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 Rays starter Alex Torres.
Alex Torres was a big hero for the Rays down the stretch, mainly because of a stellar five-inning relief outing that helped the team to a win in a game they absolutely had to have in the last week of the year. But the lefty would’ve likely made some sort of impact for most teams by then, as he’d spent most of the past three years in the upper minors with bigtime strikeout numbers. The extremely patient Rays organization let him ripen, however, and he’ll likely break in with the team as a reliever in 2012 after appearing in four games out of the bullpen in 2011. Always a high-walk, high-strikeout pitcher in the minors, he walked seven and struck out nine.
Let’s start by taking a quick look at the highlight video of Torres’ brilliant five-inning apperarance. The thing that really jumps out in that video is how much armside run both his fastball and changeup have, which makes both pitches look stellar. Indeed, those two offerings form the backbone of his arsenal; he also has a curveball that he uses as his third pitch.
Torres worked at 90-95 mph with his fastball in relief–in a starting role, then, he’d likely be in the 89-93 range. Given the explosive horizontal action on the pitch, it’s average-plus to plus; however, he doesn’t always locate it. Just 51 of the 99 he threw in the big leagues were strikes, and his minor league walk rates point toward fastball location being an issue there as well. In particular, he threw too many pitches high:
We can also see here that his location of the pitch in the zone was imprecise, as far too many of his fastballs were right down the heart of the plate. Clearly, his command of the pitch is an issue.
On a happier note, Torres’ changeup looks like a legitimate plus MLB pitch already. He got 34 of the 44 he threw in the majors to go for strikes, and the pitch’s true screwball movement makes it a nightmare for hitters. He’s unafraid to deploy the pitch, which travels in the 80-85 mph range, to hitters from both sides of the plate, and it’s easy to see how much more he pounds the zone:
Torres’ curveball is a distant third pitch in his usage, as he threw just 13 of them in his eight MLB innings, but it profiles as a useful offering as well, with big break and a much different speed at 73-77 mph.
Overall, Torres has a very good three-pitch mix, but he turns 24 in the offseason and has never reliably thrown strikes in the minors. That makes him a lot like the lefthanded version of Dellin Betances, whom I profiled yesterday, with the notable difference that Betances is 6’8″ and Torres is 5’10″. With his short stature, Torres is the sort of hurler that often ends up moved to the bullpen quickly. I see him as thriving in a setup role with stuff this electric, but it’s easy to be intrigued by his potential as a starter if he could exhibit any fastball command. Unlike Betances, Torres has a clean and compact delivery, so his fastball command doesn’t seem to have an easy fix. With his level of upper-minors experience, no glaring mechanical issues to correct, and no projectability, he’s as finished of a product as a pitcher his age can be. He’d be worth starting on a team like the Pirates or Astros, but he’ll fit well as a high-leverage bullpen lefty on Tampa Bay.
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