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Can Huascar Brazobán complete amazing journey with MLB debut in 2022?

The Marlins’ first acquisition of the new year has risen from obscurity at age 32.

@gigantesdelcibao/Instagram

It’s not often that you can get excited about a relief-only pitcher who has a career 5.06 earned run average in the minor leagues. Maybe this is the lockout boredom getting the best of me...or maybe late-bloomer Huascar Brazobán genuinely has the potential to contribute to the Marlins in 2022. The journeyman right-hander inked a minor league deal with Miami earlier this week.

Currently across Major League Baseball, it’s trendy to rely on more arms than ever before. Teams churn their rosters incessantly to keep pitchers fresh and catch opponents by surprise. That opens the door for remarkable stories like Louis Head, who went from selling solar panels at age 30 to debuting for the playoff-contending Tampa Bay Rays at age 31. He pitched well enough out of their bullpen to entice the Marlins to trade for him earlier this offseason.

However, Brazobán’s road to The Show has been even more unorthodox.

Huascar Brazobán’s career pitching stats (all professional leagues)
Huascar Brazobán’s career pitching stats (all professional leagues)
Baseball-Reference

The 6-foot-3 Dominican signed his first professional contract with the Rockies organization as a 21-year-old, a half-decade older than most of his peers in that international amateur free agent class. He struggled to throw strikes in 2012 and 2013, and after missing the 2015 campaign due to injury, he was out of affiliated ball.

One year later, the Rockies gave Brazobán another shot. He spent the early portion of 2017 as their High-A closer. He didn’t allow a run through his first couple weeks at Double-A, but then pitched to a 7.40 ERA from June onward. His strikeout rate plummeted into the low teens. Soon after his 28th birthday, he again became a minor league free agent and hasn’t competed at any MiLB level since.

Brazobán didn’t give up. He joined the Dominican Winter League’s Leones del Escogido for the 2017-18 season, though he was limited to only two appearances. His control looked as good as ever in the independent Atlantic League with the Lancaster Barnstormers in 2018 (15 unintentional walks in 40 23 innings). Unfortunately, that didn’t translate to winter ball success with Tiburones de La Guaira (Venezuela) or Charros de Jalisco (Mexico), where he allowed a cumulative .370 batting average against.

Brazobán represented his native Dominican Republic at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru, then went off the grid for two years. The Barnstormers, who still owned his Atlantic League rights, traded him to the High Point Rockers. For most of the 2021 season, they stowed him away on the restricted list.

That is finally where Brazobán flipped the script.

In his debut for the Rockers on August 25, he allowed a home run to the very first batter he saw, but he faced 147 more in 2021—Atlantic League and Dominican Winter League combined—and kept them all in the ballpark. Brazobán’s ability to locate his pitches took a step forward and he generated more whiffs than ever. He worked 26 games this winter with Gigantes del Cibao, often in high-leverage situations, and only once surrendered multiple hits. Dominance.

According to the Atlantic League’s TrackMan system, Brazobán’s fastball velocity peaked at 97 miles per hour. The technology labeled his breaking ball as a cutter. He also mixed in changeups during most of his outings, even to same-handed batters. You can rewatch the majority of these outings on the High Point Rockers Baseball YouTube channel.

As mentioned up top, Brazobán is strictly a reliever. I see no evidence of him ever being the starting pitcher for an official professional game. It has been many years since he’s even been asked to make more than one trip through a lineup. Therefore, his upside is limited.

Even so, Brazobán is intriguing. Last year’s impressive run prevention and peripheral stats came in environments that were densely populated with former major leaguers. For Cibao, he frequently pitched on back-to-back days and did so effectively. There are no red flags in his platoon splits and seemingly no issues with him accepting a flexible role in the bullpen (entering in any inning and inheriting baserunners).

I doubt there will be room for the 32-year-old on the 2022 Marlins Opening Day roster—it’d take a combination of post-lockout trades that thin out their major league-ready pitching depth and a vicious spring training injury bug and Grapefruit League brilliance from Brazobán. But he’s a name to monitor at Triple-A Jacksonville and a legitimate candidate to make it to Miami eventually.