Is Arquimedes Caminero Next?
One of the most fascinating under-the-radar spring training story-lines has been the evolution of Arquimedes Caminero with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not only does the 27-year-old reliever share a name with the legendary Greek mathematician, but he possesses some of the most electric stuff of any reliever in baseball. The problem, which ultimately led the Miami Marlins to deal the flame-throwing right-hander in early February, after he was designated for assignment, was that he more trouble locating his pitches than a replacement-level stormtrooper.
Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage and special assistant Jim Benedict are widely renowned for their abilities to refine their pitchers mechanics, and get the most production out of the pieces they are handed by general manager Neal Huntington. There are plenty of success stories like Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, and even Edinson Volquez last season, just to name a few.
Caminero, who is out of options, and vying for one of the final spots in the Bucs bullpen, may prove to be one of their biggest challenges yet. Caminero’s present situation might as well be the script for a Hollywood-style movie. He appears destined to either evolve into one of the games most feared relievers this season thanks to his power arsenal or fade into the abyss of minor league obscurity.
I’m not about to drop a Dellin Betances comparison on him because they are completely different pitchers, and I’m not sure anyone can do what he did last season again, but Betances dealt with a lot of similar issues (mechanics, repeating his delivery and control) early in his career before he put it all together last year. Caminero needs to slay similar dragons if he even wants to stay in The Show.
Caminero struggled mightily at the Major League level last summer, racking up a 10.80 ERA along with a ghastly 5.40 BB/9 in six appearances. He spent the bulk of the 2014 campaign in Triple-A where he went 4-1 with 10 saves, posting a 4.86 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 30 walks in 63 innings. The strikeout stuff (11.29 K/9) was there last year, but the control (4.29 BB/9) still has a long way to go. That’s where the Pirates magic comes into play this season.
As you can see from his Brooks Baseball pitch usage chart from his brief stint in Miami last season, Caminero relies primarily on his fastball, which he can crank up into the triple digits when he rears back, averaging over 96 mph on the offering last season. When you’re throwing that hard, you don’t need stellar breaking or off-speed pitches, but thats what separates the truly elite relievers from the guys who just throw hard. The progress Caminero makes on the slider and changeup under Searage and Benedict will determine whether or not he is a future closer or just another guy.
The results in Pittsburgh have been extremely encouraging so far. Caminero has not been scored upon in five appearances (six innings) giving up just four hits while striking out nine and perhaps more importantly has issued just one walk. Its not unreasonable to say that he’s been the best relief pitcher in baseball this spring. I know what you’re thinking, spring training stats don’t matter. For most established veterans, that statement is true, but there is mounting evidence that we can gain some valuable insight from some spring stats, especially for unproven commodities like Caminero, it may be a harbinger of a breakout campaign.
“He’s opened eyes,” manager Clint Hurdle told MLB.com last week. “The velocity gets your attention, but he needs to throw strikes. He’s one of the guys who’s come in and shown plus-velocity and thrown strikes — and that’ll get anybody’s attention.”
Caminero is out of options this spring, and the Pirates would certainly lose him after the way he has pitched, if they tried to send him down, exposing him to waivers. Caminero is likely to make the Opening Day roster and have an impact this season, but remains a work in progress according to an interview with Benedict by David Todd of SB Nations Bucs Dugout on March 8.
He came in with the mindset that he was willing to make some adjustments with us. As you well know and the industry knows, we are going to make those adjustments to suit our needs, as well as the player’s, short and long-term, and introduce (them) to the things that they might not know about themselves. Caminero comes in here with a delivery that’s got a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of velocity, a lot of arm speed. We’ll take away certain things in the delivery, add certain things in the pitch arsenal. Make it simple for him. He’s a dead reliever, not going to start. So it’s not like we’re teaching him to go 35 pitches, 45 pitches, or go deep into a game. This is going to be more … real simple, get the velocity, get a breaking ball, some of the things that maybe he wasn’t willing to do with the Marlins or they didn’t explore. One of the things I really like about acquisitions is when you’re the second club that gets a guy, there’s a lease on life, there’s a fresh start. This is a great spot for him.
There isn’t any updated PITCHf/x data from Caminero’s 2015 outings yet, but it will be interesting to see if the regular season data backs up the strong early results, and if we can see some evidence of the mechanical changes that Benedict is talking about in regards to simplifying, and repeating his delivery (release points etc), which should help improve his control and overall effectiveness.
Every season a reliever or two like a Betances or Ken Giles seemingly comes out of nowhere and emerges as a stud fantasy option. Given the outstanding track record of Searage and Benedict and the unlimited raw potential Caminero has to work with, we could see some magic in the Steel City this summer. At the very least, Caminero deserves to be on your radar in deeper dynasty formats as we near the start of the 2015 regular season.