The way the Rays have been using their relievers of late, the more pitchers they have available to be called up from the minor leagues, the better. The next name that the the Rays hope can enter their major league equation is Erik Hamren, acquired from the Atlanta Braves for cash considerations.
Hamren, 26, is a right-hander reliever who does have some big league time under his belt with the Padres in 2011, putting up a 4.38 ERA in 14 appearances. He’s been with the Braves’ Double-A affiliate since the Padres released him at the end of spring training, managing a 2.53 ERA, a 9.2 K/9, a 4.1 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 13 appearances and 17.2 innings pitched. Still pretty young and without much big league experience, Hamren doesn’t exactly qualify for reclamation project status. As a 17th round draft pick by the Cubs, he can consider himself lucky to make the major leagues at all. However, you can look at Hamren’s stuff and see that he may just have an ability to be more. Here’s a look at Hamren’s Pitch F/X data from Brooks Baseball in my original display.
You can look at that graph and see that his pitches move a ton. Hamren’s primary fastball is a pitch that Pitch F/X identified as a “sinker,” but it’s not a two-seam fastball as much as a four-seamer that features plenty of movement down and away from right-handed hitters. Sinker-curveball isn’t a typical combination, but Hamren’s curveball is a sharp 11-to-5 breaker with devastating late break. And then there is his changeup, which does a decent job emulating the movement on his fastball, but with insane bottoming-out action. Hamren has the stuff to blow away hitters of both sides with an excellent fastball and two quality breaking pitches. So why has he been stuck at Double-A? For the same reason that plenty of other pitchers with outstanding stuff are: control.
Hamren has walked 4.1 batters per 9 innings this season, and he’s at 4.0 per 9 for his minor league career and a scary 6.6 per 9 in his limited big league time. The issue with Hamren is that his pitches more so well that he often struggles to locate them. In his major league time, just 53% of his fastball and 50% of his changeups were strikes as their movement just took them right out of the zone. Even as he had a tough time in the major leagues, though, Hamren’s curveball went for a strike 70% of the time and it’s definitely a plus pitch that he can build on. Now the Rays will look to make some correction to his mechanics or even his position on the mound like they did with Fernando Rodney to try to tie his game together. Hamren will head to Double-A to begin with and the chances are that he will amount to nothing. However, the Rays are taking a no-risk gamble on a player who does have potential, and we will have to see whether they can reverse his recent fortune and turn his career around.