When it comes to developing relief pitchers, the Chicago White Sox have been on a roll. From Addison Reed and Nate Jones in 2012 to Jake Petricka this season, the White Sox have found the right guys to pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
Kevin Vance will be the next big thing in the bullpen if things keep progressing the way they have to this point.
Featuring what Baseball America's Phil Rogers deemed the best curveball in the minor leagues, Vance put up some quality numbers in 40 games at Double-A.
He went 2-6, compiled a 3.91 ERA and finished with 84 strikeouts in 69.0 innings. As I noted in a previous column, his win-loss record and ERA are bloated thanks to three straight appearances in which he gave up a total of 13 earned runs in only 2.2 innings.
More impressive than what could have been, though, was Vance's 3.13 FIP (fielder independent pitching), .210 BAA (batting average against) and .293 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), per FanGraphs. Each of those metrics measures out very well for a Double-A pitcher.
As strong as those numbers are, however, Vance must limit the scope of the aforementioned bad outings and improve on his 2.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. To be sure, throwing strikes is the most challenging thing for a reliever whose best pitch is a curveball, but when harnessed, the curve is what makes him dominant.
Accolades and critiques aside, the onus is on Vance to deliver sustained results.
There is a tumultuous offseason ahead for the White Sox, and some of the young bullpen arms may find themselves in a different uniform next year. Simply put, general manager Rick Hahn would be foolish not to field offers for guys like Reed and Hector Santiago. After all, they are the greatest trade chips he has after Chris Sale and Avisail Garcia.
That makes Vance’s development this offseason that much more important.
Consider for a moment the ramifications to the pitching staff, for example, if Reed is part of a trade this offseason to improve the White Sox lineup. That would leave Jones and Matt Lindstrom as the only two pitchers with a guaranteed spot in the bullpen when the 2014 season opens.
Others have been given the opportunity and failed. Brian Omogrosso and Leyson Septimo come to mind as recent call-ups who failed to seize upon the chance to lock down a long-term spot.
Unlike them, however, Vance is grounded in a diversified approach on the mound and does not rely too heavily on just one pitch. Yes, the curveball is his specialty, but his fastball and changeup are also excellent. It is all about control for the University of Connecticut product.
If he can generate some solid momentum this fall, he will go into spring training next year on the inside track for a spot on the 25-man roster and the chance to make a name for himself.
His last time out, the right-hander gave up three unearned runs in three innings during the Barons' Game 1 victory over the Mobile BayBears in the Southern League Finals.