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The Next Cuban Phenom: Raisel Iglesias

If you’re searching for a great trade target in dynasty leagues this off-season, then Raisel Iglesias is the player for you. What does one look for in a dynasty trade target? Ideally, they’d be young, at a discount, lacking name value, and have upside.  There’s not too many players out there that check off all those boxes, but Iglesias is one. The Cuban import is 25 and has appeared on a top prospect list just once.  Despite being the owner of 95.1 career innings of 4.15 ERA ball, Iglesias has substantial upside if everything goes right.  Iglesias has the talent to be a special player, and he’s flown under the radar for 95.1 innings too long.  It’s time to learn the name Raisel.

Like, Max Kepler, who I profiled last week, Iglesias has an unusual background. The Cuban import was signed to a seven-year, $27 million deal by the Reds in 2014 as a 24-year old.  Unlike many pitching prospects that take the opposite route to the majors, Iglesias went from a relief pitcher in Cuba to a starter in the United States. He was projected by many to be a bullpen arm, but the Reds saw the potential for more. So far, it looks like a brilliant move by the organization, as Iglesias has smoothly transitioned to the starting role. There’s still relief pitcher risk, but either way the righty should provide plenty of value.

Last season Iglesias blew away expectations, which admittedly weren’t overly high.  He recorded a 4.15 ERA, 9.82 K/9, and 2.64 BB/9 in 95.1 innings (16 starts). Iglesias shined after returning from a midseason demotion, with a 3.82 ERA and 2.98 xFIP once he was called back up. His K/9 ranked 12th in the major leagues, in front of players like Jacob deGrom, Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, and David Price. His BB/9 wasn’t as impressive, but considering that one of his biggest question marks going into the season was control, it could have been worse.  After all, his 2.64 mark that was 73rd in the majors ranked better than Chris Archer, Michael Wacha, and Shelby Miller. Even more intriguing, it appears that Iglesias dealt with some bad luck, indicated by his 3.28 xFIP, 3.26 SIERA, and 3.78 DRA. Based on numbers alone, Iglesias has the potential to break out big time in 2016, with what could be an elite strikeout rate and strong ERA, especially if he can reign in the walks.

Going deeper into Iglesias’ profile uncovers even more exciting information. Something truly unique about Iglesias is the ability to alter his arm slot, but still have reasonable command. The inconsistencies within his delivery are deliberate, though it can bring up some problems with his control.  That said, the positive impact far outweighs a few more walks.  To better visualize this ability, here’s his release point on a graph compared to two Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann (click here for full size):

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It isn’t too hard to see where Iglesias differs. He has the ability to change where he releases the ball, while still locating the pitch well in the strike zone. Not only does this aid his movement, but it also makes it harder for the batter to pick up the ball.

Iglesias also possesses an exciting array of pitches. His two most frequently used pitches are a sinker and fastball.  The sinker is a solid pitch, but nothing overly special. It offers above average velocity at around 92 miles per hour, and a 6.8 SwStr% is also solid (the league average is about 5.4%). The results on the pitch have been decent at best, though, with a .402 slugging against.  The same could be said for his fastball, which has about average velocity but also features an above average 8.0 SwStr% and similar .400 slugging against.

Things start to get exciting when we get to Raisel’s secondary pitches. His changeup had a ridiculous .188 slugging against and near-elite ground ball rate at 69.23 percent, which was third best in the majors. As a comparison, the pitch had 8.58 inches of horizontal movement and 2.56 inches of vertical movement, while Felix Hernandez’s legendary changeup had 6.33 inches of horizontal movement and .87 inches of drop last season. His changeup—the fourth pitch in his repertoire—has more movement than what may be Felix Hernandez’s best pitch. Obviously this doesn’t mean Iglesias has the better pitch overall, but the comparison does shed some light on how nasty his changeup is.

Iglesias’s favorite pitch to strike batters out is his slider. The pitch had a well above average 19.9 SwStr% last year, and his whiffs per swing percentage was 42.58%, 10th best in the majors. It has a whole lot of movement, and hitters could only muster a .179 batting average against it in 2015.  (Note: I changed from slugging percentage to batting average for the slider, as it’s high home run per fly ball ratio was a result of bad luck, skewing his slugging percentage.) One thing that makes Iglesias so special is his combination of pitches. At just 25, his repertoire is incredibly well-developed, with four offerings that are all at least above-average, and two, the slider and change-up, which are at least plus pitches.

I talked about how flexible Iglesias could be with his arm slot early, and he has proven to be just as limber with his pitch usage.

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There’s a reason why you can’t see any trend from outing to outing in his pitch usage. Iglesias has shown the willingness to change how often and which way he uses each pitch, depending on his feel for each offering and the opponent. This ability is not something that should be overlooked—it’s an impressive quality for the young righty to possess.

Iglesias is a very intriguing player, but naturally, he does have some concerns going into next year. The first of which is his arm slot. I already mentioned that it could hurt control, but another problem may be that the different arm angles could become a tip-off for hitters. There’s no way to know if this will become a problem, but it’s something to keep an eye out for. The other main issue comes from Iglesias’s background as a relief pitcher. Previously accustomed to pitching in short spurts, Iglesias understandably has had some trouble maintaining velocity late into games.

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The 6’ 2” pitcher isn’t exactly small, but a 185-pound frame can’t be helping Iglesias’ stamina. Some muscle gain this off-season could ease this concern, but for now it may force his manager to pull him earlier in games. The relief pitcher history also increases Iglesias’ possibility of ending up in the bullpen. Keep in mind: before this year the majority of scouts saw him as a late inning reliever.

Despite some of his shortcomings, the fact remains that Raisel Iglesias is a very impressive pitcher.  He has unique qualities found with very few other pitchers, such as differing arm slots and an ever-evolving pitch mix.  Iglesias’ biggest weakness right now is his control, but some improvements in that facet of his game and a bit better luck could make Iglesias an asset in 2016. He’s a player worth targeting in trades, as most dynasty owners view him as a top-60 to top-80 pitcher, not the top-30 status he could achieve. Even here at The Dynasty Guru, Iglesias was ranked at 490 out of 500 dynasty players.  He’s undervalued everywhere, and that needs to change. Iglesias could be one of the biggest breakout pitchers in baseball next year, and it’s time to buy some stock in him before it’s too late.

The Author

Ben Diamond

Ben Diamond

Ben is an annoyingly enthusiastic fantasy baseball player and Yankees fan, and he writes about those passions at Baseball Prospectus and The Dynasty Guru. There's a 95% chance he's ranting about Michael Pineda right now.

3 Comments

  1. Foltzie
    January 3, 2016 at 9:27 am — Reply

    I can’t read about Raisel without dieing a bit inside, but this was a good read. I had Raisel in a dynasty league last year, and he wasn’t doing well, and I needed the roster spot…..you see where this was going.
    It didn’t feel right to drop him, but he was promptly scooped up and started dealing. And now he’s mentioned on every podcast I listen to and website I read.

  2. January 8, 2016 at 9:10 pm — Reply

    I love me some Raisel Iglesias and am trying to acquire everywhere I can. The one thing I worry about is the team he plays for. The Reds are going to be terrible, so I can see Iglesias pitching like an ace yet winning only seven games all year.

  3. […] in 2015, to just outside the top-50 as a starter on this year’s list. He heads into 2016 as a trendy sleeper, capable of striking out more than a batter per inning and holding down the walks. He may be on an […]

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