Just imagine releasing a baseball and knowing that you just threw it 100 mph, pretty amazing feeling I assume. That feeling is what Juan Abreu must feel on a pretty regular basis since he can throw his fastball at that velocity. That simple fact is why organizations are willing to expend valuable resources on players like Abreu. The issue for Juan is not speed but the fact he has had a number of problems keeping his 100 mph fastball within the strike zone and because of that, has yet to smell consistent time at the major league level. That may be about to change because with a good spring, Juan Abreu might actually end up being a very important piece to the Astros’ puzzle in 2012.
Juan Abreu came over to the Astros as a simple spare part in the trade that sent Michael Bourn to Atlanta. He has a live arm but due to his age and control issues, the Braves felt he could easily be replaced. Truth is, with their system full of excellent young pitchers, he could. The Astros aren’t the Braves though, they don’t have many minor leaguers that can throw the type of fastball Abreu can. Greg touched upon his chances of make the squad out of spring training on Wednesday; he still has potential and that is something the Astros still lack in their minor league system, along with good old-fashioned velocity. Houston can take a chance with Abreu because the opportunity will be there to make an impact, especially when development is such a huge factor during this rebuilding season. On the Braves, it would have been a stretch to imagine Abreu making their bullpen anytime soon but on the Astros, he could end up the closer. With Mark Melancon in Boston, the closer role is up for grabs and Abreu has the type of raw stuff that makes him a incredibly tempting option to fill that spot. You see, closers come in all shapes and sizes but there is something about a flame throwing stopper that just feels right. You could blame Lee Smith, Billy Wagner, and Goose Gossage for that perception. A soft tossing pitcher could probably do a similar job but just isn’t as sexy.
Could we see Abreu closing games sooner than later? That will be up to him. His control has been an issue throughout his eight year minor league career and is why the Royals and Braves just simply couldn’t trust him. The Astros don’t have that issue, trust will be established through his play and so far the Astros like what they see. If Abreu could refine his secondary pitches, the sky could truly be the limit even without great control. A little wildness isn’t all that bad is it? I mean look at some of the closers around the league, you do have the control artists but you also see guys that don’t always know where their pitch might be going. Well, at least the thought is securely placed within the memory of the batters that must face extreme hard throwers who might not have the best control, it can be an advantage. Just how much depends on Juan, if he can master his secondary nastiness and get the ball over the plate just enough to have the hitter wish he was still on vacation then the Astros have found something.
We can fantasize about Abreu throwing fastballs past some of the current day titans all we want but it comes all the way back to Juan. Competition will be plentiful during spring training, just look around and you’re bound to bump into someone looking to take your spot. That’s the nature of playing on a rebuilding club, no set pieces and opportunity galore. Juan is exactly the type of player that could thrive under those circumstances. Abreu is relatively healthy, far removed from any major injures and coming off an excellent season in the minors in 2011. He also had a cup of tea with the big club and was able to show why teams continue to give him chances. He also showed why they do it with some caution, wildness. Imagine a bullpen with three gentlemen who all can bring it in the mid-90s along with a crafty veteran who knows how to pitch, that might be a manager’s dream come true. The crafty veteran might also be the reason Abreu doesn’t make the team out of spring training. Brandon Lyon will probably get every single opportunity to regroup and regain his closer role. If for nothing else, it could give Jeff Luhnow the opportunity to move him come July at the trading deadline. While Lyon might be the greatest reason Abreu isn’t closing games right away, there are others like David Carpenter, Fernando Rodriguez and Wilton Lopez. There is just something romantic about having your closer coming in throwing high octane gas and closing out a hard fought 2-1 victory. I admit, Abreu had me when I read he could actually blaze a fastball at such an insanely high speed.
I say why not give the guy a shot; why not attempt to discover the next great closer when your season will not produce a championship. What it could end up producing is careers. Jeff Luhnow said it himself, “more than one guy will have a breakout year,” and he is right, he has to be right. Every rebuilding club finds a diamond in the rough or two maybe three and Juan Abreu just reeks of a guy who given the chance, could become good or maybe even great. Give me a guy who can throw a high 90s fastball and can even touch 100mph on any summer day and I’ll give you at the very least, an exciting at bat or two.