Before I get started, I think an introduction is in order. My name is Chad Hillman and I will be contributing to Tigers Prospect Report this season. I have in the past covered the Toronto organization with a special emphasis on the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League. When Brian asked if I would be interested in joining the staff at TPR, I jumped at the chance for two reasons. The first reason is that I am a Tiger fan at heart; I watch the games, have the gear and am beyond interested in what is coming down the prospect pipeline. The second reason is that prospect watching is fascinating to me. I love watching player development and watching Minor League careers become Major League ones.
Now that the introductions are out of the way, I had a chance to attend my first West Michigan Whitecaps game of the 2013 season on April 8 and the weather was challenging, to say the least. I arrived for the noon contest to a driving rain, driving wind and temperatures that were more conducive to football than baseball. That being said, after a delay of nearly three hours, the game finally got underway.
On the mound for the Whitecaps was Edgar De La Rosa. De La Rosa was tagged by TPR as the pitcher of the year for Class A-Short Season Connecticut last season. He is a 6’6” right-hander and is listed at 239 pounds, but after looking at him, I would say the 239 pound listing is generous, and is probably closer to 220.
De La Rosa features a fastball, curve ball, and change-up. During Monday's game, he mostly featured the fastball and change-up; the curve ball did not have much bite, but in 40-degree weather with a driving wind, I will give that a pass. De La Rosa’s fastball has been listed as high as 98 miles per hour. That along with his solid frame raises excitement about him.
On this day, however, his fastball started at 86-88 miles per hour, and his change-up sat at 79. He did gain velocity as the game progressed, and by the end of his four innings, he was consistently at 90-92 with the fastball.
I liked that he gained velocity as the game went on. He worked low in the zone with good downward plane on the fastball. He was able to move it in and out, and given the tough conditions of the day, commanded the ball fairly well. Hitters in Low-A typically are extremely aggressive and swing at almost any ball they can get a bat on. Living low in the zone and on the corners should serve him well, inducing weak ground balls and keeping his pitch counts low.
With runners on, De La Rosa looked lost out of the stretch. He committed two balks in the second inning where it appeared the runners distracted him. That, along with some less than stellar defense, led to three runs in the second. He is very deliberate out of the stretch with a high leg kick and a slight back turn. He was consistently 1.6 seconds to the plate, which is on the slow side. Typically, in order to give your catcher a chance of catching a base runner, you would like to see the pitcher at 1.3 seconds or quicker. With the lead off of first, a good runner can typically run from first to second in under 4.0 seconds. Given that a typical catcher takes 2.0 seconds to receive and throw the ball to second, you can see where 1.6 seconds leaves your catcher and middle infielder very little room for error.
Given the weather and the fact that it was the first time that I had seen De La Rosa throw this season, it is hard to give an honest projection of his future. Pile that on top of the fact that he is currently in Low-A and it is near impossible. Based on his repertoire and what I have read of his performance in Connecticut, I could see him as a possible future bullpen piece if he continues to develop.