Alfredo Aceves was signed out of the Mexican League in early 2008. It wasn’t his first time hooking up with a Major League team, the Blue Jays had previously signed him as an International Free Agent in 2001. He didn’t stick around there long, as Toronto sold his contract to the Yucatan Leones in the Mexican League in 2002. Then he just sort of stuck around until the Yankees international scouts (who are doing a really good job lately!) found him and brought him on board.
Last year he rose quickly through the minor leagues, as you expect a 25 year old mostly polished guy to do. You may remember he even came up and made two starts for the Yankees at the end of the year to relieve of us the agony of Darrell Rasner or Sidney Ponson or someone similar starting. In any case, through four levels of professional baseball in the US, he put up these numbers:
Not mind blowing, but pretty solid. Again, those numbers at A+ and AA just show how advanced he was compared to the rest of the league, which you hope for given his amount of polish and lack of upside.
After his 2008 season, Baseball America ranked him as the #7 prospect in the Yankees system (probably due to that polish and of course his proximity to the majors). They note that none of his four pitches grade as a plus but all of them are pretty good and because of this conclude that he needs a solid defense behind him. Their end note:
Aceves resembles Yankees 2006 first-rounder Ian Kennedy but features more command, pitchability and experience. He has a leg up on Kennedy and Phil Hughes for a rotation spot in New York in 2009.
This was, of course, written before the Yankees went out and signed AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia and brought back Pettitte but their scouting on him is pretty spot on. Their conclusion is faulty in that I don’t think the Yankees ever really considered Aceves as a serious contender for a rotation spot. Yes, he has solid pitches and very good command but they were looking for more than the average he could provide there.
So he started off the season at Scranton and was recalled for long relief in May. Since then, as anyone who watches knows, he has been doing very well. Why? Well, I am not going to pretend to give an in-depth Pitch F/X analysis or anything here but I think there are some of the more important factors:
- He throws strikes. Lots of them. Getting ahead of a hitter quickly puts even the best batters in a bind if you just pound the zone. If your stuff is good, like Aceves’, it will very often work in your favor.
- Even in relief, he uses all four of his pitches. Most relief pitchers really only have two: a fastball and something else. If their out pitch isn’t working, it’s hard to go to something else. Aceves doesn’t fit the prototype of a hard-throwing reliever, but that’s not always necessary if you can keep the batter on their toes. Especially if you are only seeing them once in a game.
- Since moving into a relief role with the team, he has a K/BB ratio of 4.14. Even though he doesn’t come in and strike out the side, he doesn’t give runners many free passes (his BB/9 stands at 1.75) which always helps prevent runs from crossing the plate.
- Although his peripherals have been good, he has been getting a little lucky. His BABIP is currently .249 and he is leaving 90% of runners on base. His FIP stands at a bit below 4 right now, which means he’s still pitching well enough but perhaps a little over his head. At some point, that 90% LOB% is going to drop though and he’s going to look human. It happens.
I really do think that Aceves will continue to be successful in a relief role with the Yankees. While you don’t normally see the more finesse types in that role, it clearly is working pretty well. He’ll normalize a little–you can’t avoid that, it happens to everyone–but as long as he has not atrocious defense behind him he should continue to bolster the bullpen.
He was a great find by the Yankees Front Office and their International Scouts, and after yesterday’s amazing 4 inning lockdown of the Blue Jays he deserves a standing ovation. All hail the Bullpen Ace.