A Look at the Top Latin American Pitching Prospects in the NL West


So, as promised, here is my list of the Top 5 Latin American pitching prospects who are from organizations in the NL West. If you missed the first post on the position players, you can take a look at it here.

1. Juan Oramas, LHP, San Diego Padres

Age: 21

Highest Level Played: Triple-A (Pacific Coast League)

Summary: Oramas is probably the best of a deep crop of pitching prospects from Latin America in the Padres system. He was rated as the 12th best prospect in the Padres system according to Baseball America going into 2012, and he was graded as a B- prospect in John Sickels’ Baseball Prospect Handbook for 2012.

Oramas, a native of Mexico, has very much in common with fellow Mexican-born prospect Manny Banuelos of the New York Yankees. While Oramas is bigger than Banuelos (215 pounds to Banuelos’ 155 pound frame), he is a left-handed pitching prospect with the upside to be a good starting pitcher at the Major League level. That being said, while Banuelos’ is the more ballyhooed prospect (he is ranked as the 29th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America), Oramas had a much better year statistically than his fellow countryman.

Last year in Double-A San Antonio, Oramas showed impeccable command, as he went 10-5 with a 3.10 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and K/BB ratio of 3.64 in 104.2 IP. Compare that to Banuelos, who also pitched in Double-A (for the Trenton Thunder of the Eastern League) but went 4-5 with a 3.59 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and K/BB ratio of 1.81 in 95.1 IP. Even when they are compared by advanced numbers, Oramas still looks more impressive as his 3.41 FIP was much better than Banuelos’ 4.01.

That being said, the 21-year-old Padre prospect’s season in 2011 was far from perfect. He earned a one-start callup to the PCL in June and got rocked, as he allowed seven hits and seven runs on three home runs in 3.2 innings pitched with Tucson. While the PCL is killer on pitchers (the park factors greatly weigh in favor of hitters, Tucson especially), the one game experiment brought Oramas back to Double-A for the remainder of the 2011 season, and for the beginning of this year, as the Padres decided to hold him in the Texas League to start 2012.

There is a lot to like about Oramas as a prospect. He has displayed solid command over his tenure as a professional, as his minor league career K/BB ratio is 2.99. Pitch-wise, Oramas’ fastball ranges in the 88-92 MPH range and can touch 92 MPH. Baseball America notes that while he has a tight mid-70’s curveball and has good feel on a low 80’s changeup, his secondary pitches have average potential.

Oramas doesn’t have elite starter stuff, but it’s obvious that his command and control should carry him to mid-rotation status at the Major League level. As stated before, while he may not flash the stuff or tools of the Yankees’ Banuelos, he did statistically outperform Banuelos in 2011, and he does compare very favorably to him in terms of overall performance in the minors. Hence, Oramas is an interesting arm who should earn a callup to Triple-A at some point this year, especially if he can do as well as he did last year against Texas League batters.

Grade: B

2. Angel Sanchez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Age: 22

Highest Level Played: Low-A (Midwest League)

Summary: Sanchez is a bit different from most prospects who come out of Latin America, the Dominican Republic, especially. While most Latin prospects sign as 16 year olds and begin their professional careers in the DSL for a couple of years, Sanchez instead went to college in the DR rather than opt to play professional ball as a teenager. At 21 years old, he signed with the Dodgers and immediately came stateside and pitched in the Midwest League. While his career path varies from most prospects who hail from his home country, one can hardly fault the Dodgers, as he is coming off a solid year in Great Lakes.

While his age is advanced at 22 years old (which doesn’t leave him much room for error or setbacks), he came into the Midwest League and pitched very well in his first season of professional ball. He went 8-4 with a 2.82 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and K/BB ratio of 2.15. While he doesn’t strike out a ton of batters (K/9 of 7.6), he does flash good control, and does induce a lot of groundballs, as he posted a GB/FB rate of 1.31, according to Minor League Central. Considering that he played no Rookie Ball at all prior to this year, his numbers are very promising and also show his ability to adjust and adapt in a short period of time.

According to scouts, Sanchez throws in the 92-96 MPH range, with his fastball touching as high as 97 MPH. In addition to also throwing a two seamer, he sports a plus changeup that features splitter-like action at 80-85 MPH, according to Baseball America. His curve hasn’t been graded too highly by scouts as they have noted that it is “slurvy” and that it is still work in progress. Sanchez has a high three-quarters arm slot in his delivery, and so far the reports on his mechanics are good, as no scouts or analysts have noted any major issues with him last season.

