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.
Rudie Verougstraete is the Cincinnati Reds correspondent at Prospects1500. He lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife Shelly who is the Washington Nationals correspondent. He has been an avid baseball fan since 2015, participates in multiple fantasy baseball leagues, and attends Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants AA affiliate) and Washington Nationals games whenever he can! His favorite baseball function is First Pitch Arizona, a fantasy baseball conference hosted by Baseball HQ every year just outside Phoenix.