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March 3, 2011

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Finding Julio Teheran

by Jason Parks

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Okay, this is going to be a little strange. Some of you will no doubt hate what I’m about to bust out, and I can’t say that I blame you. It’s not always easy to listen to Paul Simon, and it’s even harder to extract prophecy from his narratives. But because I love the readers of Baseball Prospectus so very much, I went all the way back to 1972 to establish the provenance of the top pitching prospect in baseball, and I did so using Paul Simon’s words as my guide. This is either my finest hour, or an application essay for Bellevue.

“The mama pajama rolled out a bed
And she ran to the police station
When the papa found out he began to shout
And he started the investigation”

Miguel “the Mama Pajama” Teheran, Braves scout and cousin of Julio Teheran, helped sign the 16-year-old pitcher out of Colombia in 2007, with help from Carlos “Papa” Garcia, for a cool $850,000, making Teheran the international market’s priciest pitching commodity.

(Even if you don’t like where this is headed, you have to admit that Miguel “the Mama Pajama” Teheran is a great name. C’mon, admit it.)

“It's against the law
It was against the law
What the mama saw
It was against the law.”

Sixteen-year-olds who can already throw upper-80s to low-90s fastballs with above-average movement are instantly enticing, but when you add the feel and execution of a potentially plus changeup, the ability to spin a breaking ball that already has some bite, projectable size, a loose and fast arm, and the polish and intelligence suggestive of a much more mature age, you are basically dealing with something too good to be legally available for purchase. “The Mama Pajama” Teheran knew his cousin was special, and it was only a matter of time before the rest of baseball would agree.

“The mama look down and spit on the ground
Every time my name gets mentioned
The papa said, "Oy, if I get that boy,
I'm gonna stick him the house of detention."

Congratulations on signing a professional contact... now please enjoy your stateside debut in beautiful Orlando, Florida, where you can sample the sweet reality of 90 percent humidity while negotiating 90 percent tourism... good times, good times. “House of detention” might be a little harsh, but have you ever been to Orlando? I’m just putting that out there.

Nevertheless, Teheran wowed team officials and scouts alike during the Fall instructional league, showing an advanced feel for the mound and all the necessary components for an elite-grade projection as a prospect. The $850,000 bonus was already looking like a steal, and every team in baseball knew the Braves had something special on their hands.

“Well I'm on my way.
I don't know where I'm going
I'm on my way I'm taking my time
But I don't know where”

Teheran was indeed on his way, starting the 2008 season in that house of detention before moving to short-season Danville in the Appalachian League. A case of shoulder tendinitis limited his workload there to only 15 innings, putting him back in Danville to start the 2009 season, that after once again starting the season at the house of detention. The Braves were quite aware of what they had in the young Colombian, but they kept the training wheels on after a promotion to the full-season Sally League, bringing him in under the 90-inning mark on the year.

“Goodbye to Rosie the queen of Corona
See you, me and Julio down by the school yard
See you, me and Julio down by the school yard”

Aside from the slight literal redundancy and the reference to a park in Queens, NY, saying good-bye to Rosie, the queen of Corona can be read as taking a step forward in life; a step forward from something already perceived as special or accomplished. (Paul Simon never met a metaphor he didn’t like). In Teheran’s case, the governor was off the rig, and it was time to say good-bye to Rosie, the low-minors dream, and say hello to Julio, the best pitching prospect in baseball.

The 2010 season would be Teheran's coming out party, as he climbed three levels over the course of the season, finishing strong at Double-A Mississippi. The 19-year-old now boasts a 65/70-grade fastball that explodes with late life in the zone, and he throws the pitch with sharp control and improving command. That's his second-best pitch.

Teheran's best pitch is his changeup, one that has flashed as a plus-plus future offering. He exhibits such comfort and confidence with the pitch that he will use it in any count and in any situation, against both lefties and righties alike. It's irresponsibly deceptive thanks to his arm speed and clean delivery, and features both vertical and horizontal movement, showing natural weight and fade. His curveball is still inconsistent, but flashed plus more than it flashed average, but it gives Teheran three pitches that grade out as above-average.

Here's what's scary: Julio Teheran is heading into the 2011 season at the tender age of 20, and for as far as he's come from an already promising beginning, he still hasn’t scratched the surface of his potential yet. We should all rush to the schoolyards of baseball in order to see Julio before he leaves the small markets of the minors for the bright lights of the major leagues.

“In a couple of days they come and take me away
But the press let the story leak”

As we look into the future, 2011 will inevitably deliver us the news that Julio Teheran has been promoted to the 25-man roster, and will take the mound on the biggest stage before he celebrates his 21st birthday. The story will no doubt break on Twitter, and the press in question will most likely be Ken Rosenthal, Buster Olney, or Tom Verducci (if his chiseled good looks aren’t occupying his time). After learning about the promotion, the world rejoices, and hands find partner with other hands as we prepare to witness the future converge with the present.

“And when the radical priest
Come to get me released
We was all on the cover of Newsweek”

After John Schuerholz, the radical priest of the Braves organization, gives orders from on high to free Teheran from the grip of minor-league baseball, the ballparks will fill and the seas will part. Fans of the game will soon read a feature story on BaseballProspectus.com, documenting the prospect’s rise to fame, and the smart editors will conveniently forget to link to this particular article. I’ll post the link in the comment section, but I will quickly be reminded that I can no longer call myself a contributor, thanks to the abject ridiculousness of this piece. Thanks for nothing, Paul Simon.

“And I'm on my way
I don't know where I'm going
I'm on my way; I'm taking my time
But I don't know where
Goodbye to Rosie the queen of Corona
See you, me and Julio
Down by the school yard
See you me and Julio
Down by the school yard
See you me and Julio
Down by the school yard”

So there you have it. Julio Teheran started as an abstract dream on the diamonds of Colombia, but has developed into his reality as a big-league organization's crown jewel in short order. How often does an $850,000 investment in a 16-year-old mature into a legit blue-chip prospect, knocking on the door of the majors? How often does that prospect arrive carrying the same sky-high projection he started with as an amateur? Not very often.

More importantly, how often does Paul Simon enter into prospect prophecy, penning a tale of Julio Teheran’s journey to the big leagues almost 20 years before he was born? It’s rather remarkable. It will be equally remarkable if I have still have a job at Baseball Prospectus when this comes out. I wonder what “The Boy in the Bubble” can tell us? The bomb in the baby carriage was wired to the radio…

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Julio Teheran,  Corona

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