midwest League, posting a 3.83 ERA and 74/54 K/BB ratio in 96 innings, making 13 starts but also saving 6 games. His K/BB and K/IP ratios were only mediocre, so I did not put him in the '99 book. Again, he would have been a Grade C prospect.
In '99, Rincon became a full-time starter, going 14-8, 2.92 in 28 starts for Quad City, again in the Midwest League, posting a 153/66 K/BB ratio in 163 innings, allowing 146 hits. His ratios were all slightly above average, and his velocity picked up to as high as 95 MPH. I gave him a Grade B- for the 2000 book, noting that he was "very young and has a lot of potential" but that it would take him more time to develop.
Rincon began '00 at Fort Myers in the Florida State League, posting a 2.13 ERA in 13 starts to earn a promotion to Double-A. Things weren't as easy at New Britain: he went 3-9 with a 4.65 ERA, though he retained a decent strikeout rate. He got another Grade B- for me heading into '01.
Making adjustments to the competition, Rincoln had little trouble returning to New Britain in '01, going 14-6 with a 2.88 ERA and 133/57 K/BB ratio in 153 innings. By this time, he'd shown himself to be quite durable, eating large numbers of innings without hurting his elbow or shoulder. He made his Major League debut that year and was hit hard in 6 innings (5 runs). I gave him a Grade B in the 2002 book, with the note that he would need a good dose of Triple-A, since his component ratios weren't as strong as they looked on the surface; his K/BB was actually below league average despite looking good to the naked eye.
Rincon split '02 between the Twins and Triple-A Edmonton, not pitching wonderfully at either stop (4.78 ERA at Edmonton, 6.28 with the Twins). His K/IP and K/BB both slipped, and I dropped him to Grade C heading into 2003. I was worried that he had topped out as a starter, and that the deterioration in his ratios indicated trouble ahead.
That didn't happen. The Twins converted him to relief in '03, and he had a good rookie season as a long and middle reliever. He threw harder in the bullpen than he did in rotation, and the switch in roles also seemed to help him sharpen up his command. In '04 he was one of the better relievers in the league, and has been excellent so far this year.
Rincon is just 26. He has passed the injury nexus, and has proven to be quite durable. His trek through the minors was one of steady development, often struggling in his first look at a new level, but eventually adjusting. His transition to the Majors is now complete. Further refinements in his command could make him an elite reliever.