Minor league relievers rarely receive attention on these pages. Minor league relievers celebrating their 34th birthday the week of Opening Day with fewer than 50 career big league innings receive even less attention. I hope that I can be excused for making an exception for Winston Abreu, because here goes nothing.
Abreu spent the last two seasons primarily with the Durham Bulls (Tampa’s Triple-A team) after returning from a successful stint in Japan. To say his numbers are ethereal is an understatement: Abreu racked up more than 106 innings while fanning 159, walking 37, and giving up five home runs in a rare level of domination.
He did appear in the majors ever so briefly during the 2009 season. After Jason Isringhausen suffered a season-ending injury, the team chose to promote Abreu, and thus prevent him from exercising an opt-out clause in his contract. Two appearances later, the Rays designated him for assignment before trading him to Cleveland (for Jon Meloan) where he would go on to make three more appearances, running his big league career total to 38. Cleveland also designated him for assignment, but Abreu took less money to return to the Rays’ organization.
For a smart team like the Rays to turn a blind eye to Abreu’s stunning visuals must mean something is up. Best I can tell, there are two blemishes with Abreu. The first is difficult to tell through his minor league statistics, but his fastball command is off. The velocity is there (Baseball Info Solutions has his career fastball velocity at 92 miles per hour) and his slider is a worthwhile secondary pitch, but the fear is that he will be susceptible to major league hitters by falling behind in the count. The other issue concerns his brief time in the majors and is his home run rate. The mendacity of 40-something innings makes it hard to take Abreu’s career 2 HR/9 too seriously. Neither of those issues appear in Abreu’s minor league track record, which makes his major league offerings even more suspect.
With an emptying pen, Toronto will probably give Abreu a look in the spring. It’s hard to say whether Abreu will be able to make the most of the opportunity and finally approach the 50 innings plateau, but it’s even harder to say he hasn’t earned the opportunity.