One of the few true position battles happening at Red Sox camp right now is for arguably the most boring position on the roster: The second left-handed reliever. To make matters even more forgettable is the fact that Fernando Abad, the preseason favorite for the gig, isn’t even with the team. In fact, that’s part of the problem. I wrote about this battle last week, and within that write-up I posited that the battle had a lot to do with the other options for the roster spot beyond just Abad and Robby Scott. That mostly means Luis Ysla, who was placed on the 40-man roster and theoretically has the leg up to be called up if they need another left-handed pitcher. However, don’t sleep on Edgar Olmos as a potential weapon.
Olmos was a very quiet minor-league signing by the Red Sox back in November and understandably isn’t discussed much with respect to the big-league club. He’s not exactly a big name, and he’d have to find room on the 40-man roster if he were to join Boston. Now entering his age-27 season, he’s a former third round pick who failed to make it as a starter and has been pitching out of the bullpen on a near-full-time basis since 2013. The Marlins draftee hasn’t gotten a chance to get used to any organization over the last few years, as he’s been on the waiver wire carousel. Between November 20, 2014 and March 24, 2016 he’s been with the Marlins, Mariners, Cubs, Orioles, back to the Cubs and back to the Orioles before finally hitting free agency this winter.
Over his career, Olmos has been a quietly effective reliever without ever really blowing anyone away. He has spent the majority of the last few seasons at Triple-A for various organizations, and has pitched to a 3.35 ERA with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.4 walks per nine. He also sustains a ground ball rate around 50 percent on a consistent basis. The southpaw was particularly impressive last year with Baltimore’s Triple-A club in Norfolk where he struck out 10 batters per nine and maintained a 51 percent ground ball rate. The control was still an issue, but relievers can get around that with big stuff and weak contact. He has 19 major-league innings — five in 2013 and 14 in 2015 — with an atrocious 6/11 K/BB ratio and a 5.21 ERA.
What’s particularly encouraging about Olmos is that he has the potential to be a real weapon against left-handed opponents. Over each of the last five seasons in the minors he’s been able to hold same-handed hitters to an OPS over .700. It’s not as if he’s just a LOOGY at his best, either, as righties have typically held an OPS somewhere in the .700’s. This is important, since he theoretically wouldn’t have to be taken out of the game after one batter if a team had two lefties separated by a righty in their lineup.
Of course, these are just minor-league numbers. We know his major-league track record isn’t great, so why should we be confident now? Well, for one, relievers are weird. They don’t always succeed right away, and sometimes you just need the right circumstances. Olmos’ career has been one of constant movement, and getting to choose his destination this year was probably a huge relief for someone who was getting claimed off waivers seemingly every day in recent years. Beyond that, he’s still relatively young entering his age-27 season. It’s unfair to compare anyone to Andrew Miller, but I’m going to do it anyway because Miller was 27 when he had his breakout season. The point is, it’s within the realm of possibility that Olmos can be productive, even if he’s never close to being Miller.
Olmos has the stuff to make it happen, too. He relies mostly on his size (he’s listed at 6’4”, 220 lbs.) to generate a big fastball that ranges from the mid-to-high 90’s. To go along with the heater he throws a slider and a change, both of which are fine but not dominant. If he can develop either of his secondaries — preferably the slider, which is generally a more effective weapon and also the more refined offering of his — then he can really take his game to the next level.
So far in camp, Olmos has impressed. We’re only talking about 9 2⁄3 innings of work, of course, but he’s been successful to the tune of a 1.17 ERA and an 11/2 K/BB ratio. The bad news is that he recently suffered a hamstring strain that will keep him down for a few days, but that shouldn’t have a drastic effect on his long-term outlook for the season. He was never a realistic candidate to pitch for the team on Opening Day, anyway.
No, Olmos will almost certainly start the year at Triple-A Pawtucket with either Abad or Scott taking the second lefty role in the bullpen behind Robbie Ross. However, if they go with Scott and there’s an injury or Scott struggles in the role, they’ll need to look for a new lefty. Preferably, Ysla will have shown enough to get the call, but that’s far from a certainty. He hardly has any experience over Double-A and is still quite raw himself. Olmos has a real opportunity to make a name of himself and carve out a major-league role for himself this year. He has the talent to make it work. Oh, and he also has an excellent head of hair, and that can’t hurt.