I had a weird but good day on a work trip to NY: returned to Nassau from a court date in Islip by 5:30, but didn’t have to be at a friend’s Korean BBQ birthday in Flushing until 9:30 -- so on a lark I crossed the Verrazano to catch an hour of the Staten Island Yankees. I wanted to see the reportedly great defense of their new SS, late first-round pick Kyle Holder. So Holder had the night off, which royally ticked me off – until I learned the starting pitcher I'd never heard of was really interesting: Domingo Acevedo, at 6’7” and 190 pounds a 21 year-old stick figure who reportedly touches 100 MPH and is a top-30 or almost-30 Yankee prospect. He looked like John Travolta in Battlefield Earth playing a 10’ alien lording over comparatively tiny humans:
Acevedo has missed a fair bit of time but seems no worse for wear. Since starting in 2013, in the Rookie-to-A minors he’s logged a 3.08 ERA in 64.1 IP, but these are the eye-popping stats: 0 HR, 21 BB, 69 K. I can’t overstate this disclaimer: I’m no pro scout, and not even a fan especially knowledgeable about pitching mechanics. But the pro scouts aren’t exactly beating down our doors with detailed reports on Acevedo, and a fellow who throws 100 without suffering walks deserves attention, so hopefully my Joe Ignorant take is still worth a read.
(1) Smooth, low-effort, & consistent mechanics. Acevedo’s motion looks remarkably effortless and smooth; it reminds me of how Randy Johnson’s size generated seemingly effortless velocity. In contrast, a few days ago in Albuquerque, I saw former Rockies star Jhoulys Chacin trying to recover his career at 27 after shoulder injury: the same guy who once threw 95 now needs to hurl his body hard to reach the mid-high 80s. Acevedo always seems to land in the same spot, and with his long limbs, his release point extends pretty far down the mound -- a real plus: I saw a clip explaining how Masahiro Tanaka stretches his front leg down the mound, yielding a later release that makes his fastball play faster (i.e., less response time for hitters). Here’s Acevedo’s windup and release:
(2) But what’s with his right leg? The one quirk even I spotted in Acevedo’s mechanics is that as he lands, his trailing (right) leg comes around body: he ends with his back toward 3B; and his right foot actually lands not only left of, but also behind, his left foot. I don’t know whether this is a problem: it’s not like he’s Mitch Williams landing crazily after wild effort; and his landing is consistent, even if this is the one awkward-looking part of his motion. I’m curious what anyone more mechanics-knowledgeable thinks.
(3) No effective second pitch. The stadium posts no radar, but I think almost all his pitches were (a) a hard fastball about 4-5’ high that generated weak or no contact, or (b) a 1’ high offspeed pitch that fooled nobody, generating almost no swings even at this low-A level (where hitters aren’t exactly Wade Boggs). Lacking PitchF/X, I scribbled down all pitches in one at-bat just to show how striking this pattern was: 1st pitch, 1’-high offspeed (take, 1-0); 2nd, 5'-high fastball (take, 2-0); 3rd, 1’ offspeed (take, 3-0); 4th, down-middle fastball (take, 3-1); 5th, 4’ fastball (swing/miss, 3-2), 6th, 4’ fastball (foul, 3-2), 7th, 4' fastball (swing-miss, K). When you have no useful secondary pitch, your high-90s heat still can generate Ks – but (a) not easily because they can anticipate it, (b) not without many pitches because you have to keep your lousy offspeed show-me pitches out of the zone, and (c) not necessarily at higher levels.
(4) Good control, especially laterally. The control isn’t what you’d think from the 2.9 BB/9 and 0 HR/9, which for a 21 year-old might hint at terrific command. Acevedo clearly has a hard-to-hit fastball that yielded swings and misses, tons of foul popups, and almost no solid contact; hitters couldn’t catch up and couldn’t avoid swinging far under it. Almost all his offspeeds were low, and about half the fastballs were silly-high, but that easily could be purposeful. Staying high with that good a fastball worked great, and keeping crappy offspeed pitches down made sense too: they’re thrown mainly to break the hitter’s fastball timing but, being crappy, are risky if they catch much plate. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that his high-low placement was purposeful, because his lateral control was so strong: I see a few minor-league games a year, and it’s very common for one out of every X pitches to go somewhere crazy (including from the opposing starter in this game) -- but I saw nearly zero Acevedo pitches that the catcher had to reach far left or far right to grab.
Overall: if Acevedo stays healthy, hard-throwing reliever seems a likely floor, while a high ceiling as a starter is entirely possible for a guy with such strong velocity and control – but reaching that ceiling depends on mastering at least adequate second or third pitches. The crappy low offspeed stuff fooled nobody, and “needs more pitches” is a major gap to fill. Yet the strong control and mechanics make me optimistic. If he’d shown weak control, then an average show-me curve or change would be a dangerous thing to throw – but he should have the control to place it, so average offspeed stuff should suffice. If he threw hard by hurling his body hard in a crazy motion with an inconsistent release point, I’d be skeptical that style would lend itself well to a consistent breaking pitch – but his delivery is smooth and consistent enough to see breaking pitches working.
I always end up pulling for guys I see doing well, or looking interesting, in the minors, so Acevedo is now a favorite I’ll be watching. Maybe next spring he can learn how the Yankees taught successful-so-far secondary pitches to their other big, hard-throwing righty starters, Michael Pineda (mainly his changeup) and Nathan Eovaldi (mainly his splitter)?
Finally, for anyone who hasn't been there, seeing the Staten Island Yankees is great: terrific park, right on the water, with a Manhattan skyline view; and, as in most A-ball parks, cheap tickets with no bad seats because the place is so small. Didn't enjoy the $16 Verrazano toll but that's counteracted by the free parking nearby (unlike with the Brooklyn Cyclones). Below is a picture of the view of the field, water, and skyline from my seat, plus a pic of me by the stadium front (wearing my snazzy new Staten Island Yankees jersey, which I can't wait to wear to my next softball game -- not sure whether my Colorado friends will think (a) the Yankees play in Staten Island, (b) Staten Island must be a neighborhood in the Bronx if the Yankees play there, or (c) "what the F is Staten Island?").