Brusdar Graterol turns 21 next Monday. The Twins should give him one heck of a birthday gift at some point soon — a promotion to the big leagues.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
A young reliever lighting up the radar gun at Target Field with fastballs topping 100 miles per hour smack dab in the middle of a pennant race.
Come on, turn the kid loose.
“I think everyone’s a possibility,” manager Rocco Baldelli said diplomatically about potential September call-ups.
For those unfamiliar with Graterol, he’s the top pitching prospect in the organization and the 56th-ranked prospect overall in Major League Baseball, according to MLB.com. He’s so highly regarded because he shoots flames out of his powerful right arm.
The Twitter account of the Class AA affiliate in Pensacola reported that Graterol unleashed a pitch clocked at 103.8 mph over the weekend. Maybe that figure was 100% accurate, or maybe it was embellished slightly by a friendly radar gun. That’s a distinction without a difference.
As former Twins shortstop Roy Smalley noted as a comparison, what’s the difference if the temperature is 9 or 10 degrees in winter. It’s really cold either way.
Graterol throws really hard, and that alone sounds alluring given the issues with the Twins bullpen.
The Twins promoted Graterol to Class AAA Rochester the day after he touched 103 on the radar gun in two hitless innings. If all goes well there, that should be a pit stop more than destination since teams can bring up reinforcements in a few weeks.
The organization improved the bullpen at the trade deadline, but imagine adding a reliever who can challenge hitters with triple-digit fastballs. Few pitchers anywhere throw as hard as Graterol. That creates an excitement factor that the front office is trying to temper.
“We’re not going to force anything,” General Manager Thad Levine told the Star Tribune on Friday. “We would only promote someone if we thought he could genuinely contribute, [and that decision] has certainly not been made.”
Nobody benefits from a prospect being rushed too quickly, of course. Graterol’s health and performance should dictate all decisions. He had Tommy John surgery at age 16, and he missed two months this summer because of a shoulder impingement, returning only recently.
But if Graterol feels strong and he tackles Class AAA in the same manner as lower levels (2.42 ERA and 223 strikeouts in 208 innings), the Twins should use September as an audition/warm up for the postseason. Get Graterol experience in relatively stress-free situations to see if he can handle a more important role in October.
Is the timeline unrealistic? Maybe. But maybe he becomes their pitching equivalent of Luis Arraez, a young player who pounces on his opportunity. If he struggles or shows he’s not ready, hey, it was worth exploring.
“I’ll remain noncommittal as well,” Baldelli said. “But it’s been fun to watch him come back [from shoulder problems] and throw the ball the way he has. That’s been a very positive turn of events. He’s an exciting young arm.”
There is something awe-inspiring about a pitcher who throws triple digits. Perhaps because so few can do it. Twins reliever Trevor May joked recently that he expected a plaque honoring his arrival into the 100-miles-per-hour club.
Graterol’s velocity hits that mark routinely, which has created a buzz of anticipation. This isn’t a common occurrence for the organization, a guy who throws that hard, and at such a young age. He’s still in the developmental stages as a pitcher with plenty to learn about his craft, but organizations can’t teach 102 miles per hour.
Graterol was a 15-year-old the first time Fred Guerrero, director of Latin American scouting, saw him at the Twins academy in Venezuela.
Graterol’s fastball topped out at 84 mph, but the ease with which he pitched gave Guerrero confidence that Graterol’s velocity would improve as he grew physically.
“I just didn’t think it would be 101, 102,” Guerrero said.