Brayan Rene Villarreal
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 170 lb.
Villarreal was signed by scout Ramon Pena in 2005 and began his professional career in 2006, pitching for the VSL Marlins/Tigers and going 0-2 with a 3.48 ERA in 14 games (five starts). He moved to the United States in 2007, though he pitched in only one game that season - for the GCL Tigers, with whom he went 0-0 with a 6.23 ERA. In 2008, he pitched for both the GCL Tigers (11 games, six starts) and West Michigan Whitecaps (one start), going a combined 1-6 with a 4.69 ERA. His five losses tied for third in the Gulf Coast League. In 2009, he pitched for the Whitecaps again, going 5-5 with a 2.87 ERA in 26 games (16 starts), striking out 118 batters in 103 1/3 innings of work. Baseball America rated him as having the best slider of a Detroit farmhand. That winter, he was 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA for the Caribes de Anzoátegui. He split 2010 between the Lakeland Flying Tigers and Erie SeaWolves, going a combined 7-8 with a 3.55 ERA in 24 starts. He struck out 136 batters in 129 1/3 innings pitched.
Bypassing AAA, Villarreal made the 2011 Tigers out of spring training. He debuted in the big leagues at age 23, relieving Brad Thomas with a 9-3 deficit in the 6th against the Yankees. He served up a homer to his first batter, Alex Rodriguez, but struck out Raul Cano. Nick Swisher grounded out, Jorge Posada singled and Curtis Granderson hit into an inning-ending force. Joaquin Benoit relieved him in the 7th. In all, he made 16 appearances out of the bullpen that first season, going 1-1, 6.75, also spending time with the Toledo Mud Hens of the International League, for whom he was 3-5, 5.05 in 17 games. He then became a key part of the Tigers' bullpen in 2012, getting into 50 games and going 3-5 with an excellent ERA of 2.63 and 66 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings. The Tigers reached the American League Championship Series his first year and the World Series his second, but he did not see any postseason action either year.
In spring training of 2013, Brayan was shaken when his family was the victim of a kidnapping attempt in his native Venezuela. Armed robbers had broken into the family home and threatened his father and 14-year-old brother in an attempt to extort money. Police intervened quickly, however, and were able to free the hostages without injury. He started the season in Detroit, but was ineffective, being sent down to the minors on April 21st after going 0-2 with a 20.77 ERA in his 7 appearances. He pitched better in Toledo, where he was 2-2, 3.15 in 28 games before being traded to the Boston Red Sox on July 30th as part of a three-team deal that saw the Red Sox also acquire P Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox and cede SS Jose Iglesias to Detroit, while OF Avisail Garcia went from Detroit to Chicago.
In an improbable twist, the only other Brayan in big league history, catcher Brayan Pena, played at the same time as Villarreal. Even more unlikely—they were teammates in 2013, and fate so aligned it that Brayan the catcher caught Brayan the pitcher just once, on April 17.