Luis Avilan is not part of the Atlanta Braves‘ “Big Three” out of the bullpen. Avilan will not wow you on the radar gun with an overpowering fastball, but he quietly had an effective end to the 2012 season, and appears locked in to be on the 2013 Opening Day roster. The 23-year-old Venezuelan will look to expand his role with the Braves in the 2013 season.
2012 Recap: Avilan made the jump from Double-A Mississippi to the MLB level when the Braves placed Jonny Venters on the disabled list in July. He made his debut July 14 in an 8-7 win against the New York Mets, striking out the lone batter he faced. He continued having success and proved effective in posting a 2.00 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 0.8 WAR.
The southpaw held left-handed batters to a .180 batting average and served as a specialist in middle innings. He steadily gained the trust of manager Fredi Gonzalez, which led to a more expanded role, five holds and his first career win in his last regular season appearance on Oct. 3.
2013 Outlook: The expanded role was coupled with his solid work against right-handers (.231 batting average) and the aforementioned success against left-handers. Avilan will look to continue to prove he can be more than just a left-handed specialist, and has picked up where he left off this spring training.
In four appearances (4.1 innings), he has not allowed a run, while allowing just four base-runners (two walks, two hits) to three strikeouts. He attacks hitters using a fastball, curve and change from a low arm slot. While the arm slot makes it difficult on left-handed hitters, the difference in velocity between his fastball (92.5) and curve (75) is the reason for his success.
Avilan looks to take on a greater role in 2013 for a couple reasons. First, the simple fact that he’s had success should not be overlooked from last season to thus far in spring training. Second, not overworking the “Big 3″ is key in having them fresh for the stretch run (see the end of 2011 season).
But perhaps most important is the unknown status of Eric O’Flaherty. He is signed through the end of this season and will be a free agent at season’s end. This could make him trade bait at the deadline, or the Braves may just let him walk following the season.
Much of this will depend on Avilan’s performance. If he can get out both left-handers and right-handers, the Braves could feel confident in him taking over an end of game role. To truly gauge that, Gonzalez will need to give him a greater role in 2013.