Noel Arguelles has but one professi..."/> Noel Arguelles has but one professi..."/>

Making Sense of Noel Arguelles


Royals lefthander prospect Noel Arguelles has but one professional season under his belt, but he’s already had an odd career path. He defected from Cuba in 2009, which makes things strange right off the bat. He was often overlooked in the 2009-10 offseason, mainly due to the mania surrounding countryman Aroldis Chapman, but still managed to procure a 5 year, $6.9 million deal with the Royals two weeks before his 20th birthday.

Arguelles then promptly developed shoulder issues and went under the knife before throwing a professional pitch. He returned in 2011 as a 21-year-old with High-A Wilmington, and the numbers he put up didn’t look like something you’d expect to see from a live-armed Latin American pitcher coming off a major injury. In 104 innings, he struck out just 64 batters, and walked just 24, showing good control but little ability to punch batters out.

So, the guy defects, signs a nice contract, blows out his shoulder, comes back, is dropped straight into the mid-minors at a reasonable age, and performs decently, but produces numbers that don’t scream “upside.” What’s going on here?

Arguelles is a rather well-built lefthander who’s listed at 6’3″, but looks a touch shorter than that, maybe 6’1″ or 6’2″. He should have the frame to hold up over a starter’s workload, though he clearly needs to build stamina, as his effectiveness plummeted late last year. That can easily be attributed to his never having a professional workload and missing all of 2010, so it’s nothing to worry about just yet.

Mechanically, there are some positives and negatives with Arguelles. On the plus side, his arm action is fluid and sound, and he has a compact, repeatable motion with a traditional overhand arm slot. However, like many young pitchers, he tends to struggle to incorporate his lower half into his delivery on fastballs, relying instead on his arm to generate velocity. He does a much better job finishing his motion on offspeed offerings.

Arguelles tends to collapse his back leg in his delivery, which makes him “pitch uphill” a lot of the time. Combine that with his high arm slot, and you have a recipe for an extreme flyballer. Indeed, the stats bear that out, as the lefty had a meager 34.4% groundball rate last season, including just 31.8% against right-handed batters.

The lefty does, however, have the stuff to pitch in the major leagues, with an 88-92 mph fastball, 72-75 mph curveball, and 76-80 mph changeup. All three presently rate as average offerings. The offspeed pitches are more notable for their velocity separation than their movement, so to miss bats, Arguelles needs to rely more on upsetting the hitter’s timing than to get them to swing over or under a pitch.

As his walk rate indicates, Arguelles does pound the zone, and he could actually stand to bury the curveball a bit more often than he does to throw batters off more. Given how often he’s around the zone and how little movement his fastball and changeup offer, he’ll have to do something to get that to come up. He’s not particularly projectable, so one can’t bet that he’ll just add enough velocity to blow the ball by hitters down the line.

With some adjustments–either a lower arm slot or a new pitch–that get more movement into his game, Arguelles could easily be a solid fourth starter thanks to his solid-average velocity and command. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to an extended workload and how he adapts to US baseball with a season under his belt. At 22, he’ll be making the tough jump to Double-A, moving from a very pitcher-friendly park and league to a much tougher environment. Overall, there are some things to like here and some aspects Arguelles can build on, but there are also some serious concerns that could prevent him from ultimately living up to his contract.

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