Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Villarreal was a revelation for the Tigers in 2009, bursting onto the full-season scene with a strong year at class-A West Michigan. In 103 1/3 innings, Brayan posted a 2.87 ERA despite just a 5-5 record. In addition, he recorded 118 strikeouts against just 34 walks, and while he tired down the stretch, he still turned in a strong season with the ‘Caps.
His strong 2009 season came on the heels of his comeback season in 2008 where he notched a 3.65 ERA in his return from Tommy John surgery.
Villarreal went under the knife in 2007 after appearing in just one game for the GCL Tigers. The Tigers had brought Brayan stateside for the 2007 season after only one season playing for the Tigers joint squad with the Marlins in Venezuela. While in Venezuela, the then 19-year old
Villarreal posted a 3.48 ERA while working as both a starter and a reliever. His time on the hill spanned 41 1/3 innings, and while Brayan walked 20 and struck out only 23, he only allowed 35 hits in his first professional season.
Now healthy, Villarreal has flashed a big time fastball that belies his slender six-foot frame. He touches 96 at times, and routinely sits at 93-94 mph deep into games. He has developed above-average command of his fastball, working it to both sides of the plate with relative ease. He has improved his ability to work in the bottom third of the zone, but he can still get caught working up too frequently.
Brayan has one of the organization's better sliders backing up his fastball, and he isn't afraid to use it in any count. Throughout the 2009 season, he began to successfully use his slider to help set up his fastball late in counts; a sign that he is truly beginning to understand the art of pitching.
Villarreal also mixes in a third pitch, a change-up that he worked hard to develop and use more consistently in 2009. His change-up flashes average, and when its on, it shows some sink and arm-side fade. He had a slight tendency to over-throw the pitch instead of just letting the grip work for him.
Most observers believe Villarreal profiles better in the bullpen, as there are questions surrounding his ability to have the durability necessary of a quality starter. His fastball could play up slightly out of the ‘pen, and he could focus solely on refining his top two pitches.
He is very poised on the mound, but does flash a fiery intensity during the games most competitive moments. He reacts well to adversity, and it is likely his demeanor would let him thrive in a variety of roles.
To see Villarreal in action, view the scouting videos below:
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A
In his second season post-surgery, Villarreal clearly showed that his arm was strong and he had few – if any – lingering effects. While he lacked arm problems in 2009, there are lingering concerns about his season-long stamina and ultimately his durability. Because of his slight frame, Brayan will have to consistently prove himself and his ability to handle a heavy workload.
After a successful season with West Michigan in 2009, the next logical step is for Villarreal to be tested with an assignment to High-A Lakeland. There is a litany of candidates for the Lakeland rotation, and there is a slim chance Villarreal moves to the bullpen for at least part of the 2010 season. In a relief role, Villarreal could move very quickly, and possibly reach Double-A by the close of the season.
Ultimately, Brayan's durability will determine his role, and I believe he will end up in the bullpen, with a chance to work in the late innings. While he does not have the prototypical frame of a power pitcher, his arm strength will continue to earn him chances, particularly in an organization like Detroit where power arms a valued very highly.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.