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40 in 40: Gerson Bautista

The final piece of the Canó/Díaz blockbuster brings big heat, but will his command hold him back?

MLB: New York Mets-Media Day Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Seven weeks after the bombshell trade that sent Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz to the Mets, nearly every facet of the swap has been discussed to death. Back in mid-December, Kate took deep dives into Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, the two heralded prospects Seattle received in the deal. Anthony Swarzak, one of a couple salary dumps sent over, was the subject of Wednesday’s 40 in 40 by John, and Jay Bruce... well, we’ll get to him eventually.

The final piece, though, arrived with little fanfare - and many were disappointed by it. Despite talks early in the trade process that intriguing rookie infielder Jeff McNeil was a part of the package heading back to the M’s, he ultimately stayed put, and Seattle wound up with a flamethrowing righty reliever in Gerson (pronounced jair-son) Bautista to round out the deal.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Red Sox in 2013, Bautista unfortunately began his career on the wrong foot, getting hit with an 50-game suspension for a positive Stanozolol test shortly after signing. He didn’t actually take the mound until 2014 - tossing 61 innings in the Dominican Summer League as a starter - and struggled to miss many bats, notching just a 13.3% K% in his first taste of pro ball. His command was also subpar with just a 4.6% K-BB%. While he fared a little better in 2015 in his first stateside season, bumping his strikeouts up nearly six points in the Gulf Coast League, the walks got even more out of hand, and he only improved his K-BB% by a just a couple percentage points. Bautista did put up a pretty shiny ERA in those two years, working to a combined 1.56 mark in 113 total innings, but it was very apparent that he was working with smoke and mirrors.

Prior to the 2016 season, Bautista was converted to a reliever, and opened the year in short-season ball. Almost overnight, he dominated in eight outings, striking out thirteen and walking just two over 10.1 innings. Armed with a fiery fastball that routinely touched triple digits, he only allowed one run to score - this time much more handily. Boston quickly bumped him up a level, and while the strikeouts were here to stay, his command problems started creeping back. They persisted in High-A in 2017, as well - Bautista allowed free passes to 12.7% of hitters he faced in Salem.

Despite these issues, however, he was included as part of a trio of players sent to New York for Addison Reed at the trade deadline, and acquinted himself quite well in his new organization, finishing the year with 14.1 overwhelming innings in High-A, putting up a 1.15 (!) FIP with a sparkling 6.67 K/BB to boot. Bautista was rewarded with a 40-man spot after season’s end, and appeared in a handful of spring training games last season before being optioned to Double-A in mid-March. Mets brass raved about him, and he remained hungry for a spot in the bigs:

“This is the year I’ve been waiting for for a long time,” Bautista said through a translator. “My goal is to stay in Double-A for a month or maybe two. I want it to happen very fast.”

On April 17th, Bautista got his first taste of big league action, firing a scoreless ninth inning in a sleepy loss to the Nationals. While he got into a bit of a jam, allowing a hit and a walk, he also notched his first strikeout in the Majors, and it’s easy to see the high ceiling he offers:

Unfortunately, he struggled mightily in just four additional big league appearances while being a frequent passenger of the AAA-MLB shuttle over the following two months, and didn’t sniff the Majors after June 2nd. Despite sparkling peripherals over 9.2 innings of Double-A ball, his first taste of Triple-A wasn’t super encouraging, as the control problems persisted and he ran a comically low 21.7% ground-ball rate with just a 6.0% HR/FB. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen such a strong regression candidate in that department.

He did finish out the year with a handful of appearances in the Arizona Fall League, and performed well in 11.1 innings, especially in the K/BB department. One of his outings was against Seattle affiliate Peoria, and you can see him get Mariners prospect Joe DeCarlo to fly out at around the two-minute mark here:

In addition to his blazing fastball, Bautista throws a slider in the mid-80s with good bite, but his feel on it can get shaky - both of the ones he threw to DeCarlo in the above video missed inside. He also flashes a changeup from time to time, though it remains a fringy pitch for him. At 6’3” and 195 pounds, it also stands to reason that the soon to be 24-year-old could fill out more in the coming years.

Oh, and he seems pretty happy to be a Mariner:

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It’s impossible to watch Gerson Bautista’s high-octane heat and not dream on it. Even though triple digits has become more and more common the last few seasons, it’s still a sight to behold. However, as Arquimedes Caminero, Thyago Vieira, and Philippe Valiquette have all taught us, a big fastball means next-to-nothing without the ability to control it. Bautista figures to open 2019 with Tacoma to try to iron out his command issues and possibly hone his changeup, though he could quickly see time in Seattle should injuries, ineffectiveness, or a step forward for him come to pass.