It goes without saying that the only certainty about minor league prospects is that there are no certainties. Some guys that look promising for a few seasons in the lower levels just can’t adapt to higher level pitching or hitting, and some that are ho-hum at the lower levels finally make that breakout change that clicks and they go off at AA or AAA. And then still others are just not clear-cut one way or the other and end up a roller coaster of sorts as they move up the ladder. One Reds prospect that’s been a challenge for me to forecast is RHP Vladimir Gutierrez. I currently have Gutierrez ranked 37th on my Cincinnati Reds Top 50 prospects heading into the 2020 season.
I was quite down on Gutierrez last year with the poor numbers he put up; in 137 innings, he posted a career worst FIP (5.72), K% (19.2, down from 23% in ’18), walk rate (7.9%) and his lowest swinging strike rate (9.3%, down from 12.9 the year prior). I watched a few video clips of him pitching and didn’t like his fastball which seemed flat as a board, and saw only flashes of some nice secondary stuff.
The problem with my initial assessment of him was that I didn’t really get a decent sample size in terms of watching him pitch. At the time, I dismissed him as only a reliever going forward, maybe a swing man, based on just a few innings worth of video.
However, my view of him has changed somewhat after my wife and I decided in January to subscribe to Minor League Baseball TV (MiLB.tv). That has allowed me to get a much better look at Gutierrez. Having watched multiple starts from 2019, I believe that the key to future success for Gutierrez comes down to finding and establishing a more consistent arm slot/release point, and having the confidence to throw his breaking stuff more often, and further refining his changeup. As you can see from the GIF below, he clearly has a nasty curveball that just drops right off the table. Unfortunately, his fastball tends to be flat, and, although I can’t say for sure what his hard contact percentage is due to limitations with the availability of minor league game data, I have to imagine it’s higher than one would like to see. So, getting down to brass tacks, in my estimation Vladimir Gutierrez is a starter, though more of a back of the rotation 4 or 5; at worst, if he settles about where he is currently, I could see him being a swing man who could spot start and eat a few innings if need be.
Before the Spring Training shutdown and MLB season delay announcement came this week, Gutierrez had been struggling some this spring. Through 5 games (2 started) he tossed 6.2 innings, gave up 12 hits and 7 runs (5 earned) with 6 strikeouts (no walks). That was good for a 6.75 ERA and 1.80 WHIP. If Gutierrez can make the aforementioned changes to his mechanics, then I think we could expect to see him make a few major league appearances beginning this September (he was promoted to AAA last year), and perhaps more in 2021.