Let’s play a game. It’s called “How Bad Do You Feel For Hitters Facing Thyago Vieira?”
Score: 8/10. This is the Arizona Fall League, so this hitter is probably proud of how he played in AA last year. And now he has to go up against a 102 MPH fastball while also being prepared for a nasty 80 MPH slider? Not fair.
Score: 9/10. The hitter here is Mauricio Dubon, a middle-infield prospect dealt to the Brewers this offseason. The 22 year old raked in 270 AA plate appearances last season, hitting .339/.371/.538. And yet here he’s positively FLAILING. But before he strikes out, he gets a little brush back with a wild offspeed up near his noggin. So not only does he go down swinging at a pitch a foot outside, he also got a little scared for his own safety.
Score: 1/10. Okay, so it’s the wrong Thyago Vieira, but he has a nice slide tackle early in the video and his dribble moves should be worth something, right?
In all seriousness, Vieira is possibly the most intriguing prospect in the M’s system. He’s not the best prospect, and he’s not the most likely to make an impact this year. But after reading all about his improvement in Kate’s 40 in 40 and this excellent Ryan Divish profile, it’s hard not to be excited. His strikeout rate jumped, his walk rate plummeted, and his fastball...well, it didn’t change, but when it’s over 100 MPH to begin with it doesn’t need to change.
He’s drawing attention from all across the organization - spotted in this video are manager Scott Servais and assistant general manager Jeff Kingston, among others.
And Servais was pretty impressed by the Brazilian hurler, based on his quotes in this Greg Johns story.
"I was shocked at how controlled his effort was," Mariners manager Scott Servais said after watching Vieira's first bullpen session on Friday. "This is a kid that has gone from kind of being almost off the map, like literally off our board, to a guy that gets added to the 40-man roster.
"My first reaction was, 'This should be interesting, he's going to try and throw 100 mph.' And he didn't. I think he was coached up very well by our pitching guys. I heard one of the comments was, 'Hey, just throw it down the middle at 95 mph nice and easy.' He's a great kid. I was most impressed by his ability to control his effort."
When will we see Vieira in the bigs? Honestly, I know I said earlier he’s not the most likely to make an impact this year. But Edwin Diaz and Dan Altavilla both leapt from AA to the major league bullpen in 2016, and Altavilla only pitched in A+ the year before - just like Thyago. Clearly, Servais and Jerry Dipoto are more than willing to promote relievers aggressively.
I don’t have much of a point for this article. Unless Vieira starts just dominating players in AA Arkansas, I doubt we’ll see him until 2018, if at all. He remains a lottery ticket, albeit one with much better odds than a season ago. But these stories are just so fun to follow.
These stories remind you that there’s untapped potential in all of these professional baseballers, and it only takes the right coach, and some good training, to unlock it. They show the importance of player development. They reveal incredible backstories.