Samba Pitching: Andre Rienzo

On May 17th of last year Yan Gomes of the Toronto Blue Jays became the first Brazilian to ever appear in a Major League Baseball game. Chicago White Sox prospect Andre Rienzo is a strong candidate to be the second – and the first pitcher.

The Breakdown

Rienzo would break another barrier if he makes the majors. The 25 year old grew up playing baseball in Brazil. That differs from Gomes, who moved to the U.S. as a kid and played college ball for the Tennessee Vols before transferring to Barry (FL). Teams don’t typically scout Brazil heavily, but the White Sox uncovered this South American gem and quickly got him under contract. Rienzo’s progress through the lower levels of the Chicago farm system was sure and steady… until he was hit with a 50 game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He claims he bought over the counter supplements that triggered the positive test. Upon his return from suspension Rienzo’s stuff and performance improved. He finished up the 2012 season strongly. He then went to the Arizona Fall League to get some more innings and had one of the better showings in the league. So far he hasn’t had a great start to 2013, but the peripherals aren’t bad and he performed well in the game I attended.

Rienzo uses both 2 seam and 4 seam fastballs. The 4 seam was roughly 88-91 (92) mph when I saw him, which is a bit down from the low to mid 90’s I had heard and was expecting. Neither fastball has a whole lot of life and the pitches are far too hittable – at least at those velocities. Lack of life on the fastball is a common problem for pitchers like Rienzo who throw from a high, nearly over the top arm slot. He does keep good plane on the fastball and keeps it down, but it was an issue of him having more control than command. Rienzo has a sort of unusual repertoire coming out of that arm slot. His best secondary is a cutter that has a lot of late action to it. The cutter was thrown around 83-86 mph, which doesn’t leave a lot of separation from the heater. I found it odd that he ended up throwing a cutter with that arm slot as his primary offspeed, but he definitely has a talent for it. Rienzo does employ a circle change too, but it wasn’t an offering he had a lot of faith in. He used the change mostly against left-handed hitters and a few flashed well. The breaking ball is a big curve thrown around 76-78 mph. Rienzo’s feel for the pitch came and went and it had inconsistent shape, break and location.

Rienzo has quality stuff. He’s someone I would say is capable of starting but that I think is probably best utilized out of the bullpen in the long term. The fastball just is too hittable and his command of it isn’t great. I also liked Rienzo better out of the stretch than the windup. He seemed to go through periods of rushing his delivery using both deliveries, but he was more fluid and had better rhythm out of the stretch. The curve can be a useful major league pitch, but all of Rienzo’s secondary pitches play better when hitters aren’t seeing them three times. He is capable of starting and seeing some success in the rotation. I’d expect to see an up and down back of the rotation starter. While useful in that role, I’d like him even better pitching the 7th or 8th inning.

The Path to Playing Time

The White Sox 2013 season hasn’t gone as planned. They’ve already suffered long term injuries to rotation mainstays Jake Peavy (broken rib) and Gavin Floyd (Tommy John surgery). John Danks is also working his way back from injury. Dylan Axelrod, Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago are all currently taking a turn every fifth day. The White Sox will likely need guys to take innings at some point this season. The three arms on the 40 man roster most likely to get a look are Rienzo, Simon Castro and Nestor Molina. Rienzo could get a chance shortly.

  • On 40 Man Roster: Yes
  • Options Remaining: 2 (1 used for 2013)

What to Expect

  • Mixed League Value: Marginal. Worth using if he’s on a hot stretch and in the right matchup.
  • AL Only League Value: Solid. The kind of guy who can fill out a staff, but you might drop if he’s on a cold stretch. Adds some in every category.
  • Ottoneu Value: Marginal. Not a standout anywhere but solid all over. Pick your spots and he can be helpful.

Thanks for reading -AS

Thanks to Bill Wanless and the Pawtucket Red Sox for courtesies extended

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Al Skorupa writes about baseball & baseball prospects for Bullpen Banter and Fangraphs/Rotographs. He lives in Rhode Island. He watches & videotapes a good amount of amateur and minor league baseball. You can follow him on twitter @alskor.

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Will Erik Johnson get a look for a rotation spot? Has great numbers a level below Rienzo.