On July 23rd, the Milwaukee Brewers sent veteran third baseman Aramis Ramirez to Pittsburgh in exchange for minor league reliever Yhonathan Barrios. The 23 year old Colombian was signed as an infielder in 2009, but after cobbling together just a .618 OPS through his first four seasons the Pirates converted him into a hard throwing reliever. The righty made it to AAA this season but didn’t put up particularly impressive results before the trade; he lacked a strikeout pitch despite being able to hit triple digits with his fastball. Considering he was eligible for minor league free agency following the season, Pittsburgh determined that they weren’t giving up much in exchange for some corner infield depth as they fought towards the playoffs.
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Barrios was the definition of a lottery ticket prospect: he possesses a live arm that automatically makes him and intriguing pitcher, but this is only his third season on the mound and his command and offspeed pitches needed refinement. Milwaukee assigned Barrios to AA Biloxi, and quickly got to work impressing the Brewers brass.
Prior to coming to Milwaukee, he had only managed about a 12.5% strikeout rate against a 10% walk rate at AA and AAA this season for the Pirates. His ground ball rate was a below average 42% in 40.1 innings. With Biloxi, however, Barrios threw 20.0 innings down the stretch, pitching to a 3.15 ERA/3.25 FIP and collecting six saves. His increased his strikeout rate to 19% while dropping his walk rate to 6%, and jumped up his ground ball rate to 49%. His 1.35 WHIP would’ve been much better had he not been hurt by a .344 BABIP and a tough luck 9.9 hits per nine innings.
Following the Shuckers heartbreaking loss in the Southern League championship series, the Brewers added Barrios to the 40 man roster and called him up to the big leagues along with five of his Biloxi teammates. Barrios has now made four scoreless appearances for the major league club, including a clean inning last night against San Diego. His fastball has averaged 97.61 MPH at the MLB level according to Brooks Baseball, and he’s been able to count his changeup as a weapon, as well. He’s thrown the change 32% of the time (while throwing his fastball 64%), getting good velocity separation with an 89 MPH average velocity. The pitch breaks “in” nearly eight inches on right handed hitters, and Pitch F/X already rates the pitch at 0.7 runs above average in a limited sample size. Batters have whiffed at the changeup 35% of the time and have yet to record a hit against the pitch. Barrios has done an excellent job keeping his changeup release point consistent with his fastball, as well.
Yhonathan Barrios vertical release point data, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
The results have been terrific so far for Yhonathan Barrios, who has now thrown 4.2 innings for the Brewers without allowing a run. He’s struck out six batters without issuing a walk, has allowed just three hits and induced a 50% ground ball rate. He’s impressed people within the Brewers organization as well as nationally. Now protected on the 40 man roster, Barrios appears to be a strong candidate to compete for a spot in the bullpen come next spring. For a “lottery ticket” guy that wasn’t expected to amount to much, he’s already exceeded expectations and could find himself as a fixture in a Milwaukee Brewers’ uniform for the next few seasons.