Last week, the Astros surprised some by protecting RHP Bryan Abreu from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster.
So why would the Astros protect Abreu, a 21-year-old late bloomer that hasn’t pitched above Low-A?
Despite signing as an international free agent in November 2013, Abreu didn’t make his stateside debut until 2016, pitching in 10 games in the GCL, mostly out of the bullpen, where he posted a 3.78 ERA while striking out 35 in 33.1 innings. His command was spotty, however, allowing 33 hits and walking 15 to finish with a 1.440 WHIP. Nevertheless, Abreu was promoted to the Appalachian League where he was promptly lit up, allowing eleven baserunners and seven earned runs in just 5.1 innings.
The 2017 season wasn’t much better, as Abreu again finished the year in The Appy, posting a 1-3 record, a 7.98 ERA, and a 1.705 WHIP in 29.1 innings via Baseball-Reference. However, in 2018, the 21-year-old put it all together.
In 14 appearances across two levels—-4 games in the New York-Penn League with Tri-City and ten games in Low-A Quad Cities in the Midwest League—-Abreu dramatically improved across the board, finishing with a combined 1.49 ERA, a 1.031 WHIP, and a staggering 90 strikeouts in just 54.1 innings.
Improved mechanics and the instruction received once he came stateside seem to be the difference. Besides the gaudy statistics, Abreu offers quite a bit to like.
Abreu isn’t imposing at 6’1”/180, but he has good mound presence and makes up for his slight build with tenacity and a very lively arm. Abreu has a three-quarter arm slot, and when he’s in control, his mechanics allow for a repeatable delivery. Abreu does, on occasion, have a head whip with his delivery when reaching back for more velocity on his fastball. However, it doesn’t seem to affect his ability to throw strikes with it. Still, it’s a mechanical issue that may need to be addressed.
Abreu has a four-pitch mix and can throw them all with confidence, supporting the belief that he could remain a starter long term. In the two games I saw him pitch in 2018, Abreu’s fastball, according to game announcers, sat 92-94, topping out at 95 or so and with arm side run that locks up right-handed hitters and produces weak contact, if the hitter was able to get wood on it at all. He’s not afraid to work it up in the zone and his ability to trust his secondary offerings allows his fastball to play up.
His slider comes in at 85-87 and mimics his curve at times but it frequently dives straight down as opposed to sweeping across the plate. When he’s on and repeating his delivery, it produces much swing and misses.
His curveball is a traditional curve that he throws in the low to mid-80s with moderate bend and is set up nicely with his other offerings. From what I saw, Abreu likes to use it versus left-handers, and his arm slot remains true, adding to the repertoire’s effectiveness.
His change is average, but I only saw him throw it a handful of times. He throws it 86-88, so there’s not a big difference in drop off from the fastball. However, it’s enough to keep hitters off balance and give them something else to think about, much in the same way Zack Greinke uses his changeup.
Abreu is definitely someone to keep a close eye on as he has the makings of a breakout prospect in 2019. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can simply point to the fact that this Low-A pitcher showed something special in 2018 and the organization felt the need to protect him.
On last Sunday’s Talking Stros, they came up with a compelling reason why Abreu was added to. Listen below.