Matt Buschmann is back. Do you remember him from the first time? Buschmann, who turned 31 in February, spent 2012 and 2013 in the Tampa Bay Rays’ system, spending nearly all of the former season at Double-A Montgomery before working his way to Triple-A Durham in the middle of the latter year. His 2013 numbers were especially impressive as he went 14-5 with a 2.86 ERA and a 167-67 strikeout to walk ratio in 160.2 innings pitched.
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Buschmann signed with the Oakland Athletics as a minor league free agent last offseason and hoped to earn his first chance in the major leagues. Instead, his results were only decent as he went 9-7 with a 4.52 ERA and a 123-49 strikeout to walk ratio in 133.1 innings at Triple-A Sacramento. That 4.52 ERA isn’t as bad as it seems–it was better than the league and team averages and ranked second among his team’s starting pitchers (minimum 10 starts). Of course, as a player on the wrong side of 30, he had to do a lot more to crack the majors.
Now Buschmann is back after the Rays acquired him from the A’s in exchange for cash considerations. The deal was first reported by Athletics Farm a few days ago. Buschmann gives the Rays further starting depth at a time where they need it more than ever. Last time, he was signed as David Price‘s former roommate at Vanderbilt–this time he returns as a potentially important piece.
I interviewed Matt Buschmann back in September of 2013, and he was kind enough to provide quite a bit of insight into where his career stands as a pitcher. His sinking fastball usually sits in the 88-90 MPH range, but that doesn’t mean that his 8.9 K/9 from the last two years is all smoke and mirrors. He features a slider that has always been an out-pitch for him and a changeup that has come on rapidly since he learned it in Winter Ball following the 2012 season.
Buschmann’s most impressive attribute is his health–other than a minor ankle problem, he has avoided the disabled list his entire career. Buschmann readily admits that his health is one of the biggest reasons why he is still around in professional baseball. The Durham Bulls will be able to rely on Buschmann for many innings this season if need be. One question, though, is whether it is finally time for Buschmann to move to relief.
Matt Buschmann has played in nine professional seasons, and he was a primary reliever in just one of them, 2010. Of course, the fact that he was starting didn’t preclude his teams from calling him up in a bullpen role, but as Buschmann hopes to impress a team sufficiently to earn a call-up, it may make sense for him to relieve. If his sinker ticks up a few MPH to join his slider and changeup, he has a chance of becoming an effective big league pitcher in short stints.
Joel Peralta didn’t make the major leagues until he was 29 years of age and didn’t stick around long enough to be arbitration-eligible until his age-35 season. Do the Rays look at Buschmann and see another pitcher who could have a productive career in relief despite a late start? Buschmann faces long odds as he hopes to replicate Peralta’s success, but the Rays saw something as they brought Buschmann back. Maybe they saw simply rotation depth, but the possibility remains that he can be more than that.