There’s a kid down on the Braves farm that’s creating all kinds of buzz, although it’s not Michael Harris II or Vaughn Grissom or even Kyle Muller (as great as those guys are playing right now). No, it’s a 21-year-old kid from Guarenas, Venezuela – right-handed pitcher Royber Salinas.
You probably don’t remember, because it didn’t really make any headlines, but back in 2018 the Braves signed Salinas as an international free agent, and I’m telling you, there’s literally nothing in terms of a scouting report from back then. Name drops have come recently, though, like when Eric Logenhagen at FanGraphs mentioned Salinas last September, basically calling the young righty an Honerable Mention-type talent in the Braves system. And that may in fact wind up being correct. Who knows.
But so far in 2022, Salinas doesn’t seem too interested in simply being a fringy, reliever-type prospect. Through two starts with Single-A Augusta, the Venezuelan has racked up strikeouts like a man on a mission, currently sporting an ungodly 23.1 K/9, thanks to 24 punch outs in just 9 1/3 innings pitched. For some perspective, Salinas has struck out nearly 3/4 of the batters he has faced this season (or a 72.7 K%). Crazy numbers for even a reliever. But absolutely ridiculous numbers for a starter. In Salinas’ most-recent outing (on Thursday vs. Myrtle Beach) he struck out 13 batters in just five innings, including… wait for it… nine straight (!) at the tail-end of his start. Nine consecutive Pelican batters came to the plate and then walked back after going down on strikes. Insane.
What’s crazy, though, is that Salinas has been doing something similar to this for awhile now. The kid finished 2021 with 15.3 K/9 in 39 1/3 innings last season, spanning nine starts and four appearances out of the bullpen between both the FCL team and Augusta. Back in 2019, as an 18-year-old pro, is was pretty much the same trend – 10.1 K/9 in 33 innings, all as a reliever (17 appearances) in the Dominican Summer League. And it’s not just crazy K rates either, for Salinas has maintained a stingy 2.76 career ERA in 81 2/3 innings in the minors so far. So lots of strikeouts… and above average run prevention… yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what you want from a prospect pitcher.
Of course the issue here is the competition level. Salinas has done all this damage at the bottom of the minor leagues, where many equate Single-A to essentially college ball (and even lower in some areas of the class). Sure, a guy with a few weapons can post some crazy numbers in the low minors, but once he moves up the ladder, those dominate stats begin to regress. That very well could be Salinas. I mean, there must be a reason he isn’t ranked among any of the major Braves prospect rankings, right?
But there’s also the argument that Salinas is actually the real deal – a talent we just didn’t see coming. For one, it’s not like he’s tallying all of these strikeouts because he throws 100+ MPH, where it’s a matter of him simply blowing away opposing batters. No, Salinas is about as versatile as it gets when it comes to his pitch-mix. He’s setting down the opposition with an upper-90s heater, a 12-6 curve AND a wicked slider, making him the rare three-pitch pitcher down in Single-A. Skeptics can claim Salinas should be up a level or two, but I’m not so sure the results would change too much. How many Double-A batters do you know can fight off three quality offerings? I’ll answer that… not too many.
So yeah, let’s not get too carried away about a kid making waves after two outings in the lowest full-season classification of the minors. If you can remember, a guy by the name of Roddery Munoz got us all excited down in Augusta last year when he pounded the zone with 99 MPH fastballs in his first start with the GreenJackets. And while I still think he’s a player to watch this season (albeit very raw), the 2021 campaign didn’t turn out too well for him, as Munoz wound up posting a 6.67 ERA in 29 2/3 innings at season’s end – a rather disappointing finish for such a dominant pitcher in early May. I’m not saying that’s on its way for Salinas… but young pitchers can be some of the most finicky types in the game, especially when they’re this young.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy Salinas’ performance so far. I’m anxious to see how he does once opposing teams start constructing a book on him. You know other teams in the league are starting to take notice and will be doing everything they can to try and find a certain weakness in his game. Just like in the majors, minor league batters don’t usually take getting dominated too lightly.
And so far in 2022, Salinas has done just that.