The decision to trade Wade Miley for Ariel Miranda last week represented Jerry Dipoto’s second headscratching trade with the Orioles in his 10 months on the job. Both the Miley trade and last winter’s Mark Trumbo for Steve Clevenger swap appeared to be motivated by a desire to shed salary, which traditionally works against the idea of short term success.
Devastated all year by pitching attrition, the Mariners traded a left-handed starting pitcher with unspectacular stuff and a middling track record for.....a slightly younger (and significantly cheaper) left-handed starting pitcher with unspectacular stuff and a middling minor league track record. For a team still clinging to playoff hopes, it's a strange deal, made even more confusing in the context of the team's otherwise total pass on the August 1st Trade Deadline.
The Mariners are not selling, at least not yet, and as such they must have seen...something in Ariel Miranda to be willing to cut ties with Wade Miley after only four months in a Mariner uniform. What was it? Let's take a look, and maybe find out? I mean, probably not, if I'm honest, but there is merit in effort.
Miranda's Cuban upbringing and unheralded signing (the Orioles signed him to a minor league contract in 2015) make in-depth background research a challenge. This Daily Dish write up from last year has more details than most write ups I found, including Miranda's voyage from Cuba, Haiti, and training in the Dominican Republic before finally landing with a big league team. One of the only quotes on record from Miranda comes from his introductory press conference:
"It's a dream come true for any Cuban baseball player to sign a professional contract with a major league organization like the Orioles,' Miranda said through an interpreter."
Well, hmmmmm, I did say this track record was "middling" in the introduction I think, and that certainly applies here. Miranda's 2016 in Triple-A Norfolk is, fine, I guess? He started nineteen games, running a 3.78 FIP, notable for allowing eleven home runs in only 100.2 IP. Miranda's original promotion to the big leagues last month came as he was throwing 19 consecutive scoreless innings, so his numbers were even less impressive earlier in the season.
There's not much a about a 27 year old minor league pitcher with a ~4 FIP and 87/31 SO/BB ratio, but here we are.
Video for scouting on Miranda is pretty sparse. Fortunately, he did in fact throw two innings in the big leagues this year, and I had completely forgotten those were against our Seattle Mariners on July 3rd. Miranda's fastball that day was 92.9 MPH, per Fangraphs. While he threw strikes, his command of all of his pitches was less than optimal, and as this chart shows he certainly wasn't working down in the zone:
While it's probably a lazy comparison, and I apologize for that, Miranda's delivery at times reminds me of countrymen Roenis Elias and Aroldis Chapman:
After the leg kick the similarities largely end. Whereas Elias and Chapman both have pronounced leg kicks and somewhat violent arm action Miranda's body stays compact through the delivery. He does, like Elias, seem to have a wandering arm slot, at least if his two innings last month are any indication:
Of note is that, while Miranda's leg kick is quite pronounced in the windup, he immediately and consistently works with a much quicker, shorter delivery to the plate form the stretch. Again in the windup:
And from the stretch:
Mariner pitchers, as a group, are well below average at holding runners on base, and Miranda's slide step, combined with Mike Zunino's above-average defense, will hopefully slow down the opposing run game. Of course, he could just not allow baserunners but hey let's talk about his pitches (REMEMBER - I am a dude on the internet who watches a lot of baseball, not a scout):
I won't be surprised at all to see the velocity decrease off the adrenaline-boosted, short-outing speed from July. Reports in the minor leagues put Miranda's fastball at 90-92 MPH, and that's right where I expect him to be as a starting major league pitcher. His command seems to come and go, and without the ability to regularly locate the pitch, it's probably not too much more than league average, to slightly below.
Grade - 45
A pitch that Miranda seems to try and use down and in to RHH, much like James Paxton with his cutter, the slider is probably Miranda's weakest pitch. At an average of 78 MPH and without a sharp, biting break, the pitch isn't much more than a change of pace.
Grade - 35
Now we come to Miranda's best offering, and the closest thing he possesses to an outpich (He doesn't have an out pitch. This is a problem.) Thrown with good arm action, downward tilt, and almost ten miles per hour slower than his fastball, Miranda's changeup is his pitch that looks capable of regularly generating swinging strikes. In his 2+ innings against the Mariners, over fifty pitches, the changeup accounted for all three of Miranda's swinging strikes. Like the fastball, Miranda's ability to locate the pitch comes and goes, but when thrown down, and coupled with his ability to work ahead with the fastball, this is the pitch that will determine whether Miranda can stick in the major leagues or not, and most likely the pitch that caught the Mariners' eye in the first place.
Grade - 50/55
Ariel Miranda as a cheaper Wade Miley clone is the easy road to go down, and you can see why. Neither pitcher will ever overwhelm big league hitters, and both will give up their share of home runs. Miranda's ceiling is most likely a number four starter with improved command, and most likely whatever big league career he has will be spent as a number five/long reliever/Vidal Nuno type.
Like almost all of his transactions thus far Jerry Dipoto traded for a player cheaper and with more club control than the player he gave up. It's a fairly clear the longterm goal is to assemble a organization with cheap depth at as many positions as possible. Ariel Miranda is being done no favors making his first major league start against the best offense in the game, and I can't imagine he throws more than five innings. But moving forward, his chances of being approximate to Wade Miley aren't too bad, and at a fraction of the cost. The Mariners extensive collection of Latin players, including countryman Leonys Martin, can only be a positive for him as he continues to acclimatize to a new country and language.
So that, loosely, is who the heck Ariel Miranda is.