No. 3 Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Fort Myers Miracle
Nate’s Rank: 3, Gary’s Rank: 3
The Twins hit it out of the park when they signed international pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol at age 16 for just $150,000 in 2015. The Venezuelan right-hander was assigned to the Dominican Summer League where he pitched only 11 innings, posting a 2.45 ERA, with 17 strikeouts and one walk before suffering a tear to his right ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) which required Tommy John surgery.
The injury sidelined Graterol not only for the bulk of his first season as a professional but also the entire 2016 season. Instead of it being a major setback, he turned lemons into lemonade.
Rehabbing both arm and body with great determination, Graterol returned in 2017 much bigger and throwing much harder. Phil Miller laid out the details last October in Baseball America which includes a quote from Twins VP of Player Personnel Mike Radcliff (Subscription required).
"Graterol didn’t cost the Twins much when they signed him as a 16-year-old in 2015, mostly because “he was just a really skinny guy throwing about 87-88 (mph),” Radcliff said. “We liked his pitches, but he’s one of those guys who you just can’t predict a transformation like this.” The “transformation”—surgery, maturity and 60 pounds of muscle—has produced, after missing all of 2016, a pitcher who occasionally hit 100 mph this season at Rookie-level Elizabethton."
Listed at 170 pounds at the time the injury, though his stats now show his weight at 180, Graterol looks every bit his reported 225 pounds. And it’s a muscular build around his 6′, 1″ frame, better suited to the strong power aspect of his game.
While restricted to pitch count and innings limits, Graterol managed to conquer the rookie leagues in 2017. Starting out with the GCL Twins, 2.5 years younger than the league average for pitchers, he put up a 1.40 ERA in 19.1 innings, ten hits, 21 strikeouts and four walks, with a WHIP of 0.72. Graterol went on to pitch 20.2 innings for Elizabethton, giving up 16 hits, striking out 24, walking nine, for an ERA of 3.92 and put himself high on the Twins prospect radar.
Bumped up to Class A Cedar Rapids to start the year, Graterol dominated Midwest league hitters with a 2.18 ERA in 41.1 innings, giving up 30 hits, 41 strikeouts, nine walks, and a WHIP of 0.94. Assigned to Class A+ Fort Myers in late June, posts a 3.38 ERA over 56 innings, surrendering 59 hits, with 52 strikeouts, and 19 walks against league pitchers averaging four years his senior.
Graterol’s performance in 2018 has earned him ranking in the midseason Top 100 MLB Prospect lists, and he continues to climb. MLB.com now has him sitting at #78 overall; Baseball America (subscription required) had Graterol at #92 in June, and FanGraphs ranks him #99.
Baseball Prospectus ranked Graterol #46 among MLB prospects in their Midseason Top 50. They note that 2018 draftees and eligible players on major league rosters were not included. Their comments:
"Why he’ll succeed: An upper-90s fastball will grab anyone’s attention. Throw in two distinct breaking balls and well, baby, you got a stew going. The slider is the better of the two, and has flashed plus, and his changeup has even earned above-average marks at times. That’s a lot of good pitches. Why he might fail: At 6-foot-1, he’s not the tallest guy in the world, and sometimes high-octane arms that lack plane end up in the bullpen. Also, he’s a pitcher."
Graterol just turned 20 years of age this past Sunday. He will likely be promoted to AA Chattanooga where he will again be over four years younger than the competition. If healthy his workload will rise from the 100 or so innings he will pitch this season, but there will likely still be restrictions in place to protect his golden arm. He had two stints on the 7-day disabled list but neither was cause to worry about that arm. One of the stays involved a hand injury from sleeping on it the wrong way. Nonetheless, his health will be a special concern for the time being.
Brusdar Graterol has the chops to be a future ace for the Twins. There is a lot to be excited about. That said, projecting stardom for a 20-year-old pitcher is dicey. With 159 strikeouts against 39 walks in 142.2 innings, Graterol has already shown excellent power and control. The key to success will be developing a strong command of the strike zone.