Amidst the MLB lockout, transactions have been slow, with the only player movement in this time involving minor league players. That said, the Royals made a signing Thursday morning that seems small, but could impact the major league bullpen in 2022 (assuming there’s a season).
Arodys Vizcaino is an intriguing signing for a number of reasons. He’s 31 years old and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2019, but for a few reasons, there is reason for Royals fans to not dismiss this as just another minor league signing.
Vizcaino Has Legitimate MLB Success
Having signed with the Yankees way back in 2007, Vizcaino was dealt to Atlanta in December 2009 with Melky Cabrera and Mike Dunn for Boone Logan and Javier Vazquez. With Atlanta he became a legitimate prospect, being ranked a Top-100 prospect by Baseball America four times and pitching in the 2011 Futures Game.
After moving to the bullpen, he debuted in 2011 at just 20 years old, but injuries cost him all of 2012 and 13. In 2014 he re-emerged, this time with the Chicago Cubs, but made his way to Atlanta in 2015, which is where he took off.
From 2015 to 2019, Vizcaino went 11-10 with a 2.79 ERA, striking out 191 batters in 168.0 innings (10.2 K/9) while earning 49 saves. His FIP was slightly less impressive over that span (3.47) thanks to a little higher number of walks (4.0 BB/9), but by all accounts, he was an effective MLB reliever.
He Possesses a Great Fastball and Wipeout Slider
As is a pre-requisite for a 21st-century reliever, Vizcaino is armed with a hard fastball. Each season from 2015-18 he averaged over 97 miles per hour with his fastball and sinker, topping out at an average of 98.4 MPH in 2015.
What is intriguing though is his slider. It’s much slower than his fastball, typically averaging 85-86 MPH during his big league career, which is quite a gap from his fastball. It also moves on a rather tight axis compared to what you often see from a wipeout slider.
However, that pitch is his deadliest. In his four full seasons (2015-18), batters hit .091, .157, .101, and .111 off his slider, with whiff rates over 50% in the last three of those seasons. At his best, that pitch is truly unhittable.
The Royals Have Succeeded With Bullpen Reclamations
Another reason this is an enticing signing is the track record the Royals have with reclamation projects out of the bullpen.
Perhaps the most notable example is Ryan Madson who was out of baseball for three years before signing a minor league deal and pitching in 68 games (with a 2.13 ERA) for the 2015 World Series champions, but even more recent, the list of pitchers the Royals have fixed is interesting.
After Tommy John Surgery and a very uneven recovery, Mike Minor had a strong 2017 that gave his career a kick-start. The following season, they took ineffective starter Wily Peralta and he posted a 3.67 ERA in the back end of the bullpen.
More notably, the Royals inked Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland in 2020. Rosenthal couldn’t throw strikes in 2019 and Holland was hanging on by a thread, but both of them made the Opening Day roster on minor league deals and served as the two Royals closers in 2020.
The Royals also deserve praise for finding Jake Brentz and Scott Barlow languishing in other teams’ minor league systems and plucking them on low-level deals and turning them into late-inning weapons.
Point is, while there are certainly plenty of failures among the bunch, in the volatile world of relief pitching, the Royals have found plenty of useful arms on the scrap heap
But There’s the Injuries…
If I had to list three concerns about Arodys Vizcaino, numbers 1A, 1B, and 1C would be injuries, injuries, and more injuries. The amount of time off he’s had is staggering.
The afore-mentioned 2012-13 where he didn’t pitch was the result of Tommy John surgery in March 2012, which was delayed by another arthroscopic elbow procedure that wiped out any shot at a 2013 return. He also spent time on the IL in 2016 with an oblique strain and 2018 with a shoulder issue.
The shoulder struck again with a vengeance in 2019, and less than a month into the season, he was lost for the year due to surgery for a torn labrum. With no minor league baseball in 2020, he did not pitch.
After signing with the New York Mets, he spent the 2021 season in Triple-A, but threw just 7.2 innings, with a three-month stint on the IL for an elbow issue and another month on the restricted list wiping out most of his season. While he was reported to be hitting 97 MPH when healthy, he wasn’t healthy very often.
As a result of all the injuries, Vizcaino has only pitched a total of 14.2 innings (including three innings in the Dominican Winter League this winter) in professional baseball since the beginning of the 2019 season. At this point in time, he faces similar questions to oft-injured Royals Adalberto Mondesi and Kyle Zimmer. You can’t assume he stays healthy and merely hope he somehow does.
That said, if the Royals can find a way to keep his shoulder and elbow fine-tuned and pain-free in 2022, don’t be surprised if he finds himself pitching critical innings out the bullpen at the big-league level. There are certainly question marks, but all the upside of a classic “low-risk, high-reward” signing.
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