Anyone who knows me – or follows me on social media – knows that I’m a huge fan of underdogs or comeback stories in sports.
Basically, anyone who came from relative obscurity or who I believe is underrated is likely to be defended or propped up by yours truly. It’s in that vein that we bring you this week’s Skeeters Spotlight – left-handed pitcher Jonathan Bermudez, 25.
Although to take a quick glance at the numbers, he might not be underrated – or in obscurity – for much longer.
The Astros originally took Bermudez in the 23rd round in 2018 out of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida – an NAIA school with only one former player (10-year pro Dee Strange-Gordon) ever making it to the majors. Bermudez was the NAIA Pitcher of the Year in 2018 after finishing with a 1.95 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 110.2 innings.
Despite being a lower-round draft pick from a school with little history, Bermudez has made an instant impact in the Astros’ system. He posted a 3.71 ERA across 77.1 innings between Class-A Quad Cities and Double-A Corpus Christi in 2019, punching out 93 hitters – a rate of 10.8 per nine innings. After posting a 3.32 ERA for Corpus Christi, he was promoted to Sugar Land in late August, and has proceeded to strike out 13 hitters in 8.2 innings while allowing just one earned run.
Bermudez does not have an “elite” or overpowering arsenal per se, which is usually used to describe a big fastball or multiple elite/wipeout off-speed pitches. But he is also another example of how you can’t judge a player by just the surface potential.
I love watching Astros’ prospects like Josh James, Enoli Paredes and Bryan Abreu blow a 98 MPH fastball by somebody as much as the next person. It’s incredibly satisfying, and I’m bullish on all three. But even more satisfying is seeing someone who can command the ball well enough for that pitch arsenal to be effective.
To me, an elite arsenal is not necessarily just about the raw pitch makeup, though it certainly helps. No, what makes an arsenal truly elite is a combination of that raw “stuff” and how a pitcher utilizes it – how they sequence it, using one pitch to set up another, commanding it within the strike zone, etc. Because no matter how good an arsenal is, it’s worth next to nothing if you can’t learn to command it.
And in my mind, someone like Bermudez is the perfect example of that. His fastball “only” sits in the low-90s, with a slider and changeup. It’s a good-not-great mix of pitches on the surface – but he’s utilized them in an elite manner.
He has thrown 65 percent of his pitches for strikes so far this season between Sugar Land and Corpus Christi, striking out 119 hitters in just 87.2 innings (a rate of 12.3/9) while walking just 23 (a rate of 3 BB/9). That combination of high strikeout/low walk that has been rare in Astros pitching prospects in recent years – giving Bermudez a chance to make an impact sooner rather than later.
Prediction: Given that he was just recently promoted to Sugar Land a few weeks ago, it’s hard to see Bermudez making an impact on the 2021 Astros – but I would put at least a little bit of my salary on his ETA being sometime around the middle of 2022. The ability he has shown to command his pitches while maintaining an elite strikeout rate (about 33 percent in 2021) makes him a good anomaly among recent pitching prospects, and one that could be an intriguing story to follow next season.