For my last two articles, I highlighted two guys who made pretty big impacts in 2019. For this article, I’m going to be looking at a more under the radar guy who only pitched 8.2 innings in the majors in 2019, but has the potential to provide great late round value in 2020. Bryan Abreu isn’t an unknown prospect; as he was widely regarded as one of the Astros top five prospects after his breakout 2018, where he struck out 90 batters in only 54 IP. His 41.9 K% in 2018 was the highest of any non-reliever with at least 50 IP in the entire minor leagues, so people were intrigued to see how Abreu would build on his success in 2019. At the beginning of the year it looked like more of the same for Abreu, as he sported a 42.4 K% through his first three starts at A+. Following this third start, the Astros decided to get aggressive and promote him to AA, despite him having less than 50 IP at full season ball. In hindsight, I think this move was a bit questionable, as Abreu still has some command issues that I think he could use more time working out at the lower minors, but this move also made it clear to me that the Astros had more interest in Abreu as a reliever. 

Abreu showed signs of brilliance at AA, but overall struggled to adjust, posting a 5.79 ERA and a 15.0 BB% in his first 13 appearances. Abreu was seeing time as both a reliever and a starter, but even when he pitched in relief he was getting about 3-4 innings. In the middle of his stint at AA, the Astros called Abreu up due to lack of available arms, and he pitched a 1-2-3 inning against the Indians, but he was sent back to AA afterwards. The overall numbers for the season still look good, with a K% of 32.2%, but the command issues and hitability at AA were definitely reasons for concern. 

When the AA season ended and the rosters expanded for September, the Astros decided to call up Bryan Abreu and insert him into their bullpen. 8.2 IP isn’t a big enough sample to determine anything, but for reference let’s just take a look at some of Abreu’s stats. 

ERA WHIP K% BB%
1.04 0.81 40.6 9.4

Again, I can’t stress enough that 8.2 IP is not even close to a big enough sample size, but it’s still nice to see Abreu fare well in his first exposure to the majors. What really gets me excited about Bryan Abreu is actually watching him pitch. Abreu is one of the rare pitchers that has not one, but two elite breaking balls. With elite spin, movement, and velocity, Abreu’s curveball and slider are both straight up nasty pitches. I put together this chart to highlight some of the key peripherals on these two pitches:

Pitch Avg. Spinrate wOBA xwOBA Whiff Rate Velocity Horizontal Movement vs Avg. Vertical Movement vs Avg.
Slider 2736 RPM .109 .187 64.5% 86.6 MPH 55% 26%
Curveball 2986 RPM .086 .095 50.0% 85.3 MPH 39% 15%

Just for reference, the “movement vs average” stats are Baseball Savant’s way of measuring how much more movement a pitch gets to others at a similar velocity. What this means is that Abreu gets 55% more horizontal break and 26% more vertical break than similar sliders. Among all 709 pitchers in the major leagues, Abreu’s curveball ranked 19th in spinrate, and his slider ranked 54th. In terms of vertical movement, both his curveball and his slider rank in the top 5 among all major leaguers in vertical movement vs the average, with the horizontal movement for both also being well above average. Essentially both his slider and his curveball are among the best pitches in all of baseball.

What makes both of these pitches even more nasty is how well they play off of each other. While curveballs are usually considered to be much slower pitches than sliders, Bryan Abreu throws more of a power curve, which averaged 85.3 MPH, just 1.3 MPH slower than his slider. Both pitches also have elite spin, so when they’re coming in at almost the same speed they’re extremely hard to distinguish from one another. Despite how similar they may look out of his hand to a hitter, his curveball averages about 11 more inches of drop, making the hitter’s margin of error tiny when he throws these pitches. This two pitch combo is very similar to his teammate Ryan Pressly, one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, who also throws a power curveball which comes within 2 MPH of his slider.

Where Abreu runs into trouble is when he throws his fastball, which he threw 32.2% of the time in his short debut in the majors. Abreu has solid velocity, sitting mid 90s, but his spinrate and movement are both extremely average, and he isn’t able to miss bats with it very often, as evidenced by his 15.8 whiff%. In the very small sample size he had, Abreu allowed a .494 xwOBA on his fastball, and it’s worth mentioning that his fastball was usually the pitch that he ran into trouble with at AA. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Astros lessened his fastball usage moving forward, and encourage him to throw more curveballs.

For fantasy purposes, Abreu’s value really depends on your league for 2020. The Astros still have Osuna and Pressly at the backend of their bullpen, so I can’t see Abreu getting many save opportunities, but I can easily see him providing solid ratios and elite strikeout numbers. I can see Abreu being the 3rd option in the Astros pen, where he’d be in line to get a fair share of holds, so if you’re in a saves+holds league Abreu could be a very underrated option and could provide great value as a late round pick or even a waiver wire option. In dynasty leagues, Abreu is about as good as you can get at the RP position, and he’s still available in most leagues. I think Abreu is going to be an elite RP down the line, and I personally think he’s a lot better than a guy like Andres Munoz who’s been talked about way more this year. If you’re in a dynasty league you should 100% get Bryan Abreu if he’s available, and if you’re in a league with a saves+holds format (which you should be because it’s better), then I also highly recommend picking him up.

 
  1. Grey

    Grey says:
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    Great post, man! One of those guys that is so wildly under the radar

    • Will Scharnagl

      Will Scharnagl says:
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      Thanks! It’s crazy how guys like Munoz and Karinchak have gotten tons of hype while I think Abreu is better than both

      • Grey

        Grey says:
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        Yeah, honestly wasn’t that hip to Abreu but now interested in him for deeper leagues for ratio help

  2. Malicious Phenoms says:
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    Astros 4th rated prospect, have him on my dynasty team, hoping he can become an SP. Needs to be able command his fastball and look out for the Astros next ace.

    Loved this writeup!

    Thanks

    • Will Scharnagl

      Will Scharnagl says:
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      Appreciate it!

      I’m a big fan but I think his days as a starter are done. Even outside of command his fastball is very average and the lack of a changeup makes it even harder for him to start. I think it’s very likely that he stays as a RP

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