Throwing a small object past a man holding a stick and standing 60 feet away doesn’t sound all that tough. But when the object has to land within an area slightly larger than three square feet and the man holding the stick has muscles the size of your head…. Well, there’s a reason I write articles about this stuff instead of start for the Yankees at $30 million a year. Pitching is hard. Anyone who throws a pitch in the major leagues is incredible.
Conventional wisdom dictates that starting pitchers are, by and large, even more incredible than relievers. They throw more pitches, they have better command, their stamina is unrivaled. So when a starting pitcher prospect fails, the first course of action is usually to try pitching him out of the ‘pen. It’s hard to remember now, but before Andrew Miller and Mariano Rivera became Andrew Miller and Mariano Rivera, they were taking the hill every fifth day and posting ERAs above 5. Brewers fans are familiar with this concept. Will Smith used to be a starter. Tyler Thornburg, too. Questions have been raised about Josh Hader’s future in the rotation. And Phil Bickford’s. And Jorge López’s. And so on.
All of which is to say that to be a pure relief prospect in the minor leagues is to occupy a pretty low rung on the organizational ladder. Bullpen prospects simply aren’t as valuable as their starting counterparts, and relievers can be cut at the drop of a hat to make room for a more proven commodity; just ask Tyler Cravy. But look around a big league bullpen, and you’re bound to find a few arms that muscled their way to the show without ever gracing an organizational prospect list.
Which brings us to Tristan Archer. The Brewers selected Archer in the 21st round of the 2013 draft out of Tennessee Tech. Throughout his professional career, Archer has exhibited an uncanny knack for run prevention. He made his professional debut for Helena in 2013, working to a 3.08 ERA over 38 innings. Since then, he’s climbed through the farm at a level-per-year clip.
His CV over the last three years:
A few things stand out here. First, the comical: Archer rattled off three consecutive years with a 3.42 ERA. But take another look – Archer’s DRA has steadily dropped, bottoming out at a sterling 1.39 last year in AA. He’s added one strikeout per nine innings each year. And at the same time he’s added whiffs, Archer has become a control freak, walking less than one batter per nine in Biloxi. But he’s never sniffed a prospect list.
Nonetheless, Archer is up to his usual tricks so far in 2017 (with statistics through May 5).
|2017||Co. Springs (AAA)||7.7||3.52||2.07||7.04||0.00|
|*DRA unavailable for 2017 at time of writing|
Give Archer some time to adjust to AAA hitting, and more Ks should come. Meanwhile, the command hasn’t gone anywhere and Archer is generating ground balls at a career-high rate. Early indications suggest that the thin air of Colorado Springs won’t pose much of a problem.
The 26-year-old has been a little old for each level, but that shouldn’t cloud Archer’s adjustments. Tristan Archer is learning to flat-out pitch, and is proving himself capable of dominating the upper minors. That or he’s a sorcerer, able to prestidigitate his way to a 3.42 ERA for all eternity. Either way, Archer could become the next under-the-radar prospect to make an impact out of the Milwaukee bullpen. Don’t be shocked if he cracks the 40-man roster this winter – it might not even take that long.