While reports have been out for several days regarding both of these signings, the Blue Jays made it official by announcing that they’ve signed relievers Al Alburquerque and Rhiner Cruz to minor league deals with invitations to spring training.
Alburquerque, 31, is a native of the Dominican Republic and has been kicking around since signing with the Chicago Cubs as an amateur free agent in 2003. Traded to Colorado in 2009, he pitched in their system for parts of two years before signing with Detroit as a free agent after the 2010 season. It was with Detroit that Alburquerque made the major leagues at the age of 25, logging 43 1/3 innings with the Tigers and posting a 1.87 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, striking out a whopping 67 batters but walking 29.
He pitched just 13 1/3 innings in the majors in 2012, showing a similar walk and strikeout ratio while in 2013 he tossed 49 innings, walking 34 but striking out 70. He lowered his walk rate in 2014, walking just 21 in 57 1/3 innings but had a lower strikeout rate too, K-ing 63 batters. He spent all of 2015 in Detroit as well, throwing a career-high 62 innings but striking out 58 and walking 33 with a 4.21 ERA and 1.55 WHIP.
Granted free agency after the 2015 season, he signed with Los Angeles and pitched for them for less than a year before he was released in August. He caught on with Seattle for the rest of the year but was granted free agency after the season. He signed with Kansas City and pitched mostly in the minors with them before he was released and signed to the White Sox where, again, he pitched mostly in the minors. He accumulated just 18 innings in the majors in 2017 and he had a combined 2.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, striking out 19.7% (well down from his totals above 30% in the Tigers’ organization) and walking 11.3%.
Alburquerque’s average fastball velocity, when he started his career, was above 95 mph and it dipped consistently in subsequent years, falling to 91.5 mph in 2016 with the Angels. He had a significant rebound, to 94 mph in 2017 and he was throwing his slider harder than ever (87.5 mph). He was also throwing his sinker more than ever despite the fact that he throws a majority of sliders.
Alburquerque has had success at the major league level despite control being a major problem. If he reigns in his control, he could be a significant addition to the Jays’ bullpen in 2018.
Our friends at Jays from the Couch had info on the Rhiner Cruz signing a few days ago.
Cruz could get ST invite. He has MLB experience: 55 IP 6.05 ERA w/ HOU in 2012. 21.2 IP in 2013 3.38 ERA. He’s 31
— Jays From the Couch (@JaysFromCouch) January 24, 2018
Cruz has been bouncing around the professional ranks since signing with the Detroit Tigers as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic in 2003. Now 31, Cruz was released after two seasons and signed on with the Mets before the 2007 season. He worked his way up to Double-A with the Mets before he was selected by the Houston Astros in the Rule 5 draft in 2011.
Cruz pitched a fair bit in Houston, posting a 6.05 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 55 innings. He spent most of 2013 in Triple-A Oklahoma City where he had a 4.75 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, walking 32 in 41 2/3 innings with 38 strikeouts. He also had 11 walks and 10 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings in Houston that year.
After starting 2014 with Oklahoma City and posting a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings, he was released to pursue opportunities in Japan where he had a 3.45 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over two seasons before returning to North America where he played in the Mexican League for two teams in 2016.
In 2017, Cruz caught on with the Braves’ Triple-A club in Gwinnett and he had a very solid year, posting a 2.84 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 50 2/3 innings, striking out 63 and walking only 24.
Cruz was known for his heat, averaging 97.1 mph on his fastball in 2013 when he was with the Astros. It’s likely that he doesn’t throw quite that hard anymore but back then, he used his fastball most of the time while adding in a slider 16.6% of the time and a changeup 11.6% of the time.
Cruz is another interesting former power arm who has had problems with walks earlier in his career. Can he solve those issues? Will he be more than just another arm to stash in Buffalo?
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