Profile: 6'3" - 205lbs - BT:R - TH:R - 2011 Age: 24
• FB 94-95: A power sinker that generates massive GB rates, command issues. (65-70)
• SL: Consistency issues, doesn't get great lateral or vertical movement (50-55)
• CH: Show-me pitch (40-45)
A late bloomer in the sense that he didn't begin playing baseball until his senior year of high school, the Twins took Gutierrez with the 27th overall pick of the 2008 draft following his junior season at the University of Miami where he served as the teams closer. More impressively, he had Tommy John surgery the season before but returned quickly and with velocity in tact. After being drafted, the Twins switched Gutierrez to the rotation with the aim of making him a stater and hoping he could turn into a Derek Lowe type of pitcher. Unfortunately his results as a starter have been more good than great, and it seems the team has committed itself to the idea of moving him back to the bullpen, where he could be a force.
Gutierrez's primary weapon is a hard, heavy sinker that he does a solid job of locating down in the zone. He's a hard thrower, but his lack of a plus secondary pitch - his slider is just average - doesn't lead to many strikeouts. Instead, he gets hitters to consistently pound the ball into the ground - more than 60% of the balls in play against Gutierrez in 2010 were on the ground. That rate jumped to over 80% when he made the switch from rotation to bullpen at the second half of 2010. That may be the result of him being able to throw with greater effort, or it could just be the randomness of small-sample size. As stated above, Gutierrez lacks a legitimate put-away pitch and as a result will have to rely on his command, which is spotty at times - and his fielders.
The Twins love control pitchers who pitch to contact and generate ground balls, and over the past decade they've pumped out a lot of them. Gutierrez obviously meets the ground ball criteria, but beyond that, it's tough to see much here. He really doesn't miss many bats despite through very hard, and in 160+ AA innings, neither his ERA nor FIP indicate that simply generating huge GB rates is enough to be a successful pitcher. Of course, most of those innings came as a starter and the Twins are clearly hoping the results will be better in a relief role.
His performance as a starter has been underwhelming, but Gutierrez's fastball would be a legitimate plus pitch at the MLB level tomorrow and as a reliever, I like him a lot more. Not as much as some perhaps, but if he can up his K rate into average territory and mask some of his control issues in the bullpen while producing huge GB rates, he's going to be a very effective reliever with setup man potential.
Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net and 312Sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus.