Name: Richard Bleier
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: April 16, 1987
Acquired: 2008 Amateur Draft, 6th round
Richard Bleier introduced himself to professional baseball with a solid summer at short-season Spokane in 2008, posting a 4.02 earned-run average in 62.2 innings. He allowed less than a hit per inning , threw strikes [14 walks] and missed some bats .
Still, after that performance, Bleier didn't get much recognition because advanced college pitchers often dominate the Northwest League.
The southpaw began to turn heads with his five appearances in Single-A Hickory to start the '09 campaign. There, Bleier surrendered just three earned runs in 23.2 innings for a 1.14 ERA.
Bleier earned a quick promotion to High-A Bakersfield, where he was up-and-down overall, but he eventually figured things out and finished on a high note. As his first full season progressed, he lost a tick of velocity, but he was still able to improve.
In his final seven appearances (six starts) with the Blaze, Bleier posted a 2.85 ERA with four walks and 28 strikeouts in 41 innings.
"My sinker is working," Bleier told LoneStarDugout in late August. "I'm really locating well down and away and throwing pitches in off the plate. I'm not going to overpower people, so I just have to keep hitters uncomfortable by throwing in off the plate and throwing offspeed behind in the count."
Bleier was also able to succeed because his changeup improved by leaps and bounds throughout the course of the season. In fact, the changeup was probably his biggest development stuff-wise in 2009.
"I've been throwing my changeup a lot," he said. "Throw it 1-0, 2-0, 3-2 and stuff like that. If the hitter is looking fastball and I throw a changeup, I get a bunch of groundouts. If they look changeup, my fastball looks a lot harder than it really is because they're looking offspeed."
During his collegiate career at Florida Gulf Coast University, the prospect generally relied on his fastball, curveball and slider. Since entering the Rangers organization, Bleier has dropped the curveball and developed an advanced feel for the change.
"I started [throwing the change] when I got to pro ball last year in Spokane," Bleier said. "My first start there, I just figured it out. I threw a changeup and I was like, ‘Oh, there it is.' It was just like that.
"As weird as that sounds, I struggled in college with my control of it. I was a fastball-curveball-slider guy. And I dropped my curveball because it was pretty inconsistent."
Now, Bleier throws all three of his pitches for strikes, and he works down in the zone with all three. That generally leads to low pitch counts, and it allowed him to lead the organization with 167.1 innings pitched last season.
"Even when I've struggled and given up runs, I still don't throw many pitches," said Bleier, who often gets swings early in the count. "I rarely have those ten-pitch at-bats. People always put the ball in play early–real early to a point where I don't even have a chance to strike people out. That's definitely my game."
Also See: Sizing up the left-handed starter prospects (November 11, 2009)
Bleier a model of efficiency (August 22, 2009)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Dave Chavarria (August 21, 2009)
Bleier pounding the strike zone (March 25, 2009)
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball: Bleier's fastball managed to be both impressive and disappointing during the 2009 season. When the Rangers drafted the southpaw in 2008, he was known for his upper-80s, low-90s fastball [usually in the 88-91 mph range], but it dipped into the mid-to-upper-80s late in the '09 season. Even without the velocity, Bleier was able to remain successful in the hitter-friendly California League by attacking the strike zone early and often with his heavy fastball, leading to plenty of early outs and low pitch counts. In one late-season start against Inland Empire, Bleier tossed eight innings on just 85 pitches while working between 85-88 mph with his fastball.
Bleier has excellent command of his sinker, as he consistently pumps it down in the strike zone and works both corners well. The fastball helped him get over 2.2 groundouts per flyout last season, and he walked just 24 batters in 167.1 innings. Many pitchers lose some velocity during their first full season, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him re-gain the 88-91 mph fastball next season.
Other Pitches: Coming out of Florida Gulf Coast University, Bleier's most advanced offspeed pitch was his slider, but the changeup took some major steps forward in 2009, and it's now his second-best pitch. As the season progressed, he got more comfortable with the change and began throwing it quite a bit more than his slider. Bleier began to gain enough confidence in the pitch to where he was using it [and commanding it well] against both left- and right-handed hitters. The fastball-changeup combination is part of what helped him rack up so many ground balls in '09–as hitters constantly rolled over both pitches.
The slider has some potential, but it remains a work-in-progress. Bleier's slider has good side-to-side break and depth and he commands it well, but the mid-70s breaking ball needs to be tightened up and it could stand to be a bit sharper. Still, he has a legitimate opportunity to possess two secondary pitches that are at least of average big league quality.
Projection: Bleier doesn't have a particularly high ceiling, but his strong three-pitch repertoire and pitchability give him a chance to become a solid contributor in the Majors. The prospect has a ceiling of a starting pitcher that can efficiently rack up innings, and he obviously has a much better chance to do that if his velocity returns at least to the consistent upper-80s range. Bleier proved he was durable in '09 by leading the organization in innings pitched, and he could most likely be suited for a spot-starter or long relief role should he reach the big leagues. If Bleier does move to the bullpen down the line, his improving changeup could make him more than just a situational lefty.
2010 Outlook: The 22-year-old's strong finish in Bakersfield last season [3.04 ERA over his final 47.1 innings] should give him an opportunity to compete for a Double-A rotation spot in Spring Training. Even if he doesn't begin the 2010 season in Frisco, he'll almost certainly spent a significant amount of time there. Like most prospects that rely on movement and command, the upper levels of Double- and Triple-A will provide a huge test for Bleier, and it will ultimately decide whether or not he has the stuff to pitch at the big league level.