After an unplanned but ultimately brief hiatus due to slight fatigue after the 2,500 “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” Kickoff Column, a weekend with day job work spillover and the allure of Brewers On Deck, I return after a long Monday work day to deliver the piece devoted to the man who wears the jersey aligning with our current position of nine weeks away from Opening Day…
Junior J. Guerra is a 31-year-old native of Venezuela who has been in professional baseball since 2001 (though not always with MLB-affliated teams) but who just made his Major League Debut last season, a three-game cup of coffee stretching from June 12th through June 22nd. That debut came with the Chicago White Sox, Guerra’s third MLB organization, and the one who signed him after six years out of affiliated baseball. Here’s that timeline.
Signed by the Braves as an international amateur free agent in ’01 (at just 16 years of age), Guerra came stateside with the Braves in 2003. He was signed as a catcher but converted to the mound after not making much progress at the plate — he hit .223 in 269 at-bats over his first three seasons in rookie ball. He got one season with Atlanta after he first toed the rubber to unspectacular results at best (6.59 ERA in 18 games).
Following a 2007 about which I couldn’t find any records of pro ball participation, Guerra caught on with the New York Mets. Now a full-time pitcher — maybe he spent 2007 at home in Venezuela truly learning how to pitch? — Guerra ended up pitching for four different Mets affiilates working to a 2.12 ERA in 18 games. He seemed to be on the right track and, at still only 23 years old, he could very well have been considered a prospect to some degree. Then a reported PED-related 50-game suspension ended his time with the Mets.
Between 2009 and 2014, Guerra kept his dream alive. He pitched wherever he could with stops in Hawaii, Venezuela, Mexico, and even a pair of runs with the Independent League Wichita Wingnuts. He pitched well enough in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2014 to grab the attention of the White Sox.
Guerra started at Double-A Birmingham but only needed five appearances to make his way to Triple-A Charlotte. After seven games as a Knight, Guerra got the call to The Show for the previously mentioned 11 day call-up. Despite a capable showing over the course of the whole season, the White Sox designated Guerra for assignment to open up a spot on their 40-man roster. The brand new Brewers regime which was only officially turned over to David Stearns two days earlier was awarded a waiver claim on Guerra.
Forever the answer to a trivia question, Guerra has a good chance to break camp with the Brewers following the departure of a couple of long-time Brewers relievers (Brandon Kintzler and Rob Wooten) who while never elite were certainly useful over their terms with the Brewers.
According to FanGraphs.com, Guerra works with a three-pitch mix. He throws a four-seam fastball averging 94.1 MPH, an 82.2 MPH slider, and a splitter that clocks in 85.7 MPH. With those pitches he was able to handle Triple-A to the tune of a 3.39 ERA with 79 K in 63.2 IP. That’ll play if it converts well enough to the big league level over a significant sample size (which 2015’s three games certainly aren’t).
All in all, Guerra could prove effective in Craig Counsell’s bullpen under the watching eyes of Derek Johnson and Lee Tunnell. Either way, he adds to the inexpensive options at the skipper’s disposal for 2016.
You can follow Junior Guerra on Twitter: @juni1685
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