At six-foot, three inches and a 177 pounds, Sanchez has a solid frame and the reports on his makeup are good, as scouts have noted his strong work ethic and his ability to pick up English quickly. As stated before, while his age doesn’t leave him much room for error (a lost year due to injury or ineffectiveness would be killer to his development), he certainly is on the right track in terms of his progression as a prospect. He will begin the year with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (home of Day Day from “Next Friday”), so he certainly will be tested in the hitter-friendly environments of the California League in 2012.

Grade: B-

3. Edwar Cabrera, LHP, Colorado Rockies

Age: 24

Highest Level Played: Double-A (Texas League)

Summary: At 24 years old, he’ll be making his debut in Double-A Tulsa, so he’s on a bit of a delayed career path. However, the Venezuelan lefty does sport some potential as a future starter for the Rockies, as he has already performed well in the Texas League to begin the year. In his debut start of the 2012 season against San Antonio, Cabrera went six innings and struck out six while allowing only three hits and a run, his lone run coming from a home run. Add that with the fact that he walked zero batters, and Cabrera is starting to confirm the Rockies’ reputation of developing solid arms from Latin America in their system (Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio, etc.).

Cabrera isn’t exactly intimidating at six feet and a 175 pounds, but he has showed stellar ability to strike out batters over the course of his Minor League career. He holds a career minor league K/9 of 11.9 and has struck out 501 total batters in just 377.1 career innings pitched. However, he also demonstrates excellent control and command, as his career K/BB ratio is 4.18.

Tools wise, scouts have noted that his stuff isn’t dominating by any measure, and that he excels against batters because of his advanced approach. His fastball goes in the 87-91 MPH range, but he throws a plus changeup that was rated as four plus out of five by Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball Analyst. He does throw a slider/curve ball (what it is varies amongst scouts), but it looks to be a work in progress, as it was only rated a two-plus pitch by Gordon. However, Baseball America did note that he made great strides in trying to improve it during instructional league.

In addition to striking guys out and limiting walks, Cabrera also does an excellent job in terms of inducing groundballs, as he posted a GB/FB ratio of 1.12 with Modesto in 2011, according to Minor League Central. His ability to keep the ball out of the air and miss bats, while limiting baserunners did him well in the California League, where the environments tend to favor hitters. Considering his average stuff, Cabrera’s ability to induce ground balls will also be a key factor in terms of how successful he will be as he advances to the upper minors and eventually the Major League level.

Cabrera’s profile is eerily similar to Giants top-pitching prospect Eric Surkamp in the sense that he has excellent strikeout rates and command ratios despite sporting average stuff. This is a bit worrisome since Surkamp struggled in his short Big League debut a year ago and didn’t exactly light things up this Spring either. However, while Cabrera may have the ceiling of a No. 4 or No. 5 starter, that could still be valuable since the Rockies already have excellent pitching prospects in Nicasio and Drew Pomeranz anchoring the rotation for years to come (though Cabrera will have to compete with RHP Chad Bettis and LHP Tyler Anderson). There are some “off-the-field” concerns that could affect Cabrera’s status as a prospect (some say he’s older than his state age of 24), but Cabrera has the approach and ability to be a solid back end of the rotation starter for the Rockies for years to come.

Grade: B-

4. Yonata Ortega, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Age: 25

Highest Level Played: Double-A (Southern League)

Summary: Other than being a doppleganger for Juan Uribe (tell me they don’t look alike), Ortega is a hard-throwing right hander who, much like Cabrera, has been on a delayed progression in the Diamondbacks’ system. Signed at 17 years old in 2004, Ortega is now 25 and will be starting the year in Double-A Mobile (his second tour of duty there, though he only pitched 17.2 innings last year, as he began 2011 in Visalia). He struggled in his debut, as he allowed two hits, a walk and a run with no strikeouts in an inning of work, but Ortega still has a lot of time this year to bounce back from the mediocre debut.

