Name: Hector Ambriz
Draft: 5th Round, 2006
Position: Right Handed Pitcher
Weight: 235 lbs
History: Hector Ambriz wasn't impressive in his first two college seasons, but rebounded with two workhorse campaigns on the mound. A fine athlete despite his size, Ambriz batted .338 in his junior season and .313 his senior year, pulling double duty as UCLA's cleanup hitter.
Statistics Courtesy of The Baseball Cube
The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Ambriz in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. While they were impressed with his hitting ability, they have handled him much like they did Micah Owings, the Tulane two-way star they had drafted the previous summer. Ambriz is developing exclusively as a pitcher; he even did not make his first professional plate appearance until 2008.
Concentrating on pitching appeared to benefit Ambriz greatly in his first two pro seasons. In '06, he was used primarily as a reliever to limit his innings. Ambriz had been worked hard the previous two seasons at UCLA.
"He threw a lot at UCLA, so they wanted to give him a little time off and not overwork him," John Hester said of the D-backs' initial use of Ambriz. Hester is a childhood friend of Ambriz, and has caught the big right-hander in each of his professional stops, including Instructs and the Arizona Fall League. "He's a tough kid. Whatever role they put him in, he did a good job," continued Hester. "They put him in a lot of tough spots and big starts, and every time they did, he did great."
In 2007, the Diamondbacks continued using Ambriz in that starter's role. He performed extremely well in a hitter's league after having skipped South Bend completely, and his velocity lasted deep into games despite his continued heavy workloads.
The 2008 season did not treat Ambriz as well. He pitched inconsistently throughout the summer, struggling with a 5.71 ERA before settling down to a 3.44 mark over his final 10 appearances. That successful stretch included two complete games and a 10-strikeout performance, and helped land him a spot on the Phoenix Desert Dogs' AZL roster alongside Hester. There, Ambriz worked exclusively as a reliever, not allowing more than one run in any of his dozen appearances and finishing with a 2.76 ERA.
"I don't think he cares what his role is," concluded Hester. "He's a very competitive individual, and as long as he gets his chance to compete against somebody, he'll do very well."
Makeup: Ambriz was large when the Diamondbacks drafted him, and he has gained around 15 pounds since. Now listed at 235, Ambriz could probably stand to slim down a bit. He's still a workhorse, having completed two games in each of the past four seasons, but he was not able to maintain his velocity as deep into games this year as he had in the past. His strong finish to the season bodes well, but a fitter Ambriz could be the key to his remaining consistent over an entire season.
As Hester says, Ambriz is a warrior and a competitor. He is often able to succeed on the mound through grit and guile even when his stuff isn't its sharpest.
"He has polish, is durable, and is a strike-thrower who isn't afraid of bat contact," said farm director A.J. Hinch.
Pitches: Fastball, Slider, Splitter, and Changeup
With a fastball that generally hovers between 89-92 miles per hour, Ambriz is most effective when he keeps the ball down in the zone. He can climb the ladder with his fastball once he has shown a batter his offspeed stuff, but is best served working the fastball at the knees early in the count. The longball was a big problem this year when he left his pitches up.
Ambriz throws a slider between 82 and 84 MPH and a split-fingered fastball between 86 and 87 as his two best secondary offerings. He also tinkered with a curveball and a straight change in college. He scrapped the curve and kept the change, but that changeup is still a below-average pitch.
"He's got good stuff," declares Hester. "He's got three to four pitches that he can throw everyday for strikes, mixes it up on hitters. He does a really good job of getting ahead of hitters with his fastball and putting the pressure on the batter by always working from ahead."
Major League Clone: Roberto Hernandez
Prediction: Ambriz' size and durability combine with his three solid-but-not-outstanding pitches to make him an ideal back-of-the-rotation workhorse. But it's hard to ignore his 20 strikeouts over his final 11.2 AFL innings as a reliever. If Ambriz can add an offspeed pitch that works consistently, he'll be best used as a starter. Otherwise, he could be ready for the big league bullpen quite soon.
ETA: Ambriz actually started a game for the D-backs in spring training last year, which gives you an idea of how close the organization thought he was one year ago. With a strong initial showing this year, Ambriz could find himself as the D-backs' swingman later in the season. If not, a September callup might be in the cards, and he should get some kind of sustained opportunity in 2010.
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