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December 17, 2012

Minor League Update

Checking in on Some Hard-Throwing, Command-Challenged Pitching Prospects

by Jason Martinez

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With pitchers as fragile as they are these days, most organizations would rather send their top pitching prospects home for the winter unless they happened to miss significant time during the regular season. Many of those top prospects have the mid-90's fastballs, wipe out breaking pitches, and enough command to dominate in these leagues. Those who end up pitching in the Caribbean Winter Leagues, however, typically do not. And that's why it's rare to see a performance like Alberto Cabrera had for the Toros Del Este in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. The 24 year-old Cubs prospect walked six -- this is why he's not relaxing at home for the winter -- but he tossed no-hit ball over four shutout innings with 10 strikeouts. This is why the Cubs still think he can help them in the future.

When Cabrera does throw strikes consistently, as he did in 2012 (55 IP, 14 BB, 74 K between Triple-A and Double-A), he looks like a future big league setup man. He was back to his wild ways, though, during a late-season big league promotion and his struggles with control continue in the DWL. If he can re-capture what he was doing during the 2012 minor league season at some point next year, he's sure to get a shot in a very thin Cubs bullpen.

Here are some updates on a few other hard-throwing pitching prospects that have the stuff to dominate ... IF they can find the ability to know where the heck the pitch is going once it leaves their hand.

  • Jose Dominguez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Dominican Republic): 0.2 IP, 0 R, H, 0 BB, 2 K. According to some experts, there was a strong possibility that the 22 year-old would be taken in the Rule 5 draft. But with a 25-game suspension looming for violating the minor league drug and prevention program, in addition to a prior 50-game suspension for PED's back in 2010, 29 teams passed on the hard-throwing reliever, who can bring the heat in the mid-to-high 90's. His 5.25 ERA and 47 walks in 72 innings for Lo-A Great Lakes was disappointing, but the Dodgers are hoping his late-season stint with Double-A Chattanooga is a sign of things to come. Including his DWL debut on Saturday, Dominguez has allowed just one earned run and three hits with NO walks and 11 strikeouts in his last 7.2 innings pitched.
  • Jose Ortega, RHP, Detroit Tigers (Venezuela): 20 IP, 25 H, 9 BB, 17 K. You don't have to see a radar gun to know that Ortega must throw the ball really, really hard. Why else would the Tigers continue to keep him on the 40-man roster despite posting a 5.99 ERA with 78 walks in 112.2 innings over his past  two Triple-A seasons? OK, I'm going to look it up now. See, I was right. The 24 year-old averaged 97 MPH on his fastball during his short stint in the big leagues last season. And there's your confirmation. He does throw really, really hard. Ortega, who is overshadowed by potential 'Closer of the Future' Bruce Rondon and his 100 MPH+ fastball, hasn't walked a batter in his last four appearances over 5.2 innings. That's the good news. He's also allowed 8 earned runs over that span. Still a long ways to go.
  • Adys Portillo, RHP, San Diego Padres (Venezuela): 17.2 IP, 19 H, 10 BB, 9 K. One of the top amateur signings out of Latin America back in 2008, Portillo finally started to show in 2012 why the Padres gave him $2 million to sign as a 16 year-old. In 18 starts for Lo-A Fort Wayne, where he had a 7.11 ERA in 2011, the 20 year-old had a 1.87 ERA and held opponents to a .169 batting average over 18 starts. His 45 walks in 91.2 innings was a bit high but it was the best rate of his career. A promotion to Double-A San Antonio was a challenge, as he posted a 7.20 ERA with 25 walks and 26 strikeouts over 35 innings. The struggles have continued down in Venezuela, although the Padres are hoping his second go-round in the Texas League looks similar to his second go-round in Fort Wayne.
  • Alexander Torres, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Venezuela): 51.1 IP, 44 H, 22 BB, 71 K. In case you haven't heard, the Rays will likely have an open competition for one rotation spot in 2013 and Torres should be given a long look, along with Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi. The 25 year-old tends to have serious command issues (63 BB in 69 Triple-A innings in 2012) but, as evidenced by his 91 strikeouts over that span and his 14-strikeout game for Zulia on October 27th, the 5-foot-10 lefty has the ability to miss bats at a high rate. Whether he's destined for the rotation or the bullpen, he'll first have to show the ability to throw strikes more consistently or risk spending the next several years in Triple-A trying to figure it out. His 22 walks in 51.1 VWL innings is encouraging.

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