EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a second round tryout post for prospective new BCB author Fred Hofstetter. You can see his debut post here. - KL
Back in August, Peter Gammons wrote this piece about a curiosity in the Boston minor league system, a 6'7", 245+ pound monster of a man closing games for the Portland Sea Dogs, the first AA action of his career at the age of 25.
Michael Olmsted, the archetypical underdog; drafted in the 9th round by the Mets in 2007, Olmsted blew out his arm in 2008, got Tommy John'd, rehabbed throughout 2009, got cut, and ended up signing with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan in 2010. However, with his mother's life fading due to cancer, he flew back to be home until she passed.
The thought of returning to Japan after the ordeal was less than desirable, so Olmsted asked for his release and moved back home to coach for Cypress College, his alma mater.
Olmsted felt he still had ability, decided to act on it, and got noticed by Boston VP and director of scouting Allard Baird, and a couple others - per Gammons:
Before the workouts, Jose and Ozzie Canseco, who were also trying out, approached Olmsted.
"You're a really big guy," said Jose.
"You're a pretty big fella yourself," Olmsted replied.
"When I scouted Mike, I thought he'd be 90-92 [mph], a worthwhile gamble," said Baird. "Little did I think he'd been throwing 97 a couple of years later."
"I touched 95 in the low Minors," says Olmsted, "but never regularly 97 like right now. It is amazing that the Red Sox gave me the chance. It's amazing, the work their pitching coaches have done with me."
Baird's gamble would pay off in a big way.
The strikeout rates jump off the page. Between A+ and AA last season, Olmsted produced a ridiculous 14.0 k/9 rate. The only pitcher to even crack 12 k/9 at either level Olmsted pitched was Kyler Newby of the Bowie Baysox in the AA Eastern League. While Olmsted's 20 innings in AA are a limited sample, he's hovered around the 14 number at every level he's been at since signing with Red Sox in 2011.
High strikeout rates are often accompanied by high walk rates due to either an inability to control a max-effort delivery or a strikeout-based approach centered on getting hitters to swing out of the zone, but Olmsted does a remarkable job limiting free passes (2.3 BB/9, 2.8 in 2011) while striking out just about everybody and only allowing under 6 hits/9.
Since his return to professional ball in America, Olmsted's WHIP has never been at or above 1. In fact, it's never really been close. The highest WHIP he's posted in the last two seasons has been .918 in 28.1 IP in 2011 with the Greenville Drive, Boston's Low-A squad.
Presumably, he is death on right handers, with the aforementioned mid-to-upper 90s fastball coming on a severe downward plane complemented by an excellent hard slider - the prototypical power relief skillset. Sox Prospects has footage of game action, which shows a ¾ delivery, some wicked glove-popping, and a delightful "Welcome to the Jungle" warm-up highlighted by a potent mustache.
He throws hard. He throws strikes. And so far, they miss bats. A lot.
The Boston Red Sox apparently had no place on their 40-man roster for him this offseason, so he elected to sign with the Brewers instead, who happily penciled him in to their own. 28 other teams probably would have done the same.
So, um . . . why, Boston?
Alex Speier calls him the victim of a "roster crunch". We could also call it bad timing.
The Boston pitching staff, at the moment, appears awfully deep; the rotation is set: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, and Felix Doubront. Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves are being stretched out to provide depth should there in case of injury.
The bullpen, on the other hand, is absolutely loaded: Andrew Bailey is back, accompanied by newly acquired Joel Hanrahan, Daniel Bard, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Clayton Mortensen, and above-average lefties Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller.
Britton is a left-handed 23-year old starter who's been so-so since being promoted from low-A ball in 2011. Wilson was a 2nd round pick in 2009, now 25 years old, who had significant success in AA in 2011 as a starter, but was converted into a reliever in 2012, posting a not-so-beautiful 1.5 WHIP. Steven Wright is a 28-year old knuckleballer acquired from the Indians for expired prospect Lars Anderson. After two mediocre years in the Indians' minor league system, Wright had an excellent 2012 spent mostly in AA, posting a 1.264 WHIP with a high walk rate counteracted by a very good 7.0 h/9 rate.
While none of these three are blow-the-door-off-the-hinges talent, Britton and Wilson are home-grown players to which Red Sox brass are likely partial, and Wright might as well be Tim Wakefield, whose pitching style was, in a sense, re-validated by an incredible season from R.A. Dickey.
If Olmsted does not take precedence over these three, he certainly wouldn't be kept before Rubby De La Rosa or Allen Webster, two key pieces of the mega-deal which shipped Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers. Not only are they both near MLB-ready pitchers that would crack most teams' top 10 prospects list, but their role in justifying the trade itself will presumably draw extreme patience from Red Sox management.
The Red Sox, according to Speier, did show a willingness to keep Olmsted. But, even if they managed to retain him on a minor league deal without placing him on the 40-man roster, they knew he would have been selected in the Rule 5 draft.
Ultimately, Boston's plan was to pursue established veteran relievers (Uehara, Hanrahan) for 2012, prioritize the protection of other younger choice prospects (Britton, Webster, Wilson), and preserve starting pitching depth (Wright, Morales, Aceves).
So, Olmsted saw no reason to stick around for a party to which he'd never be invited, and in swooped the Brewers.
Health pending (tenuously, at that), five spots are secured in the Brewers bullpen, with 2-3 up in the air, 1 more very likely to go to Brandon Kintzler, and the final spot(s) will be determined by who cracks the starting rotation.
Olmsted will very likely have to blow away a few more minor leaguers before a promotion is in order. However, he may have a legitimate chance should the Brewers go with a 13-man pitching staff to open the season.
Regardless, no player in Spring Training piques my interest quite as much as Michael Olmsted, and I'm anxious to see him attack some Major League hitters for the first time. If the numbers are any indication, it could be quite a show.