The Braves announced today that they've signed minor-league free-agent right-handed pitcher Juan Abreu to a major-league deal. Abreu was signed by the Royals out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager, so even though he's just 24 years old, he had the six years of minor-league service time necessary to become a free agent.
Let's start with the good news: Abreu's stuff has come back strong after an arm injury cost him his 2007 season. His fastball sits in the low- to mid-90s and touches 97 at times, and he's got a nice breaking ball that helps him miss plenty of bats. In 118 innings across three levels in 2008 and 2008, he struck out 157 men (nearly 12 per nine innings). There's definitely some upside there.
But after hearing about his electric arm, you can probably also guess his Achilles' heel: walks. His walk rate has ballooned over the last two years as he has advanced, from a poor 4.95 per nine at Low-A, to a godawful 5.91 per nine at High-A to a downright astounding 9.74 per nine at Double-A. By the end of 2009, he was walking more than a batter per inning. And what's more, because of his arm troubles, he's always been pretty old for his levels, and dominating younger hitters isn't always so impressive.
I can't criticize any move Frank Wren makes to add depth to the Braves' bullpen corps, but I really don't see why it was necessary to sign Abreu to a major-league deal (which requires that he be added to the 40-man roster). The Braves now have 39 players on their 40-man roster, which is awfully full for a team that supposedly has lots of wheeling and dealing yet to do. And Juan Abreu just doesn't seem that special: he's never been anyone's idea of a "prospect," ranking 25th at the beginning of the year in a weak Royals system, according to Baseball America. I mean, he's a 24-year-old who's only pitched 41 2/3 innings above Low-A, and only 20 1/3 of those at Double-A. Maybe the Braves' scouts and coaches have seen something they can fix with him, but I'll believe it when I see it. Until then, I'm scratching my head a bit.