ALTOONA, Pa. – The Pirates weren’t really expected to get much for Arquimedes Caminero last year. They dealt the right-handed reliever on August 6th for two players to be named later. He had a few years of service time remaining, and decent numbers for a middle reliever. The best you could have hoped for was a wild card or two, with one player eventually turning into a decent prospect.
That may be happening, and it might be happening a lot sooner than expected.
The Pirates eventually received left-handed pitcher Jake Brentz and right-handed pitcher Pedro Vasquez in return for Caminero — who was released by Seattle in December so that he could play in Japan. Vasquez has been putting up some good numbers in Bradenton, but Brentz is the guy who really opens eyes. He was moved to the bullpen this year, and saw an uptick in his velocity, sitting in the upper 90s and touching 100 MPH frequently. That velocity, paired with some improved control in Bradenton, led Brentz to look like a prospect, and led the Pirates to promote him to Altoona this week.
“Brentz coming out of the bullpen is electric with his fastball,” Bradenton manager Gera Alvarez said last month. “He’s working on some secondary pitches. I think more importantly, he’s throwing the ball over the zone. From the left side, throwing 97, 98, 99, throwing strikes, it’s overpowering. We’re happy he’s a Pirate.”
Brentz has been working mostly off a fastball/slider combo, although with a fastball in the upper 90s from the left side, you don’t need the second pitch as often. The key for him is staying ahead in the count and not trying to over-throw. He saw drastically improved control this year in Bradenton, but did have a stretch where the control was off. He was falling behind in the count, and the Pirates wanted him to just be aggressive with hitters, using his over-powering stuff to pound the zone, rather than working near the edges.
After a few bad outings, Brentz got back on track, walking just one batter in ten innings over his final seven appearances in Bradenton. That was similar to the results he showed early in the season, prior to the rough stretch in the middle.
“This year I totally changed my mindset,” Brentz said after his promotion. “Getting traded over here to the Pirates was a big thing for me, and I’m very fortunate to be with them. Just going out there and having fun, and trying to get that one pitch and get that guy out, not worrying about anything else.”
The promotion to Altoona began with a hiccup. Brentz walked three batters in 1.2 innings, running into control problems in both frames on Saturday night. He saw two straight 3-0 counts with two outs in his first inning, then saw the control problems get worse, walking two in the second inning and leaving the bases loaded with two outs. He was missing big in some spots, and was getting hit hard when he was around the zone.
I wouldn’t totally ignore the outing, but there are a lot of factors here that could have made Brentz struggle. It was his first appearance in Double-A, and it appeared that he was over-throwing at times, with Altoona manager Michael Ryan saying that he looked a bit excited. He was also pitching in front of more fans than he ever had in the Florida State League, with over 6,000 fans in attendance last night, compared to about maybe 600 on a good night in the FSL.
There is also the factor that Brentz went multi-innings in two straight appearances. He’s only had two games this year with more than two walks, and both came in his second straight multi-inning appearance. Brentz is new to being exclusively a reliever, so you’d expect some adjustments as he transitions from a single inning reliever to a guy who can go multiple innings.
Altoona will be a big test for Brentz, giving a better indication going forward of whether he can be a legit prospect or a guy with great velocity and poor control. He demonstrated better control in Bradenton, showing some effective wildness at times, but having much improved results overall. That will be more difficult in Double-A, as he goes up against more advanced hitters, and it will only get harder the further he moves up the ladder. The jump to Double-A is the first big test for a pitcher, and how Brentz responds to this test over the long-run will give a good preview of what type of upside he has as a future MLB reliever.