Signing a former first-round pick who’s never quite reached the potential of his draft status to a minor-league contract? That’s the sort of low-risk, high-reward move that general manager Jerry Dipoto will always make if the opportunity presents itself because as Dipoto once said, “some team once thought enough of that player to draft them where they did”
On Monday, the Mariners announced they had signed right-handed pitcher Taylor Guerrieri to a minor-league contract with an invitation to major league spring training, which starts Feb. 17 with pitchers and catchers reporting for mandatory physicals. He went to MLB spring training with the Rangers in 2020, but was not part of their 60-player pool when the season resumed in July.
Guerrieri was a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. Taken with the 24th overall pick out of Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, he had a fastball that could touch 98 mph with a nasty, biting curveball. He was projected as a top-10 pick, but some off-field incidents in high school dropped his draft stock.
In 2012, he appeared in the Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects at No. 90 and moved up to No. 62 before the 2013 season. In his first 26 minor-league starts, he struck out 96 batters in 119 innings with just 17 walks. But his status as a top prospect started to regress. He suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow requiring Tommy John surgery on July 23, 2013, and was suspended for 50 games in 2014 after testing positive for a drug of abuse.
He returned for a full season in 2015, posting a 5-3 record with a 1.85 ERA in 18 starts and two relief appearances. After going 12-6 with a 3.75 ERA in 26 starts and two relief appearances at Class AA Montgomery in 2017, Guerrieri suffered an elbow injury in 2018 and made just two starts at Triple-A Durham. He was designated for assignment by the Rays that offseason and was claimed by the Blue Jays. He spent most of the 2018 season with AAA Buffalo, posting a 2-2 record with a 5.18 ERA. He made his MLB debut that September, appearing in nine games as a reliever and posting a 4.66 ERA in 9 2/3 innings pitched.
He signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers before the 2019 season. He was called up in July and made 20 MLB relief appearances, posting a 5.81 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 22 walks in 26 1/3 innings pitched.
So why take a chance on a pitcher with no real MLB success besides being a former first-round pick? He has legitimate MLB stuff. His curveball is, well, “the most elite curveball in the game” according to Rangers manager Chris Woodward’s comments to the media last season. From a MLB Statcast standpoint, Guerrieri’s curveball had average spin rate of 2,998 revolutions per minute, which ranks in the top 10 of all of baseball. The average MLB curveball spins at a rate of 2,515 revolutions per minute. The higher the rpm the sharper the break and movement and the more difficult to hit.
In 2019, he threw his curveball 218 times — more than any other pitch — with batters hitting just .167 against the pitch and producing swings and misses 31.9% of the time.
But it seems as though the curveball is Guerrieri’s only pitch.
Conversely, his next most used pitch, the sinker, was thrown 211 times with opposing hitters batting .367 against it while swinging at it and missing just 9.3% of the time.