Justin Bruihl, LHP, LAD

Relief prospects are rarely ranked, and just as rarely cared about by fantasy baseball owners. Major league owners, on the other hand, love having these arms in their system. Look at San Diego and their assembly line of sharp relievers who either get Saves and Holds for the Padres, one after the other. And don’t fool yourselves, those relievers are valuable to our fantasy rosters too, but it’s such a crapshoot to figure out who will turn out good ahead of time, it’s easy to just sit back and let them prove it first.
  • Born: June 26, 1997
  • B/T: Left
  • 6’2″, 215-lbs
  • Signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 as an undrafted free agent after a year at California Polytechnic State University, and then summer league with the Walla Walla Sweets of the West Coast Summar League.

The Numbers

His raw numbers are listed above courtesy of baseball-reference.com. Let’s aggregate by level and then focus on the important numbers for minor leaguers:

Looking at the above we see a tale of two seasons. His adjustment to pro ball in 2018 at the Rookie League level showed us he could get strikeouts aplenty, but his command wasn’t there yet and his WHIP suffered accordingly.

Then in 2019, at both A-ball Great Lakes, and then High-A Rancho Cucamonga, things clicked. In fact, let’s re-do the chart above and break out A from High-A:

This is what I love to see from relief prospects! Look at the progression of that K% rate as he climbed the levels. Look at the disappearing BB% rate! That K%-BB% climb is a thing of beauty. When you are striking out almost every third batter, your WHIP takes care of itself.
It didn’t matter how you tried to bat against Bruihl, you had little chance, another reason his WHIP was so low.
Wow! Look at that K-BB% trend! It’s like after struggling at Rookie level in 2018, Justin was unleashed onto A-Ball and his rate took off like an arrow shot by a crossbow. He had a brief taste of High-A and maintained a good rate.
Looking at his spray chart, I see not many hits, and only one HR and only two triples. The doubles are sprayed all over the field, nothing for the batters to pull. The lack of HRs is partially his dominance over the batters, and partially the fact that in his minor-league career he has gotten just about twice the number of ground balls as he has fly balls.
Keep the ball on the ground, strike out 1/3 of the batters, don’t walk anyone, and you have the recipe for success for a reliever. Think major league managers don’t love arms like this for their bullpen?

The Scouts

Here we have to leave the scouts behind as there just isn’t much information about Bruihl. As I said at the beginning, relief prospects are mostly ignored by the fantasy community.

Warnings

Uh, he’s a reliever. He’s only had a small taste of High-A, let alone Double-A. We won’t really know what he can produce until he gets to Double-A.

But I’ll tell you this: If he handles Double-A the way he handled A-ball, Justin Bruihl will be a major leaguer shortly thereafter. This is a kid who already had TJS while just a junior in High School. He’s come back strong, he’s putting up terrific numbers, and if that keeps up this 22-year-old will be wearing Dodger Blue in a year or two.

Conclusion

You all know your league needs. If you can ignore relievers, Bruihl is not of interest to you. In my main dynasty league, however, where pitchers are key, and Holds are as valuable as Saves, this is the kind of arm that I love. I can ignore him now as he has more to prove, but I know his name now, and I won’t forget him. Good luck, Justin, I’m rooting for you now!

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