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2012 Player Preview: Jairo Asencio

As we count down the days until the start of the season, we’re profiling every player on the Cleveland Indians’ Opening Day roster. Today, we turn our attention to one of the newest face to join the Tribe’s 2012 bullpen: Jairo Asencio.

Background: The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Asencio as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, when he was just 16 years old. In 2007 the Pirates released him and he signed with the Atlanta Braves; he made his MLB debut two years later. He missed the entire 2010 season dealing with visa issues after having assumed the false name of Luis Valdez (sound familiar, Tribe fans?) but returned in 2011. The Braves sold Asencio to the Indians just last week after it became clear that he would not have a spot in Atlanta’s 2012 bullpen.

Last year: The best word to describe Asencio’s Triple-A performance is “dominant.” He posted a 1.81 ERA and notched 26 saves as the Gwinnett Braves’ closer, fanning an impressive 70 batters against just 22 walks in 54.2 innings. He didn’t fare nearly that well in the majors, though: he earned a 6.97 ERA and a miserable 2.03 WHIP in 10.1 innings across three brief cups of coffee with the parent club.

Key factor: Making the transition to the majors. Asencio, now 27, has been absolutely lights-out in the minor leagues—he earned a 2.64 ERA, a 10.4 K/9 rate, and 53 saves in two years at Triple-A—but he’s struggled in his brief cups of coffee in The Show, with a 6.23 ERA and an 8:5 K/BB ratio in 13 innings. Obviously that’s far too small a sample size from which to draw any meaningful conclusions, but if the Braves had thought he had the stuff to make it in the majors they wouldn’t have given him away for nothing.

If Asencio proves that he can get MLB hitters out, he could have a spot in the Indians’ bullpen for years to come. If not, he won’t have long before the team turns to Nick Hagadone.

2012 projections: Courtesy of FanGraphs:

The projection systems don’t have a whole lot to go on here—it might seem like there’s a big spread here, but it’s not that dramatic considering how short and eventful his MLB track record is. The general takeaway is that he’s expected to be a moderately high strikeout guy who might struggle with his control a bit but should be an effective middle reliever.

Best-case scenario: You see his Triple-A numbers from last year? Well, that’s not happening in the majors, but even after adjusting for the superior competition there’s still a relief ace somewhere within him. He strikes out more than a batter an inning while keeping the walks down to a manageable rate, and as a result his ERA settles in the low-to-mid-2.00′s. He gets some Rookie of the Year votes and earns a permanent position in the Bullpen Mafia.

Worst-case scenario: You see his MLB numbers from last year? Well, positive regression should help him out there, but the underlying problems could remain. His BB/9 rate stays above 4.0 and he can’t get enough strikeouts to make up for it. His ERA floats around the 5.00 range and the Indians cut him lose before June.

Most likely scenario: Asencio really is a giant question mark; he has the least MLB experience of anyone on the 25-man roster, and he was a completely different pitcher when he dominated Triple-A than he was when he was struggling to get big-league batters out. The mean projection here looks like a good bet, but there’s a pretty big margin of error there.

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