Armed with 99 mph sinker, Uribe making electric comeback

March 3rd, 2023

PHOENIX -- still remembers his exact emotions when he received the news that he would require surgery last year, taking a quick breath before recounting those moments.

“You know, when it first happened, I kind of had a feeling that it was bad. It just didn’t feel right,” said Uribe Friday morning, answering through translator Carlos Brizuela. “We went up to the hospital and got everything done. When they told me, I think I spent the whole game in the clubhouse, like, crying by myself. You know, very disappointed.”

On April 26, 2022, the Brewers’ No. 12 prospect underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, causing him to be sidelined for the rest of the season. It was a freak injury of sorts -- Uribe said that it came out of nowhere while he was stretching before a game, and he only caught it because he noticed that it was bothering him a little bit -- but it robbed him of a full year at Double-A Biloxi.

Aside from two games in early April, the 22-year-old’s only action in ‘22 came with stints for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League and the Estrellas Orientales in the Dominican Winter League. The Santo Domingo native appeared in nine games for Glendale, racking up 14 strikeouts over 10 innings pitched. Uribe was efficient and stingy, only giving up one earned run (four total) and two walks. But what put him on the radar was his eye-popping stuff. He goes to battle with a sinker that sits 98-99 MPH, paired with a slider that also hovers in the high 80s.

“It was a great feeling to be able to show what I was made of,” said Uribe. “It showed the whole work with the rehab and the hard work we put in with the trainer, so it was a really good feeling to be able to pitch.”

Now, it’s still early in camp, but Uribe’s upside already has the Brewers’ coaching staff excited about the possibilities.

“It’s electric,” said bullpen coach Jim Henderson, talking about Uribe’s stuff. “It’s a great arm, and you can see how he breaks the hands. He’s got the long limbs. It’s a matter of body control and how much you can control that velocity in that body. He’s here, he looks healthy, there’s been no issues so far, so let’s just keep it going.”

Thursday, Uribe made his second appearance in the Cactus League, striking out two and walking one across an inning of work in the Brewers’ 7-4 loss to the Rangers. It’s his first year in big league camp, so there will be less focus on his results and output in the coming weeks. But it’s impossible to not feel Uribe’s excitement about the opportunity, even as he talks about his situation in front of his locker.

When there’s a player like Uribe waiting in the wings, especially one who’s coming back from a major injury, there’s a special emphasis on balancing excitement and managing expectations.

“We’ve stressed to Abner, ‘It’s important to get yourself ready for Opening Day.’ That has been stressed as the focus here,” said manager Craig Counsell. “‘You’re not going to make the team, then your job is to keep getting better so that when you get to the big leagues, you stay in the big leagues.’ I think he’s talented enough to be a pitcher you can say that about, he’s just not there yet.”

But even while understanding that the young gunslinger has a long way to go in his journey, Counsell recognizes that Uribe’s talent is undeniable, choosing to highlight the positives that he’s seen in the small sample size.

“Yeah, Abner throws really hard. It’s a great place to start,” said Counsell. “Sometimes it’s about harnessing it. … He’s got a ways to go still, but it can happen fast with a guy that throws that hard.”

From Uribe’s perspective, this spring is more about enjoying the moment. He has an obsession with throwing hard -- he first touched 98 mph in 2018, has topped out at 104 mph and said that each time he sees 100 mph on the radar gun, he “just wants to throw it again even harder.” Now, he’s healthy and armed with a clear plan for the ‘23 season.

“I’m always working on that,” said Uribe when asked if his ultimate goal this year is to make the Majors. “I’m trying to do what I can control and let everything else [be] up to God. Hopefully, I stay healthy, and then they make the decision."