The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Joel Carreno

Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.

When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.

This time, I’m taking a look at Blue Jays reliever Joel Carreno.

Joel Carreno has been a favorite prospect of mine for the past two years, as he’s put up some extremely impressive strikeout numbers. However, he rarely got too much attention in the prospect mainstream, as he was thought of as a one-pitch guy with a good slider and little else.

Jumped straight from the Double-A New Hampshire rotation to the Toronto bullpen, Carreno pitched very well down the stretch, allowing just two runs on 11 hits in 15 2/3 innings while walking four and striking out 14.

Not surprisingly, he leaned heavily on his slider. That is, if you can call his breaking pitch a slider. Baseball Info Solutions classifies it as a curveball, and Pitch F/X calls about half of the breaking balls curves and the other half sliders. In any case, he uses the breaking ball a ton, throwing it over half the time in relief. The pitch comes in from 77-83 mph with sharp break.

Against righthanders, Carreno relentlessly pounds the zone with the breaking ball, getting it in for a strike 71.3% of the time. His 11.3% whiff rate is surprisingly not particularly great for a breaking pitch, but he makes up for it with a 26.3% called strike rate, which is stellar for a breaking ball.

Against lefthanders, the breaking pitch’s whiff rate went up to 16.3% and its called strike rate stayed high, at 27.1%, although his overall strike rate dropped to 64.9%.

You might think Carreno is an extreme soft-tosser since he throws so many breaking pitches, but his fastball has respectable velocity, coming in at 90-93 mph with plus sink. He also has a fading changeup in the mid-80’s that he doesn’t use much, but has the movement to give lefties some trouble.

Here’s a look at his locations to righties and lefties:

Clearly, Carreno pounds the zone to righthanded batters, but is very careful with lefties. He occasionally misses way off to the arm-side to batters from both sides, a product of his delivery. Carreno tends to fly open at the end of his motion and turn his body toward first base before releasing the ball, causing his arm to drag behind him and pitches to float off to the right.

That delivery and his relatively small frame, more than any deficiency in his arsenal, is what gives me some worry about Carreno’s ability to become an MLB starter. There’s little doubt he has the stuff and strikethrowing ability to get any righthanded batter out, and he’s got enough of a changeup and enough depth on his breaking ball to deal with lefties well enough, but it’s an open question as to whether a 6’0″, 170 lb. pitcher can survive that sort of torque for 180+ innings every season. To his credit, Carreno has held up in minor league rotations each of the last two seasons, but between his mechanics and high breaking pitch usage (obviously, as a starter, he wouldn’t use it 53% of the time like he does in relief, but he’d still be up there with Dylan Axelrod), it’s a tough call where he should be deployed long-term, especially in an organization as stacked with young pitching as Toronto.

That aside, there’s no reason a healthy Carreno can’t be successful in either role in the majors. He’ll have to throw more strikes to lefties (just 16 of 32 fastballs to them went for strikes, and the scatter plot speaks for itself overall), but his locations to righties show he’s clearly capable of doing that, so all he needs is the negative feedback that would force him to change his approach–and hey, if he never gets that negative feedback and keeps going like this, then I guess he can get away with it.

The 24-year-old righthander should be a valuable member of Toronto’s staff in the coming years no matter his role, provided his arm holds up.

For more on the Blue Jays, check out Jays Journal.

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Tags: Joel Carreno Toronto Blue Jays

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