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Finding Value on the Scrap Heap: Junior Guerra

David Stearns' first acquisition as GM of the Brewers could be an intriguing talent to watch heading into next season.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When the Brewers claimed RHP Junior Guerra on October 7th, it wasn't a move that really jumped off the page. Guerra will be 31 when the 2016 season starts and only made his major league debut this season, throwing 4.0 innings in three appearances with the White Sox and allowing three earned runs. Though he doesn't immediately come to mind a candidate to make a rebuilding team, Stearns said of his newest talent"We talked to our evaluators, guys in our front office and he seemed like a fit. We liked some of the stuff coming out of his hand."

Guerra's career has been somewhat of an odyssey to this point. He was signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2001 by Atlanta. He was released by the Braves in 2007 and was picked up by the Mets, but was released in mid-2009 after serving a PED suspension. He then pitched abroad and in unaffiliated ball until this past winter, when a strong performance in the Venezuelan Winter League helped him land a minor league deal with Chicago.

In spite of his advanced age, Guerra's skills make him an interesting pitcher to have in the fold. According to a scouting report by Carson Cistulli of Fangraphs (who also featured Guerra in his "Fringe Five" on four occasions last season), Junior throws a fastball that sits around 91-94 MPH, a slider, and a split-fingered changeup (though Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball's pitch type stats can't seem to agree on how to define these offerings). He gets swings-and-misses with both of his offspeed offerings. His chanegup is supposed to be his best offering and breaks sharply down-and-in on right handed hitters. He throws it at a velocity about 7-10 MPH below his fastball. Below is a video of his filthy split-change making Irving Falu look foolish from the above mentioned Fangraphs piece:


Guerra's performances in the minor leagues this season were nothing short of astounding, given where he was even just a year ago. He posted a 3.13 ERA in 83.1 innings between AA and AAA, starting in 11 of his 31 appearances while also collecting seven saves. Though he split time between the rotation and bullpen, Guerra's ERA was more than a run lower as a starter and he was able to maintain his velocity deep into starts. His 3.06 FIP supports the strong results he produced and he struck out an incredible 31% of batters he faced, 105 Ks in all. He allowed just seven home runs while inducing grounders at an above average rate of nearly 49%. Guerra did see an uptick in his walk rate after being promoted to AAA, but his control hasn't been reported as a concern and he still produced a strong 3.18 K:BB ratio and 1.10 WHIP this season.

Since coming into the Brewers organization, the pitcher known as "Juni" (pronounced YUNI) has carried this success over into some excellent Winter League performances. Playing for the Tiburones de la Guaira in Venezuela, Guerra has made three starts and allowed just four earned runs in 17.1 innings. He's struck out 22 hitters (all swinging!!!) against just two walks, posting a WHIP below 1.00 and a 2.00 GO/AO ratio.

Given his age it's unlikely that Guerra will end up being a long-term piece for the Brewers' pitching staff, but he could still be a valuable contributor next season. While the first four spots in the rotation are likely all sewn up between the quartet of Nelson-Jungmann-Peralta-Garza, Guerra could compete for the final spot in the starting five with the likes of Zach Davies or Ariel Pena (and perhaps help keep the service time of those two and other young Brewers hurlers in check). He's also proven that he can be successful out of the bullpen and has had increased velocity on his fastball in shorter stints. If he doesn't make the starting rotation then he could thrive in that role, as well.

Nick Zettel of Disciples of Uecker recently discussed the necessity of having a multitude depth or "replacement" starters to cycle through a rotation during a given season, and our own Travis Sarandos suggested the importance of finding "buy-low" candidates during a rebuild in his piece on Dominic Brown from earlier this week. Though Guerra's not a traditional buy-low guy given his lack of big league experience, he could follow along the lines of Doug Davis or Marco Estrada: pitchers picked up off the scrap heap that provided strong value for Milwaukee. Guerra's a league-minimum player who looks like he has the ability to be a contributor for the big league club if given the opportunity. He could even perhaps bring back some value in a trade if he can perform anything close to the level he did in the upper minors this past season. What do the rebuilding Brewers have to lose by rolling the dice on Junior Guerra and trying to find out?