Name: Jesus Zambrano
Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 170
How Acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent in August 2012
To say that the A’s have liked Jesus Zambrano for awhile would be a bit of an understatement. Oakland’s international scouting department closed in on Zambrano well before the July 2nd signing period in 2012. The day after he was eligible to sign that summer (August 24) the A’s inked the Venezuelan right-hander to a six-figure bonus worth a reported $150,000.
Thus far, Zambrano has not disappointed. Pitching most of the year as a 16-year-old, Zambrano had a 4.40 ERA and a 48:12 K:BB in 61.1 innings in the Dominican Summer League in 2013. The A’s were impressed with Zambrano’s poise and his ability to do the little things well even at a young age, i.e., repeating his delivery, mixing his pitches and holding runners. Oakland sent Zambrano to the A’s 2013 fall Instructional League, where he was the youngest pitcher in A’s camp by more than a year.
Although Zambrano’s velocity was still only 85-88, he held his own against the older competition during the 2013 fall Instructs. He showed a good command of the strike-zone and didn’t get discouraged when the results didn’t go his way.
The following spring Zambrano was invited to the A’s US spring training, and he pitched well enough during the spring to remain in the US all year. He competed in extended spring training and then was part of the starting rotation for the AZL A’s for the entire 2014 regular short-season.
Once again, Zambrano was very solid despite competing against players generally at least a year older than him. In 70.2 innings, he posted a 4.33 ERA. Zambrano struck-out 63, walked 18 and allowed just three homeruns. In his last six outings of the season, Zambrano allowed just nine runs in 35 innings (2.31 ERA). He struck-out 28 and walked only seven over that stretch. In fact, minus one horrific start in which he allowed seven runs in one-third of an inning, Zambrano had a 3.45 ERA on the year.
Zambrano’s velocity has clicked up a tick from where it was in 2013. He is generally in the 86-89 MPH range with his fastball, but he can occasionally eclipse the 90 MPH mark. Although Zambrano’s frame (5’11’’, 170) doesn’t offer much room for projection, he should be able to add a little more velocity as he continues to mature physically and add muscle through the A’s strength-and-conditioning program.
"He’s got one of the better deliveries in the system." - current A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson
What the A’s like most about Zambrano is his smooth delivery and his ability to command his fastball, curveball and change-up. He compares favorably to former A’s prospect Ronald Herrera, who was traded to the San Diego Padres during the 2014 season in the Kyle Blanks trade.
“He’s got one of the better deliveries in the system,” former A’s minor league pitching coordinator and current A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson said. “He’s got a feel for a good curveball, a change-up and his fastball is in the upper-80s right now. You are hoping by the time he is 20, in three years, it’s low-90s, which it probably should be. I just think the kid has handled himself in such a good way at 17. I look at myself at 17 and I think, dang, I was going into my senior year of high school and playing high school ball. This guy is a two-year professional. He’s handled it perfectly. His mental approach is perfect.”
Zambrano will be 18 until the final week of the 2015 regular season. He is likely to spend next season with short-season Vermont, but he could make the jump to Low-A Beloit if he has a standout spring training.