Richard Bleier

Richard Bleier (

By Scott Barancik, editor

On Tuesday, Major League teams can expand their rosters from 25 players to 40, an annual September ritual that allows top prospects a chance to take a swing at the big time.

Although there are no guarantees, two Jewish pitchers might make the leap.

One is Washington Nationals farmhand Richard Bleier, a starter for the Syracuse Chiefs (AAA). A late bloomer, Bleier is enjoying his best season yet in the minors. The 6’3″ southpaw and Team Israel alum has gone a combined 14-5 with a 2.63 ERA this season for the Chiefs and the Harrisburg Senators (AA). Just this week he was named the Eastern League’s (AA) best left-handed starter.

Zack Weiss

Zack Weiss (

Cincinnati Reds prospect Zack Weiss may be more of a longshot. The 6’3″ righthander hasn’t reached Triple-A yet, having split the 2015 season between the Daytona Tortugas (High-A) and, since May 6, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (AA). But Weiss has swiftly established himself as one of the country’s premier closers. Through games played Aug. 29, Weiss was 1-3 with a 2.10 ERA, had 83 strikeouts in 60 innings, and earned 29 saves — No. 2 among 4,774 minor-league pitchers. And he keeps getting better: so far this month, Weiss is sporting a 0.60 ERA with 11 saves, has held opposing teams to a .104 batting average, and has yielded only 0.67 hits/walks per innings.

No surprise, Weiss is one of the Blue Wahoos players whom Reds president and general manager Walt Jockett came to watch this week, according to the Pensacola News-Journal.

Bleier and Weiss have some things in common. Both are 6’3″, grew up and went to college in coastal states (Bleier at Florida Gulf Coast, Weiss at UCLA), and were 6th-round draft picks (Bleier by Texas, Weiss by Cincinnati). Neither one has rated a blip on ‘top prospect’ radars. When assembled its 2015 Top 30 prospect watch lists for the Reds and Nats, for example, the names Weiss and Bleier were nowhere to be found.

A key difference is age. Weiss, drafted in 2013, is just 23 years old and has made quick work of the Reds’ minor-league ladder. Bleier, 28, was drafted in 2008, has played for three franchises over an 8-year professional career, and has had a winning record only once before — just barely so, in 2014, when he earned 6 wins against 5 losses. “I’m not a prospect by any means,” he admitted in a recent newspaper interview. “I was a prospect at one point and I was a little inconsistent and kind of got passed up. And now I’m just trying to hang in there.”

Bleier’s breakout 2015 season has opened many eyes in Cincinnati. Thru games played Aug. 29, his 14 wins were tied for third among all minor-leaguers, and his 164.1-innings made him the minors’ most durable hurler. By no means a power pitcher — he has fanned 61 batters this season, half as many as in 2009 — the native of Davie, FL, has been a marvel of control and consistency this year. Bleier has issued just 15 walks all season, an average of 0.82 per 9 innings, and hasn’t given more than 2 free passes in a single game.

In the article cited above, Bleier credited his turnaround to a bolder, more nuanced approach toward right-handed batters. Soon, he may get to test that new strategy against Major League hitters.

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