When the Brewers hired David Stearns no one knew what to expect, accept the most basic assumptions regarding the rebuild. So when his first move as general manager was to scoop up off waivers a 31 year old pitcher who had all of 4 innings at the major league level, no real insight was provide. But perhaps the flurry of moves to follow can help inform our opinion of that first move.
I speak for myself here, though I imagine a number of Brewers fans will agree, but I think every move David Stearns has made in the effort to rebuild this club has been incredibly interesting. He's made 8 trades so far, the most recent trade of Jean Segura being the biggest. In addition to Junior Guerra, Stearns has claimed 3 other players, 5 if you count Garin Cecchini and Rymer Liriano. Not a single move has he made that I've disagreed with and most have made me quite happen--not the least of which was the acquisition of Garin Gecchini whom I've had my eye on for years.
So if I've been so enamored by every other move David Stearns has made, that probably means I should take a second look at Junior Guerra. The 31 year old RHP was originally signed by the Braves in 2001 as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela. He spent three seasons in the Braves minor league system, but didn't pitch much. From what I can tell, he didn't pitch at all in 2007. He spent some time in the Mets' system during the 2008 seasons. Then from 2009-2014 he bounced around foreign leagues and the independents.
You're reading that right. He spent six year out of affiliated ball--unless you count the Mexican league in 2012. All of that time and he never gave up on playing baseball. His perseverance would pay off when the White Sox signed him to a minor league deal in 2015. He split the season between AA and AAA and was...actually quite impressive.
That's an impressive strike out rate. And even though the walk rate more than doubled when he got to AAA, he still showed an ability to miss bats as evidenced by his opponent batting average. There are two things we should be aware of though. This is a small sample size and Guerra was old for the levels he played at. It's possible his gaudy numbers are an illusion. But until he proves that one way or the other, it's hard not to be intrigued.
With two minor league options remaining and actually quite a lot of bullpen options, I think it's likely Guerra begins his 2016 season in AAA. But given his age and level of experience, I'm sure we'll see him in Milwaukee at some point. That is assuming he doesn't become a DFA candidate. However he's lasted this long and seeing as he was David Stearns first move--not to mention the minor league options--I bet he sticks around for a while. At least long enough for the Brewers to get a good look at him in-season.
He did pitch in 4 major league innings last year. The results--which weren't good--don't matter as 4 innings isn't even close to being enough of a sample size to judge anything. However it is enough to give us an insight into his repertoire. According to PITCHf/x his four seam fastball sits around 94 mph. So despite his relative age he still has good velocity. He backs up his fastball with a slider and a curveball (or split finger depending on who you ask).
With his solid velocity, if either the slider or curveball/split-finger are major league average or better pitches, and he commands them well enough, he could very easily slot into a major league bullpen. We might begin to learn the answers to those questions in spring training. If he answers them in the positive the Brewers will have yet another quality reliever to add to their underrated bullpen. And with the cost of relievers these days, David Stearns first move could turn out to be just as savvy as his subsequent moves.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs