There have been a few successful pitchers to throw the knuckleball as a primary pitch. It’s a rare type of player, and they each have their reasons for taking that approach.
Pitchers who throw the knuckleball are a toss-up in regard to success. They get hammered on the mound, or they silence bats in a frustrating way. The Minnesota Twins have their own version of unorthodox pitching in Andrew Vasquez of Single-A Cedar Rapids. All he needs is a decent curveball.
If you ever drive through Iowa (yes, there are sports there), you should consider an evening at Veterans Memorial Stadium. It’s an interesting venue. It serves as a sort of memorial for the many veterans who have allowed us to watch and enjoy the greatest show on dirt. Each game held here specifically serves the men and women permitting its existence.
Among the players contributing to the tribute is the previously mentioned Andrew Vasquez. Pitching for Vasquez is relatively simple. His repertoire consists of a fastball and a curveball. While most go fastball and back it up with a strong secondary offering, Vasquez’s fastball is his “show-me” pitch.
The Kansas City Royals saw projection in his now 6’6″, 230-pound frame back in 2011 and threw him a bone in the 44th round. Vasquez chose to attend the University of California-Santa Barbara. He spent three seasons with the Gauchos as a starter before transferring to Westmont College for his senior season.
As a freshman, the curveballer made 15 starts and put up good numbers. He racked up 104 strikeouts in 88.2 innings with a 1.93 ERA. He would log just 59.2 innings total and a 4.37 ERA between his sophomore and junior seasons. His final year, spent at Westmont, was much improved. Vasquez decreased his alarmingly high walks and increased his K-rate, and walked out of college with a 3.06 ERA for his final season, good enough for the Twins to take a bet on his left hook and slow, straight jab.
The Minnesota Twins picked him up in the 32nd round in 2015 and immediately dropped Vasquez in the bullpen. Limiting his exposure to hitters with his type of approach could be deadly to a lineup who would only see him once or twice. This has been the case.
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He survives with a plus curveball that comes in with plenty of break. Hitters know it’s coming, yet the movement makes it hard to square up or even elevate. Vasquez slows the game down dramatically and disrupts a hitter’s tempo to his advantage. He’ll surprise a batter with a straight-moving mid-80s fastball here and there, and that just makes his primary play up even more.
His curve and fastball come out in the same arm slot, making it very deceiving for a hitter to pick up on what pitch is coming. They’re deathly afraid of getting caught with a surprise fastball they can’t catch up with after having to sit back for the breaking ball.
It’s an effective combo with each pitch playing the other up in proper sequence and frequency. This is especially so when you’ve been seeing primarily 90s fastballs the whole game. Looking at his pro numbers to date, he’s an arm that’s fun to bet on.
The Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels have enjoyed his strange approach. Vasquez has appeared in 12 of their games, striking out 30 in 20.1 innings while walking 10. He hasn’t allowed one home run in his 71 total professional innings. A 1.77 ERA with all these curveballs could have Andrew Vasquez moving quickly up the minor-league ladder.
The only thing the Minnesota Twins need to monitor is when he makes an appearance in a game and his curveball doesn’t. With no fastball to locate well and no breaking ball to aid in swing-and-miss, walks will climb like they did in college and the ERA will skyrocket.
So far this hasn’t happened as a pro. Vasquez’s walk rates have stayed in the acceptable range for a reliever. His strikeout rates are double-digit dreams. With some time working on fastball command, Vasquez could be an interesting arm on his way to a big-league payday.