Today the Twins designated Phillip Humber for assignment and claimed Juan Morillo off waivers from the Colorado Rockies.
Who is Juan Morillo?
Juan is a 25-year old righty from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, who was signed by the Rockies in 2001 as a 17 year old. He is a flamethrower. His main weapon is his fastball, that averages in the high 90s and occasionally hits triple digits. He has a 89-90 mph slider and a 88-89 mph "change up". His control has been a work in progress, and has been his biggest downfall. Additionally, lack of movement in his fastball has been pointed out. Thus the earlier comparison to Rick "wild thing" Vaughn from the movie "Major League".
Can Juan Morillo help the Twins?
Let's examine the facts:
His career minor league numbers are: 6 seasons, 183 games, 83 GS, 543 IP, 520 H, 262 ER, 326 BB, 519 K, which translate to 4.34 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 5.4 BB/9, 8.6 K/9 and 1.59 K/BB. He made the transition to a reliever in 2007. Also, from those 188 games, he spent 59 games in the Pacific Coast League with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (AAA). If we exclude his PCL games, and look at his numbers, they become 3.5 BB/9, 8.54 K/9, 2.43 K/BB, which is more palatable. In addition he held opponents to an encouraging .246 batting average (lefties: .247, righties:.246.) In his last season away from the PCL, 2007, when he pitched for the Tulsa Drillers of the Texas League (AA), he held lefties to a .161 and righties to a .248 batting average. Furthermore, in parts of 3 major leagues seasons he faced 44 batters of which he walked 4 and struck out 7. Another positive sign is that batters do not hit home runs easily off him. In 536 IP he allowed 32 home runs in the minors.
At some point, Colorado organizational scouts had ranked him higher than Ubaldo Jimenez when they were both with the Modesto Nuts (California League, A+), in 2005. Here is what a Rockies' scout had to say about Juan Morillo then:
I thought the emphasis on patience practiced in Midland would hurt Morillo, but his command looked much improved from the first time I saw him this season. It's hard to tell if his fastball moves because I could hardly pick it up through the black net. His fastball and the Midland starter's fastball were like night and day, and few hitters could get around to pulling the ball on Juan. Produced tons of weak liners, soft grounders and high pop ups. Only three balls put in play appeared to get hit squarely. Fastball was outstanding, but slider came and went. I liked that he pitched more for contact and went after hitters, because even a 99 mph-er down the middle is rarely struck well. Very promising start. He still has needs work, but he's a legit top ten organizational talent, and should reach the bigs and contribute in some fashion.
Will Morillo turn into a top notch set-up guy overnight? It is unlikely, but he is still 25 and if used appropriately he might surprise. He will be removed from the thin air of Colorado and the Pacific coast league, which does not allow a slider to break as it should. He will be moving to a league that no batter has faced him before. If he throws strikes and is able to get his slider over the plate, he will be a good addition to the club. A high reward, low risk situation, which shows that Smith is not afraid to do moves that help the club. It would be great, if Morillo turns out like the last pitcher Bill Smith picked out of the waiver wire: Craig Breslow.
Like Phillip Humber, Juan Morillo is out of options and has to stay in the Twins 25-man roster all season or be exposed to waivers. Morillo was assigned uniform number 31. The last pitcher who wore 31 was J.D. "The Real Deal" Durbin. Let's hope that Morillo performs closer to the first pitcher who wore number 31 for the Twins, Jim Perry.