The San Francisco Giants‘ high bullpen turnover rate has been one of the biggest reasons why they’ve struggled in 2013. However, one of the brightest spots for the bullpen this year has recently arrived in the form of Heath Hembree.
The 24-year-old has been one of the Giants’ most highly-regarded prospects for a few years now, and though an inconsistent year-and-a-half at triple-A caused him to drop to sixth on MLB.com’s Giants prospect rankings, there was optimism throughout the process that Hembree would be able to develop into an impact big-league bullpen arm.
Hembree has certainly done everything to affirm those hopes through his first five major league appearances. He’s been absolutely dominant, delivering five scoreless innings while allowing just one hit, two walks and seven strikeouts. Though the argument can be made that five innings don’t solidify a player as a worthy big leaguer, Hembree’s power-pitching style and ability to get strikeouts are too intriguing to ignore.
The stability of the Giants’ bullpen depends largely on the left-handed portion of the group. The team will have to make a decision on whether to bring back specialist Javier Lopez, who has been extremely effective but will command a large salary. In addition, they could opt to make a bold move and let go of either Jeremy Affeldt or Jose Mijares, both of whom have been very inconsistent during 2013.
The team could have as many as five spots up for grabs preceding next season, so Hembree should be assured a spot on the 2014 club.
First of all, the club has built him up so much that it would be exceptionally disappointing to see him spend a third year in triple-A. But more importantly, Hembree can deliver an element to the Giants’ bullpen that they have not had for several years: a bona fide power pitcher. Though he hasn’t done this at the big-league level, Hembree has apparently thrown at speeds as high as 98 mph during his minor-league career.
Though Santiago Casilla hit these kinds of speeds at one point, he now sits mostly in the low 90s, and has always been more of a ground ball pitcher. If the Giants can keep Hembree going as a hard-throwing strikeout threat, he can differentiate himself from the rest of the Giants’ relievers.
It’s never sensible to absolutely guarantee a player a spot on the major league team before Spring Training, especially when they are so inexperienced, but Hembree should definitely have an edge as the Giants begin to think about their 2014 Opening Day roster.