Omar Duran was an under-the-radar signing the Detroit Tigers made this past November. Previously in the Oakland Athletics' organization, Duran is a 24-year-old left-handed reliever from the Dominican Republic. He has never pitched above Double-A. Duran will likely receive a non-roster invite to spring training with the Tigers, and then start the season in Triple-A Toledo.
Now, let me take you back four years. In November of 2010, the Tigers signed a 24-year-old-Dominican in Al Alburquerque who, at the time, had never pitched above Double-A. Alburquerque, fresh off a year-and-a-half stint in the Colorado Rockies' organization, started off the 2011 season with the Toledo Mud Hens. The only difference in the circumstances of the two signings is that Alburquerque received a major league contract, while Duran did not.
If the only similarities between these two pitchers was the age in which they signed, the level they pitched at before signing, and the country in which they were born, then I would not even bother wasting your time with narrative comparisons. However, when you dig into the statistics and scouting reports, one will find that there is quite a bit similar between the two Dominicans.
In 278 2/3 innings in the minor leagues, Duran has posted a 3.13 ERA, 12.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings, 5.7 walks-per-nine innings, and a 2.12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Alburquerque has only spent 207 2/3 innings in the minors, but has a 4.30 ERA, 11.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings, 4.6 walks-per-nine innings, and a 2.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio. According to ERA, Duran has actually been better than Alburquerque, but Duran had the luxury of dominating rookie ball for 77 innings, while Alburquerque only spent 12 2/3 innings at the level. Aside from that, it's easy to see that both Duran and Alburquerque are high-strikeout, high-walk pitchers.
However, it's not just their stat line that we find similarities in. Both Alburquerque and Duran find success by mixing devastating sliders with fastballs that sit in the mid-to-upper 90s. Alburquerque has become known at the major league level as a pitcher that will throw his slider with confidence in any count. I don't think I'll ever be able to say that Alburquerque has command of any of his pitches, but when he controls his slider, it's one of the most dominant pitches in baseball. I have never seen Duran pitch, but scouting reports indicate that he tends to nibble around the zone rather than attack hitters. If that is the case, then, unlike Alburquerque, his slider won't be as effective considering Duran can't throw it in an area that's deceptive to a hitter.
Last week, Rob noted that Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski has shifted his thinking on bullpen building this offseason. Instead of chasing after one or two big name, big money relievers, Dombrowski has gone out and acquired a plethora of lesser-known arms. Bullpen pitchers are historically the most volatile players in baseball. In the case of building a bullpen, it makes sense to go for volatile quantity over volatile quality. The acquisition of Duran is just another testament to Dombrowski's wise shift in thinking.
In sports, nothing is guaranteed. Just because Player A has the same make-up of Player B, who has had success at the major league level, does not mean that Player A will experience similar success. Will Duran turn into a strikeout machine for the Tigers? I sure hope so, but I have no idea. At the very least, Duran is an intriguing acquisition because he has a quality arsenal. He just needs to put everything together, much like Alburquerque when the Tigers signed him four years ago.