Who, Exactly, Is Ronald Belisario?

When he’s not leaping through time, trying to set right what once went wrong, (yeah, dig that reference), Ronald Belisario is apparently a 26-year-old career minor leaguer who’s probably not going to make the Opening Day roster. If this sounds like an unlikely topic to write about,
belisariomarlinscard.jpgyou’re not wrong. But the thing about Ronald Belisario is, I’ve never heard of him. And while I’m hardly the end-all, be-all of Dodger knowledge, as a fan and a blogger it’s rare that a player comes along who might contribute to the team that I know nothing about. So this is going to be just as much for me as it is for you.

Though he’d apparently signed with the Dodgers as a minor-league free agent back in January, Belisario has spent most of his spring in minor league camp, where he remains today. Upon noting the signing, Pirates blog Bucs Dugout stated:

Ronald Belisario, the pitcher formerly known as “No, nobody knows why he’s on the Pirates’ 40-man,” has signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers, Baseball America reports.

And… we’re off to a good start here. If even Pirates fans don’t think this guy is worthy of a 40-man roster spot, I’m not going into this with high hopes. Have you looked at the Pirates pitching staff lately? This is the same staff which was just described by Baseball Prospectus with such endearing terms as “the Pirates rotation is terrible” and “the bullpen will likely be among the worst in the game.” Fantastic. Really, the first time I even noticed him was during my roster preview the other day, when Dodgers.com noted:

In fact, there will be as many as 16 non-roster players making the trip west with the team at least through the weekend, some of them still contending for jobs, including pitchers Tanyon Sturtze, 21-year-old Josh Lindblom and even Ronald Belisario, on almost nobody’s radar until his two scoreless innings Monday.

Ugh – every time someone says the name “Tanyon Sturtze”, a chill runs down my spine. I think if you say his name three times in a row, he’ll appear like the “Candyman” and lop your head off. By which I mean, “come into a pressure situation and toss 84 MPH fastballs until the game is lost.” Anyway, back to Belisario, I didn’t think much of that mention, because who the hell is Ronald Belisario? Is this team so desperate for pitching that two scoreless innings in a spring training game can win a job?

Wait, don’t answer that.

But, it sounds like we might need to start taking this seriously, because Tony Jackson thinks this kid’s got a shot:

Don’t count out Ronald Belisario

He isn’t just the guy who reported late to camp due to visa problems in Venezuela. He is now a guy with a real shot of being on this club when the roster is finalized late tomorrow night. He has made three relief appearances, two of them AFTER he was reassigned to minor-league camp on March 6. He mowed down seven batters in a row in the eighth and ninth innings against Oakland on Monday, although Nomar reached on a two-out error in the eighth to prevent it from being two perfect innings. Then, last night against the Angels, Belisario pitched the fifth and sixth, and although he gave up a couple of hits and a walk, he still struck out three, including Chone Figgins, Howie Kendrick and Vladimir Guerrero. This guy has great stuff, and the Dodgers don’t have a great bullpen. He is 26, and he has never pitched above Double-A, but he did well pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League this year for Leones de Caracas. That team was managed by Caracas native Carlos Subera, the new manager of the Dodgers high Single-A Inland Empire affiliate. Belisario is TECHNICALLY still in minor-league camp, but while he was never officially promoted back to the big-league side, he is here in Los Angeles with the club, so that should tell you something.

I still don’t think that he’s going to make the Opening Day roster, in large part due to the 40-man issues this team looks to have, as I mentioned in the preview. But we all know that the Opening Day 25 will hardly be the only 25 players you see this year, so if he’s that impressive he’ll likely have a chance to make his mark later in the season.

So getting back to the point: who the hell is Ronald Belisario? The Venezualan native signed with the Marlins as a 16-year-old amateur free agent in 1999, and made his American pro debut in rookie league ball in 2001. He spent four years, mostly as a starter, with various Florida farm clubs, topping out with an absolutely brutal season spent primarily in AA ball in 2004 – if a 5.55 ERA in 15 starts doesn’t catch your eye, the 1.616 WHIP and the 5.3 BB/9 should.

But wait! It gets better. Belisario missed all of 2005 with Tommy John surgery, and then all of 2006 with an undisclosed suspension (seriously, I can’t find any details on this. Steroids? Crime? I have absolutely no idea.) After missing two full seasons, he resurfaced as a reliever in the Pirates system, putting up a 4.74 ERA and a 1.544 WHIP in 38 AA games last season. Somehow, as the Bucs Dugout blog mentioned, he was taking up a 40-man roster spot while doing so.

Granted, Belisario has thrown five scoreless innings in big league camp, and that’s not to be ignored. But it’s also all of five spring innings from a guy who’s never even seen AAA and hasn’t exactly been lighting up the world down in AA. Surprisingly, Baseball Prospectus has a 2009 PECOTA prediction for him, but it’s not exactly pretty: they’d expect a 5.85 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP if he were in the majors this year. Based on his okay-at-best stats two levels down, that sounds about right – and maybe even optimistic.

So what have we learned about Ronald Belisario? Well, nothing that we want to hear. It’s not unexpected to see a guy take 2-3 years off of Tommy John surgery to regain his confidence, and if that’s the case: great. Who knows, maybe he’s one of those guys who raises his game once the competition is greater (see: Blake DeWitt, 2008). But I think we’ve learned more about the Dodgers than Belisario, in that the real take-home lesson here is let’s hope we don’t actually have to need Ronald Belisario.