Ortega is a strikeout machine and seems to be a solid fit for a Major League bullpen. His career K/9 is 9.2, and last year in Visalia, in 39.1 innings of work, he struck out 58 batters, good for a K/9 of 13.3. However, control and command have been issues for Ortega over the course of his minor league career, as he sports a career BB/9 of 4.8 and K/BB ratio of 2.14. While he isn’t a pure flyball pitcher by any means, he isn’t as strong as others on this list in terms of inducing groundballs, as his GB/FB ratio last year was 0.95 between Visalia and Mobile. Considering the hitter-friendly park factors of Chase Field, that could be something to watch out for as he makes the move toward the Major League level.

Ortega has the stuff of a late-inning reliever, as he sports a fastball that sits in the 94-98 MPH range and he has the makings of a plus splitter, and can get swings and misses with a low 80’s sliders, according to Baseball America. He has a big frame at six-feet, one inch and 220 pounds, so stamina and conditioning will always be an issue with him, but if he stays in the bullpen (and he most likely will), then it shouldn’t be too big of a concern at the Big League level.

His control will be the “make or break” factor in terms of whether Ortega pans out into a closer or setup reliever at the Major League level, or if he will bounce around the Minors and Majors “Merkin Valdez” style. Ortega has the arm strength and pitches to succeed in a Major League bullpen, but his approach and ability to consistently hit the strike zone has been a bit erratic over the course of his minor league career. He did have Tommy John Surgery that forced him to the miss the entire 2008 season, but since surgery, he hasn’t showed any injury issues. Of course, if Joakim Soria‘s injury this year showed baseball fans anything, his health will be something to watch for not only this year, but in the following years to come.

Grade: C+

5. Adalberto Mejia, LHP, San Francisco Giants

Age: 18

Highest Level Played: Low Single-A (South Atlantic League)

Summary: Though he only played one year in the Dominican Summer League, his campaign as a 17-year-old and work in camp this Spring was so impressive that the Giants decided to move him up to the Sally to start the 2012 season. Considering he was called up in favor Joan Gregorio, who actually had some experience stateside in the Arizona Rookie League in 2011 (unlike Mejia), it just goes to show how much the Giants organization likes what Mejia brings to the table as a pitching prospect.

In terms of numbers, while it was the DSL (and foreign Rookie League numbers always have to be taken with a grain of salt), he absolutely dominated hitters in 2011. In 76 innings of work, Mejia posted a 5-2 record, a 1.42 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and K/BB ratio of 8.88. Not only did Mejia showed a strong ability to miss bats on the mound as a teenager, but he also showed excellent control, as he walked only eight total batters for the year.

Rated the 26th best prospect in the Giants system according to Baseball America, the lanky 18-year-old from the Dominican Republic still has a long way to go in terms of development. He currently throws a fastball that runs in 87-91 MPH range that touches 92 MPH, and he does sport a plus-potential changeup that he sells well, according to scouts. His curve ball is still developing as it is more of a slurve, according to scouting reports, but it is expected to get better as he throws more innings. He does have a lot going in his favor though, as scouts point to his deceptive delivery and that his six-foot, three inches frame should allow more room for projection in his velocity and pitches, especially considering he’s only a teenager and a 195 pounds. Add that with plus makeup (he has been noted for having a strong, calm presence on the mound) and an advanced approach, and it is easy to see why the Giants organization feels Mejia is ready for the Sally this year.

It’ll be interesting to see how Mejia fares against older hitters in his first exposure stateside. If he struggles, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Giants move him down to Short-Season Salem Keizer in order to preserve his confidence. That being said, it’s obvious that he has the tools to succeed, and at his age, he has a lot of leeway and time to develop and succeed as a professional pitcher. He is still years away from even being mentioned for a starting spot in the Giants rotation, but he could compete for a mid-rotation spot if he continues to develop as expected. With the Matt Cain signing most likely meaning the end of Tim Lincecum‘s era at the top of the rotation in a couple of seasons (as a Giants fan, I can’t see Brian Sabean dish out two 100-plus million contracts to pitchers), Mejia could be a valuable prospect for the Giants in the future, especially considering the system is thin when it comes to pitching depth.

Grade: C+

Honorable mentions (In no particular order):

Jayson Aquino, RHP, Colorado Rockies (C+)

Pedro Hernandez, LHP, San Diego Padres (C)

Jose De Paula, LHP, San Diego Padres (C)

Adys Portillo, RHP, San Diego Padres (C)

Hector Correa, RHP, San Francisco Giants (C)

Joan Gregorio, RHP, San Francisco Giants (C/C+)


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