|image from Fangraphs|
Hunter made the majors only a year after the Rangers made him a supplemental first round draft pick. He looked like a solid starting pitcher, but then he didn't seem to progress. Hunter was eventually traded to the Orioles last offseason, where it was expected he would begin to bounce between AAA and the majors as an insurance policy at the back end of a rotation. He had been, in essence, pigeon-holed as a replacement-level innings-eater.
Then Baltimore stuck Hunter in the bullpen, and his velocity increased about 6 miles an hour. It took his average velocity from the 90-91mph range, to 96-97mph. The spike completely changed the nature of Hunter's fastball, which in turn changed his approach. He can overpower hitters he used to have to out think.
Tommy Hunter may or may not have everything to do with Blake Beavan. I'd like to find out if Beavan can follow Hunter's example or not.
Beavan, ironically, is also a former first round pick of the Texas Rangers. He shot up draft boards when he started lighting up prep radar guns in the high 90s. Beavan's 6'7" frame promised to fill out too. The sky was the limit for Beavan back then.
The sky doesn't seem to be the limit now. Beavan isn't a bust by any means, but he isn't the same pitcher that the Rangers drafted. They altered his mechanics, and he grew into his frame some as he matured. The changes, as expected, altered Beavan's velocity - but he lost a ton instead of gaining any. Beavan comfortably sits in the 90-91mph range, a far cry from his high-octane prep days.
Beavan is the textbook definition of a replacement level starting pitcher. He strikes out fewer than 4 batters per 9 innings, a rate that ranked 98th out 99 pitchers who threw at least 150 innings last year. Beavan pitches to contact with a milquetoast fastball, but with enough command to generate some positive results. The product is a dependable yet replaceable starting pitcher.
Right now, Beavan is the fifth starter at best on the Mariners roster. That's with Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, and Brandon Maurer all down in the minors but not too far away. That's also assuming that Beavan beats out Hector Noesi, and non-roster invitees like Andrew Carraway, Jon Garland, Jeremy Bonderman, and Kameron Loe don't force themselves into the rotation.
The Mariners aren't stacked with quality rotation depth, but they have some quantity. I think they have someone within the organization right now that could take Beavan's rotation spot and do about as good of a job as him. Longer term, I don't see a spot in the rotation for Beavan at all as some of the M's pitching prospects mature.
So, why not see if Blake Beavan can pull a Tommy Hunter?
We know that Beavan used to throw hard, and that most pitchers gain velocity when they flip from starting to relieving. He seems like a strong candidate to experience a significant boost in his velocity from a switch to the bullpen.
The Mariners could make Beavan the closer in AAA and see what happens. He wouldn't have to convert in the majors, and he wouldn't block any relief prospects in Tacoma (assuming both Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor make the opening day roster).
There is no risk in taking a chance on Beavan in the bullpen. Maybe there is no upside either, but there's no way to know for sure until the Mariners try. Bullpen arms are significantly less valuable than starters, but I would argue that a hard-throwing reliever is a more intriguing than a pitcher who pushes against the edge of batting practice for six to seven innings.