Thursday, April 15, 2010

Keep an eye on Brandon Villafuerte

Of the three pitchers recently signed by the Seals who have appeared in the majors, Brandon Villafuerte has the most big-league experience. The 34-year-old native of Hilo, Hawaii was selected by the New York Mets in the 66th round of the 1994 draft. That means that 1,586 players were chosen before Villafuerte -- yet he somehow managed to make it to the show (Mike Piazza, the poster boy for ballplayers who defied the odds, was chosen 1,390th overall).

Villafuerte has played for four different MLB teams over five seasons. In fact, the Victoria Seals will be (at least) his 21st professional ballclub. If he were a lot older, I’d be tempted to believe he inspired the (often-covered) song “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Check out the cities that he has represented in pro baseball (with the league name in brackets): Kingsport (Appalachian), Pittsfield (New York-Penn), Columbia (South Atlantic), Brevard County (Florida State), Portland (Eastern), Charlotte (International), Jacksonville (Southern), Toledo (International), Detroit (AL), Oklahoma (PCL), Texas (AL), Portland (PCL), San Diego (NL), Lake Elsinore (California), Tucson (PCL), Arizona (NL), Fresno (PCL), Schaumburg (Northern), Carolina (Southern) and Albuquerque (PCL). Phew!!

He last appeared in the majors in 2004 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and he sports a 4.12 career ERA in 102 2/3 big-league innings. His best season was with the Padres in 2002 when he had an impressive 1.41 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) in 31 appearances.

Villafuerte has been used almost exclusively as a reliever in the last eight seasons and I wouldn’t expect that to change in 2010, his second year in independent baseball. Villafuerte briefly played in the Northern League in 2007; after lighting it up with a 1.08 ERA he was quickly signed by the Florida Marlins. After a pretty solid 2008 season in AAA (7-3, 3.50 ERA, 7 saves), Villafuerte was granted free agency but he did not play professionally in 2009.

Considering his career strikeout numbers (8.4 K’s per nine innings in the minors) and his 55 career saves in pro ball (three of which were notched in the majors), I’d be surprised if he didn’t start the season as the Seals closer. After factoring in the other highly-touted newcomers (Jason Kershner and Phil Barzilla), Victoria is looking like it should have an improved pitching staff in 2010.

We’ll profile Villafuerte’s buddy and teammate, Jason “Kersh” Kershner, in an upcoming blog post.

Seal Blubber Bits
  • Eri Yoshida is starting to get some press attention in Canada. An article in the Brandon Sun highlights her potential to draw fans out to Canadian ballparks (is the Canadian Press reading this blog too?). Roxann Bury, General Manager of the Seals, is quoted in the article.
  • To my knowledge, the article above is the first time Roxann Bury has been listed as the General Manager of the Victoria Seals (a quick check of confirms it). Last season, she served as Assistant GM. Congratulations on the promotion, Roxann!
  • Ex-Seal Isaac Hess has struggled of late in the Mexican League (AAA). After starting out with a 2.35 ERA in his first three starts, he has had some difficulties and is now working out of the bullpen for the Diablos Rojos del Mexico. In his last 8 1/3 innings, Hess has given up eight earned runs on 11 hits and four walks to raise his ERA for the season to 4.70.
  • Another Seals alumnus, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, has kicked off his 2010 season in the minors. Last Saturday, Bibens-Dirkx had his first start of the year for the Tennessee Smokies in the Southern League (AA) and it was a pretty good one. He earned a no-decision after giving up two earned runs in five innings of work against the Mississippi Braves. Bibens-Dirkx struck out six and only walked one batter. His next scheduled start is on Friday against the Chattanooga Lookouts.