Just a couple of hours after the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics completed the Scott Kazmir trade, Craig Calcatera of NBCSports reported that the Pirates and Brewers had closed a deal. Three-time All-Star Aramis Ramirez was heading back to the place it all began, Pittsburgh.
A-Ram, as the third baseman is sometimes called, has struggled in the final year of a four year, $50 million dollar deal. He’s hit just .247 with a .725 OPS, far below his career .284 batting average and .836 OPS. Thus, it makes sense that the Brewers included some cash in this deal in order to expedite the transaction. The Pirates will cover about half of Ramirez’ remaining salary, or around three million dollars. But this trade is not just a straight-up salary dump. After all, one would expect an offensively-gifted player like Ramirez to net at least something of value in a league starved for runs. That’s where Yhonathan Barrios comes in.
Barrios, 23, began his pro career as an infielder. But after posting consecutive mid-.400 OPS marks in two years in the New-York Penn League, the Pirates demoted the Colombian to the Gulf Coast league and sent the former shortstop to the mound.
Perhaps surprisingly, Barrios has been pretty successful as a pitcher in his minor league career. Despite a small frame (5-11, 180), Yhonathan has an extremely live arm and can generate almost 100 miles per hour of velocity on his fastball. The offering has late sinking action which, when combined with the speed, makes it incredibly difficult to hit. The ball comes out freely and easily from his very simple and low-effort delivery.
Yhonathan’s off-speed pitchers are, predictably, far behind his heater. His change-up does exhibit some good fade, but he has a tendency to leave it up in zone. His slider has interesting movement into right-handers and away from lefties. However, he notably decreases his arm speed when throwing both pitches.
Overall, I think Barrios could be an impact reliever once he gets some pitching experience under his belt. Walks haven’t plagued Yhonathan’s development severely, but he has to work on control within the strike zone as well as learning how to pitch. The fact that Barrios has only struck out 6.6 batters per nine in his career indicates how little this guy knows about pitching. With his stuff, there is no other reason that he should not be dominating minor league hitters. The good news is that the intricacies of the game are meant to be learned and taught. You cannot teach a player to throw 100 miles per hour with sinking movement.
It will be very interesting to see how the 23-year-old’s career progresses in Milwaukee. Don’t be surprised if the newest Brewers’ prospect is wreaking havoc on the league a few years from now. And even though it’s entirely possible that Barrios fails to overcome his lack of experience, the potential of a shutdown reliever is a pretty nice return for an aging and overpaid infielder.