Earlier this week we wrote about Tejay Antone, the Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect who was scheduled to start the first game of spring training on Saturday. Earlier today it was reported – first by Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer – that the start would now be going to pitching prospect Vladimir Gutierrez instead – but Antone would still be pitching in the game, just out of the bullpen.
Tejay Antone is still expected to pitch tomorrow. Just a change in the starting pitcher. #Reds
— Bobby Nightengale (@nightengalejr) February 21, 2020
Much like we noted with the write up on Tejay Antone, he’s never been in the Major Leagues and while Vladimir Gutierrez is probably not going to make a run at a rotation spot in the spring – he’s a guy that could be seen at some point in the 2020 season. So let’s take a look back at how he got to this point.
Cincinnati signed Vladimir Gutierrez in September of 2016 as an international free agent. He had defected from Cuba after he pitched in the 2014-215 season in the Cuban National Series for Pinar del Rio in their bullpen as an 18-year-old. The right-handed pitcher was given a $4,750,000 signing bonus and in 2017 he joined the Advanced-A Daytona Tortugas rotation for his first go in professional baseball.
That 2017 season was one that was a tale of two halves. He missed more than a year after he defected from Cuba, so it’s unsurprising he took a little bit of time to get going. In the first half of the year he posted a 5.08 ERA – though he did have good peripherals in that frame with 11 walks and 69 strikeouts. In the second half his ERA dropped to 3.69 while maintaining a low walk rate, but his strikeout rate did drop off.
In 2018 it was another slow start for Vladimir Gutierrez – this time in Double-A Pensacola. Through the first two months of the season his ERA was sitting at 6.75 with 10 home runs allowed in 11 starts. But in the final 16 starts of the season he was dominant, posting a 2.92 ERA in 92.1 innings with 96 strikeouts and just 23 walks. It was a strong turn around.
Last year it was another slow start for the Cuban-born Gutierrez. In both April and May his ERA was over 8.00. His strikeout rate in those months was lower than it had been in the past, and in May the juiced baseball started rearing it’s ugly head as he allowed seven homers during the month in just 26.0 innings. Things did improve some in June, but they still weren’t ideal as he gave up another seven homers in 32.1 innings with a 5.01 ERA. July saw his ERA jump up to 6.00 over five starts with six more home runs allowed. In August he would put together the lone strong month he had – posting a 3.74 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. Overall though he gave up 26 home runs in 137.0 innings with a 6.04 ERA. You can check out his Baseball-Reference page here for full stats, including some from his time in Cuba.
The game on Saturday isn’t going to be available to watch on television (but you can listen to it on the radio – 700 WLW in the greater Cincinnati area – or on the MLB app with a subscription). So unless you happen to be in Goodyear to take the game in, you won’t be able to see Gutierrez in action this weekend. If you are there – consider the rest of the folks reading this jealous. But there’s a chance we’ll get to see Gutierrez pitch at some other point this spring on television.
A quick scouting report on Vladimir Gutierrez will have him featuring a 92-94 MPH fastball that will touch a little bit higher some days. The pitch can be a bit straight, though, and it’s his worse offering of the bunch. He will mix in an above-average curveball with 12-6 breaking action that works in the mid-70’s. The third pitch he brings to the table is a change up – it’s a solid offering now, but shows flashes of an above-average pitch. Here’s a quick video clip from his 13 strikeout performance that capped off his 2019 season:
That start was the end of a strong run of five starts in August for Gutierrez where he struck out 39 batters with just 10 walks in 28.2 innings. When he’s at his best he’s got all of the pieces to project as a future starting pitcher. But there are times when he looks a tad more like a reliever who could have his stuff play up in shorter stints.
For Gutierrez, it’s likely that he’ll begin the season back in Triple-A Louisville and pitching out of the rotation. There he can potentially be insurance for the big league rotation, while working to put together a stronger, more consistent year than he had with the Bats in 2019.