Roansy Contreras Caps Breakthrough Year With Dominant Final AFL Start
MESA, Ariz.—When the Pirates acquired Roansy Contreras from the Yankees in the trade for Jameson Taillon before last season, Contreras was one of many talented but unproven pitching prospects yet to pitch above the Class A levels.
Ten months later, Contreras has done more than just prove himself. He’s established himself as arguably the best pitching prospect in the Pirates organization, and one the team hopes to build around for years to come.
Contreras punctuated his ascendant season with eight strikeouts over four dominant innings to lift Peoria to a 5-2 win over Mesa on Tuesday night in his final start of the year. The 22-year-old righthander finished 2-1, 3.19 in five starts in the Arizona Fall League with 18 strikeouts and four walks in 14 innings. It was an appropriate capper to a year that saw him post a 2.64 ERA in 13 minor league starts during the regular season as he climbed from Double-A to the majors despite missing two months with a forearm muscle strain.
“It was an excellent year,” Contreras said through an interpreter. “I’ve been working since 2020. The Covid year was a tough year but I continued working, and it’s working for me. Performance-wise, it’s been great. This whole year, making it to the big leagues and having an exciting outing here in the Fall League, it’s an exciting moment for me.”
Contreras finished his year with a flourish. He allowed only three hits and one run (unearned), threw 44 of 66 pitches for strikes and showed command of four swing-and-miss pitches to neutralize a star-studded Mesa offense that entered averaging more than eight runs per game.
Contreras sat 95-97 mph on his fastball and held his velocity throughout the night, got both called strikes and swings and misses on his 78-81 mph curveball and mid-80s slider and found a feel for his firm, 87-91 mph changeup midway through the outing to give him another pitch to put batters away.
Notably, he was at his best against the best. He blew a 97 mph fastball past AFL Fall Stars Game MVP JJ Bleday for a swinging strikeout in the first inning, struck out AFL OPS leader Nelson Velazquez on three pitches in the second inning and struck out heralded prospect Gabriel Moreno chasing a breaking ball in the dirt in the third inning. Overall, the trio went a combined 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against Contreras.
“His stuff got better I thought as he went,” said Peoria catcher Logan O’Hoppe, a Phillies prospect. “He got more feel for his secondary pitches and obviously his fastball is pretty electric, so when he can land both of those for strikes and throw them in any count he wants, pretty good stuff happens.”
As much as Contreras’ raw stuff impressed, his feel for his entire arsenal stood out even more.
He effectively located his fastball to all parts of the strike zone, landed his curveball and slider in the zone and buried them for chase swings out of the zone, and showed the ability to give his changeup late, armside life or hard sink.
He started the game using his curveball as his putaway pitch before shifting to his slider the second time through the order without any loss of effectiveness. He worked out of his lone jam in the second inning without much difficulty and finished strong, retiring seven of the final eight batters he faced.
“He has a really, really good understanding for what he wants to do,” O’Hoppe said. “He’s got a really, really good head on his shoulders. Obviously, you want to guide him through it and help him through the game, but he’s smart enough where he can handle it himself, so I kind of just sit there and be there for him when he needs me.”
Overall, it was a fitting end to the year for Contreras. Upper-level hitters couldn’t slow him. An injury that shelved him for two months couldn’t slow him. An explosive lineup filled with some of baseball’s best prospects couldn’t slow him.
Now, after making his major league debut at the end of the year and dominating baseball’s best prospects in the AFL, there isn’t much left for Contreras to prove in the minors.
With his final outing of 2021, he showed it’s only a matter of time before he takes his place in the Pirates rotation.
“I never stopped working hard,” Contreras said. “That’s what put me in this position, that I can continue having a great year after injury. That’s what brought me here doing excellent work in the Fall League.”