It never is supposed to go like this. Last year, Wilmer Villatoro was on the fringe of being an elite relief pitcher in the Padres system.
But an off-season, which included him getting married, of inactivity left him behind when spring training rolled around. Instead of a ticket punched to Mobile, he was back in Lake Elsinore.
Over his first 23 games with the Storm, Villatoro held a 1.98 average against and a 2.59 ERA, which earned him a five-game stint with the Double-A squad.
He allowed six runs on 11 hits and six walks in that 5.1 inning tour before being sent back down to Lake Elsinore.
The walks continued to rise when he returned to the California League and in July and August his average against of .356. During that time he did get knocked up to Mobile again and was knocked around a second time, allowing 13 runs over 5.2 innings on 11 hits and six walks.
"Disappointing," Bryk said." He took a step back. He was a guy that we considered for the 40-man roster. He pitched well in the Fall League and there was interest from other clubs."
Villatoro – a lanky 6-foot right-hander from El Salvador – has a whip-like motion that produces movement on his fastball, which sits in the low nineties. He has previously hit 95 on the radar gun but lost a few ticks off the heat this season.
He compliments the pitch with a slider and is working on a changeup so he doesn't continually offer "hard" pitches. It would also help to regain his command as he walked 34 and struck out 44 in 60.1 innings.
"His stuff wasn't as good this year," said Bryk. "His comfort zone was down and his consistency wasn't as good."
A former soccer player in his country, Villatoro is the face of baseball in El Salvador after being one of the first players to sign on with a professional team. That pressure has hounded Villatoro over the last two years as he tries to become the first player from El Salvador to play in the majors.
The potential is there but this off-season needs to be one dedicated to hard work and making sure his body and mind are ready for a full season of baseball. A good year in 2006 could propel him up the ladder and make him the legitimate prospect he was just a year ago.