The Pittsburgh Pirates signed left-handed reliever Geronimo Franzua this offseason, making his return to affiliated baseball in nearly a decade.
Many Major League Baseball players have taken unconventional routes to the big leagues. Jim Morris is one of the most famous example of that, and his story was showcased in the Dennis Quaid movie, “The Rookie.” David Peralta is one of the most successful players who took an unconventional route to the bigs, going from a struggling pitching prospect, re-finding himself as an outfielder in independent league ball, and now a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recipient who is entering his 10th big league season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have signed a pitcher this offseason that could have a similarly unconventional path to the big leagues if he makes it. In mid-February, the Bucs signed Geronimo Franzua to a minor league deal. Although he’s had a successful career in Japan, things looked very bleak for Franzua’s pro career in baseball at one point.
Originally an international signee by the Houston Astros in 2010, Franzua couldn’t get out of the Dominican Summer League. He pitched 91.1 innings, dishing out 14 more walks than strikeouts induced. He walked 91 batters, and the only upside was his 0.2 HR/9 rate. Unsurprisingly, the Astros released the left-hander after a third straight season of heavily struggling at the DSL.
Franzua then took a four-year hiatus from professional baseball. He didn’t pitch a single inning anywhere, for any team, independent, affiliated, or international, for five straight seasons from 2014 to 2017. Not often do you see a player take a long hiatus after performing so poorly in affiliated ball and return to any success, but Franzua found a new life in Japan. In his first season in Asia, Franzua had a 1.89 ERA, a WHIP of just 1.18 WHIP, and struck out 28.3% of the batters he faced in 105 frames. Walks were still an issue, but his 12.1% walk rate was a major improvement from 20.6% prior to his season.
Across his next two seasons, Franzua would pitch 138.2 innings. He struck out 28.4% of opponents faced. But where Franzua improved the most was in the walk department. He had just a 9.7% walk rate, with a 7.8% rate in 2020. Franzua was extremely effective and earned a handful of chances for saves for Hiroshima. But the last two seasons have only seen him pitch a combined 21.2 innings. Maybe he stays healthy in 2023 and makes a surprise major league appearance.
If and when Franzua makes his debut for a Pirate minor league affiliate, it will be the first time since 2013 the southpaw has pitched for an affiliated ball club since August 23rd, 2013. During that day, the Pirates won 3-1 over the San Francisco Giants, with all three runs coming from a Clint Barmes home run. It’s been that long since he’s pitched in minor league baseball. It would be a nice success story if he were to make the major leagues. Who knows; with the lack of left-handed relievers the Pirates have in the big leagues, you can’t rule the possibility out entirely.