Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Villarreal was signed by Ramon Pena to a 2006 contract out of Venezuela in October 2005. He made his professional debut with the VSL Tigers in 2006, working in as both a starter and reliever. Of his 14 appearances, Villarreal made five starts and posted a solid 3.48 ERA despite an 0-2 record. Command problems hampered Brayan as he walked 20 in just 41 1/3 innings, though he did manage to hold opposing hitters to a .233 batting average.
The Tigers brought Villarreal stateside for the 2007 season, but his campaign was cut down after just one start for the GCL Tigers, as he required season ending Tommy John surgery on his right arm.
Back for the 2008 season, Villarreal came out strong with the GCL Tigers, firing one complete game in his six starts for the Tigers, and also making five relief appearances. Though he posted a 3.65 ERA and struck out a batter per inning, he was saddled with an ugly 1-5 record; tying him for third in the Gulf Coast League in losses. The Tigers promoted Villarreal to West Michigan at season's end, where he was touched up in his lone start for the Whitecaps.
Though you wouldn't be able to tell from his slight frame, Villarreal has one of the biggest arms in the entire organization. Throughout the fall instructional league and spring training, and on into the 2009 season, Villarreal's fastball has sat consistently in the 93-95 range, touching 97 regularly. At just six feet tall, he improbably generates a good downward plane on his ball, and he has some explosive late life. His command of the fastball has improved dramatically, and it is bordering on a plus attribute.
After starting his career with a curveball as his primary breaking pitch, the Tigers convinced Villarreal to switch over to a slider that works better with his arm angle and action. The slider has quickly become an above-average pitch for him, with solid two-plane break and late movement. The third pitch in Brayan's arsenal is a solid change-up that is an average pitch. He maintains his arm speed well, giving him some deception on a relatively straight change. His command of the change-up can be a bit shaky, but he has made strides keeping it down this year.
Villarreal is an aggressive pitcher that attacks hitters with his fastball and mixes his pitches well. He gets ahead in counts regularly and doesn't back down in any situation. The progression of his command and his change-up has helped him dramatically against left-handers. He has enough stuff to stay in the rotation long term, and he could excel in a late inning relief role as well.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A
Villarreal's arm has shown no ill effects from his prior operation, and he has been strong over the last two years. The oblique strain he suffered earlier this year with West Michigan is of no lingering concern. Despite his thin build, he has been durable this year, and may be able to stick in the rotation.
Though many are clamoring for Brayan to be tried at Lakeland yet this season, that is unlikely. He will play out the string with West Michigan, as they attempt to make a strong run at yet another Midwest League title.
Villarreal has gone from big time sleeper prospect, to one of the more highly thought of right-handers in the organization. Some in the organization believe he is poised to move very quickly, and it seems quite certain that he will be given a chance early in spring training to prove he can hack it in Double-A, with Lakeland as a fall-back option. The Tigers have a glut of arms coming up through the ranks, but few with the ceiling that Villarreal presents, and that could get him to Detroit in a big hurry.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.