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Saturday Sleepers: Valentin Linarez Added Velocity and Improved Control in 2023

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Valentin Linarez had one of the biggest recorded velocity jumps in minor league baseball last year.

Baseball America tracked the year-over-year four-seam velocity gainers from 2022 to 2023, and the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander had one of the highest jumps on the list. He gained 4 MPH in velocity, jumping from 90.5 MPH to 94.5.

Linarez has not stopped there. I had a chance to see him last year in Greensboro at the end of the season, where he was pumping 95-96 MPH fastballs in a multi-inning relief outing. This spring, Linarez pitched an inning in the Spring Breakout game, once again working around 96 with his fastball.

The Pirates signed Linarez in January 2018 out of the Dominican. The 6′ 5″, 226 pound pitcher worked as a starter in the lower levels through the end of the 2022 season. He moved to the bullpen in 2023, which may have helped with the velocity increase.

The bullpen assignment is a good one for Linarez. He’s mostly a two-pitch guy, pairing his mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. The breaking pitch has the chance to be a plus offering, generating a good amount of whiffs. He’s held back by control issues, plus a tendency to give up the long ball.

Linarez made it to Double-A by the end of the 2023 season, but struggled with his control. This was similar to his struggles at the end of 2022 when he made the jump to High-A. His control got better at the High-A level in 2023, though the 12.5% walk rate could still be improved upon.

Returning to Altoona in 2024, Linarez has made two appearances so far this season. He’s allowed two earned runs in four innings, pitching two frames each time out. In his season debut, he struck out five, only giving up a solo homer. In his next outing, he struck out one, giving up two runs, one earned, on four hits.

What’s encouraging in the young season is that Linarez has maintained his velocity jump from last year, and has taken it slightly higher. He’s also yet to allow a walk this season, albeit in a small sample size. Despite the small sample size, the control shown thus far has been rare.

In his first season of relief, Linarez only had one two-game stretch where he threw four innings without a walk. In fact, he walked at least one batter in 20 of his first 21 appearances last season, before going 3.1 innings without a walk across three appearances at the end of July/early August. When I saw him last August, he was in the middle of a two-game stretch where he combined for no walks across four innings.

Linarez put up a 3.63 ERA in 17.1 innings over his final month-plus at the High-A level. He struck out 27 and walked seven in that stretch (10.8%), only issuing a walk in five of his 13 appearances.

The 2024 season is still early in the process, but seeing Linarez pick up where he left off with control and velocity is encouraging to see. His mid-90s fastball and swing and miss slider are a pair that could work in the majors, so long as he improves his control.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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