In the big picture Julio Teheran is already a pitcher with incredible accomplishments in the early phases of what could be an extended and lucrative career. After hearing his interviews and closely watching approximately 21 innings of his recent 2012 work on video, it’s hard not to root for the young man from Cartagena, Colombia. This season, however, provided a major check to his ascension within professional baseball. While his present day abilities are enough to make him a relevant major league talent, adjustments are needed if he wants to return to his dominant ways at the highest levels of the game.
Teheran was ranked as the top prospect from the Appalachian and Carolina leagues in 2009 and 2010 respectively. He started his 2010 campaign in the Sally and worked his way through hiA before ending his season with Mississippi in the Southern League. While his stint in AA was a bit rough, by the end of the year he had compiled a 1.03whip, a 2.59era, and more than ten strikeouts per nine innings over three levels. Teheran had become an elite prospect.
In 2011, at the mere age of 20, Teheran had the best season of anyone in the International League and was the youngest player in the NL when he got the call for his debut in Las Grandes Ligas. Pitching for Gwinnett he put together a 2.55era and a 1.18whip over 144+ innings, closely resembling his 2010 stats. The 6’2” righty was not anointed the fourth top prospect in all of the minors entering 2012 without some chinks to belie his hype. Teheran struck out far few batters in 2011 than he did in 2010 and had a difficult debut with Atlanta which included eleven earned runs, eight walks, and ten strikeouts during 19+ innings.
In 2011, an experienced scout quoted by Kevin Goldstein described Teheran as having impeccable mechanics, great mound presence, a fastball that averaged 95mph, a great change, and a good but potentially great curve. As to the mechanics, the scout described the fastball as being “hitter-untrackable, as [Teheran] hides his arm behind his back and it explodes on hitters” giving Teheran a unique “combination of arm velocity and deceptive velocity.” Teheran was forecasted to be a one on an upper echelon team. Then what caused Teheran’s developmental regression in 2012? Jason Parks’ explanation was twofold. First, Teheran lacked a consistent curve. Second, the lack of “movement” and the “visibility of the fastball,” which Parks said was still between 93 and 96 mph. Parks noted that “[b]ecause of his delivery and release, some hitters have been able to pick up the ball early out of Teheran’s hand.”
Teheran’s starts this year on June 10 against Toronto, July 14 against the Louisville Bats, July 19 against the Indianapolis Indians, August 14 against the Norfolk Tides, and August 19 against the Durham Bulls, provided me a fair sample of Teheran’s 2012 season. In terms of his presence, Teheran is kinetic on the mound but exhibits good composure. His delivery, sometimes referred to as robotic, isn’t the smoothest. His motion is closed and compact, and features a high front leg lift. However, the mechanical manner in which he takes the ball out of his glove and puts it behind his body along with his quick collapse makes the motion rigid.
While only some minor league telecasts provide radar readings, I did not see the velocity that Teheran once had. In the two games with readings, I did not observe a single fastball that hit 95, and only one at 94, with the vast majority ranging from 91 to 93. The fastball looks like a laser sometimes angling in against righties or, at others, just shooting high. Regardless of direction or angle, it seems flat. Teheran would benefit from adding a true slider or a two-seamer with arm side tilt.
Teheran does feature multiple kinds of breaking pitches, including the big 12-6 that usually goes 72 to 74. His other breaking ball isn’t nearly as big and has more horizontal movement. Occasionally the curve got crushed, (sometimes foul), at other times it set up the fastball for swing and miss action, or it would freeze the batter. While the curve could stand some improvement, my biggest concern was the great frequency with which he threw it.
What happened to Teheran’s vaunted cambio? It certainly wasn’t working well in his Blue Jays start. The change is between 81 and 83, thus giving it an 8 to 12 mph differential off the fastball. In his summer starts with Gwinnett one saw glimpses of the off-speed pitch tumbling down and arm side. But overall, it seemed his change of pace took a back seat and was somewhat inconsistent.
In the Gwinnett starts, Teheran gave up bombs to the likes of Xavier Paul, Tim Beckham, and Yamaico Navarro – all on fastballs. His best start of the year was against a Tides lineup that poses little threat to decent pitchers. Against better International League offenses, including the Durham Bulls, he got battered. It seems like he was tipping some pitches in these Gwinnett starts. I noticed that when he employed the stretch without a slide-step, he tended to use altered mechanics for his fastball. In these situations, when he threw his fastball he had a reduced front leg lift and he took the ball out of his glove earlier. When he went with the curveball in these situations, his leg lift was maximized and the ball remained in the glove longer. I found myself pausing the action at the leg kick and predicting the pitch he would subsequently throw.
In the early 19th Century, Cartagena became a ghost town. It’s now a thriving City on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Teheran, motivated by pride in his nation, needs to make a similar transformation to redeem his game from the eerie 2012 season and onto the heights of his potential.