First Pitch: Breaking Down the Surprising Debut of Luis Oviedo

It’s the little things that matter.

Like an 0-1 curveball that gets a check swing strike, leading to a little, confident head nod.

That’s what has stood out to me with Luis Oviedo so far.

The Pirates landed Oviedo over the offseason in a Rule 5 trade for cash considerations. He was taken in the draft by the Mets, from Cleveland. He will have to remain on the active roster all season in order for the Pirates to keep him long-term.

Early signs indicate that might not be an issue.

For example, that curveball on an 0-1 pitch to Eugenio Suarez…

Oviedo had no doubt it was a strike. A simple turn to the first base umpire, a quick shake of the head, and a casual stroll off the mound to get the ball back from Jacob Stallings.

A little perspective here…

The last time Luis Oviedo pitched in a game before this season was in 2019. It was in Low-A ball. He finished the year with a 5.38 ERA over 19 starts, with control issues.

A pitcher making that big of a jump right to the majors isn’t supposed to look this comfortable and confident in his second MLB appearance.

Oviedo has a microscopic sample size of three innings, which won’t tell us if he will have future success in the big leagues. It has been enough to see that he absolutely can have future success in the majors, and possibly sooner than we all expected.

He’s got the stuff.

His fastball so far has averaged 96, ranging from 92 to just below 99. This is where I’ll point out that his only hit came off the fastball. That’s when Mike Moustakas crushed a second pitch, 95 MPH fastball up in the zone.

One batter earlier, Oviedo got Suarez to pop out on a 93 MPH high heater that Suarez just got under. This came after working offspeed stuff low in the zone, only to finish with high heat.

Oviedo fooled Moustakas on the first pitch with a slow curveball. Moustakas gave it a lazy swing, although it would have been a called strike. The next pitch was the crushed fastball, and he looked like he was sitting on the pitch.

That will be something to watch going forward. Oviedo has a powerful fastball, but it hasn’t been good at generating swings and misses, even in pitcher’s counts when he’s trying to blow the pitch by the batter.

But, that offspeed stuff…

His slider has generated a 25% swinging strike rate, and he throws the pitch inside the zone 56% of the time. He generates swings on pitches outside of the zone 71% of the time on the pitch, with only 20% contact.

In short, he can throw the slider for strikes, he’s going to make you chase the pitch when he doesn’t, and it’s been difficult to make contact with so far.

The curveball has been promising, again though in a small sample size. He’s only thrown ten pitches, and four of them have been swinging strikes. He doesn’t get a lot of chases outside of the zone, and mostly works low and outside of the zone with the pitch.

His curveball is slow, averaging 78 MPH, but dropping as low as 74 so far. The break of the pitch pairs well with the fastball, and Oviedo does a good job of repeating his delivery across all pitches.

Working high fastballs and low curveballs could make him a dangerous pitcher, but that would only work if he got better at throwing the curveball for strikes. Otherwise, hitters can take the chance that the low curve will most likely be a ball, sit on the fastball, and hope the slider doesn’t show up.

That’s a lot of potential for Oviedo to work with. At this point, I’d project him as a future MLB reliever with closer potential, and that’s just based off the stuff he has now. If he improves the fastball/curveball combo, he could be a three-pitch starter, using the slider to give a different look.

The confidence is the kicker. I could find a pitcher on the Pirates’ A-ball team in 2019 with good velocity and good breaking stuff. You could probably find that player on most team’s A-ball rosters these days. That doesn’t mean those players can instantly make the jump to the majors.

Watching Oviedo, you wouldn’t know he’s 21 years old out of A-ball. You wouldn’t know he’s a Rule 5 pick who was previously expected to be somewhat difficult to protect all season.

He just looks like a guy who belongs in the majors.

The stuff.

The casual way he just tosses a breaking pitch to a perfect spot at the edge of the strike zone.

And the way he shows how he expected the good outcome was coming.

It’s not going to be this easy for Oviedo all year. He’ll get hit around more, as more veterans like Moustakas will be able to counter his breaking stuff and sit on the fastball.

The silver lining here is that you don’t have to squint at all to imagine Oviedo being a future MLB player. You don’t have to go too far into the future to imagine him being in the majors for good.

The main question I have right now is whether the Pirates will use Oviedo exclusively as a reliever, or work to stretch him out at some point this year.

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