29. José Mujica (60 points, 6 ballots)
The story of José Mujica is one of a player getting lost in the shuffle. First of all, he’s certainly not the most famous José Mujica. Mujica was signed out of Venezuela for $1M back in 2012 by Tampa Bay, which was only the second biggest bonus the Rays handed out that year. In an incredibly deep Tampa system, the right-hander was so buried that Fangraphs didn’t rank him as one of the 54 best prospects in the system in 2019. Mujica was Colorado’s only major league free agent signing last off-season, but was little more than an afterthought for most Rockies fans.
And yet...Mujica was thought highly enough by the Rays to put him on the 40-man roster after a 2017 season in which he reached Double-A for the first time. He followed that with a strong 2018 campaign in which he posted a 2.70 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 8.3 K/9 rate as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. Mujica was on the verge of cracking a deep Tampa major league starting rotation, but then he needed Tommy John surgery in September 2018. For an organization as deep as the Rays, that was enough for Mujica to lose his shot. He was outrighted off the roster and became a free agent after the 2019 season.
In the abbreviated 2020 season, Mujica did not get an easy first assignment in the big leagues. After building arm strength back up at the alternate site, the righty got called up on September 4th but didn’t get into a game until four days later, when the Rockies were still just half a game out of a playoff spot. When he made his debut, it was just about the worst situation you could possible give a guy facing his first big league hitter (and his first hitter in a game that counts in two years): Coors Field, bases loaded, one out, first inning, notorious Rockie-killer Wil Myers at the plate.
The result was history: Mujica became the first Major Leaguer to give up a grand slam to the first batter he faced. The rest of the game didn’t go much better, as he lasted 2 2⁄3 innings and allowed six runs on eight hits. He was then sent down the next day and only returned to pitch 1 2⁄3 scoreless innings in the last game of the year when the Rockies were already down 11-0. The small sample size rWAR was an execrable -0.5 for those 4 1⁄3 innings of work, but I don’t think we should hold it too much against Mujica. He was dealt a tough hand and he struggled, but I still think the 24-year-old has a big league arm that could provide starting depth for the Rockies.
As I mentioned above, Mujica has largely escaped the eye of national scouts. Here’s some video of him back in High-A in 2017:
The best scouting report I could find for Mujica was this 2018 profile by fellow SBN site DRaysBay:
Plus change up
Low to Mid-90s fastball, can hit 96 MPH
Slider has made strides, curve is still work in progress
Noted as having above-average command
Abilities notes: The ability to keep hitters off-balance and throw off timing combined with aggressiveness on the mound is what sets Mujica up for success. His arsenal allows for him to throw in speeds ranging from the high 70s through the mid-90s.
They compare Mujica’s arsenal to that of big leaguer (and KBO star in 2020) Dan Straily — not super exciting but still complimentary for a minor leaguer.
Additionally, Tracy Ringolsby quoted a scouting report on Mujica when the Rockies signed him:
He throws strikes to both sides of the plate with a fastball that has peaked at 93 mph. His fastball has late, heavy life, and he could reach the mid-90s. Mujica’s best secondary pitch is his changeup, which shows good sink and could be an above-average pitch. He sells the pitch well with his arm speed and throws it to both lefties and righties.
There’s not a whole lot to go on for Mujica, which is why I’m not surprised he was mentioned on fewer than half of the PuRP ballots this time around. The argument for the 24-year-old is based on performance and how the Rays treated him before his TJ surgery — moving quickly through the system and getting a 40 man roster slot for a team that values those slots like gold.
Mujica’s profile is that of a back-end starter or multi-inning reliever, which is why I ranked him 20th on my own ballot with a 40 FV grade. I expect him to be a contributor to the 2021 roster as a strong depth option, though perhaps he’ll start in Triple-A (you know, assuming we have Triple-A in 2021).