Name: Orlando Lara
DOB: January 8, 1986
"Our group of Mexican players is very good," Padres' director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "Lara, Rolando Valdez, (Pablo) Menchaca and we lost (Joakim) Soria, unfortunately. That is a pretty group.
The left-hander began his career with the Padres in the Northwest League with the Eugene Emeralds. He was picked up out of Mexico's Sonora League where he posted a 2.15 ERA over 50 innings for Sonoyta.
Lara went 2-1 with a 3.23 ERA over 16 games, including 10 starts, in his stateside debut. In 47.1 innings, he allowed 37 hits, walked 14 and struck out 59.
"O, the first time in the United States, did an outstanding job," 2006 Eugene pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "He really has a plus changeup, good fastball – breaking ball needs a lot of work. He doesn't have a lot of arm speed with it. That comes with time. First time in the US, he has done an outstanding job."
He did not allow a run in August, pitching 10.1 scoreless innings and held the opposition to a .216 average for the year. He was even more effective against left-handed batters, holding them to a .195 mark.
Lara also thwarted the opposition with runners in scoring position, limiting opponents to five hits in 35 at bats.
"I like Lara," Smith said. "He has made significant strides in a hurry the first year in the states."
He was pulled from an August start with stiffness in his throwing shoulder but it did not cause him trouble after the two week's rest.
"It was good to see Orlando Lara back," Padres' vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He has been throwing really well."
Lara went to the Padres' Instructional League to continue working on his mechanics and feature the curveball more. He posted a 3.00 ERA and went on to the Mexican Pacific Winter Leagues where he faced some early struggles trying to incorporate the hammer more and working behind in the count. He settled down and allowed three earned over his final 14.1 innings to lower his ERA to 5.40 for the winter.
The 21-year-old does a good job working ahead in the count, netting first-pitch strikes to setup his plus changeup. He works in the 88-92 MPH range with his fastball and gets good lateral movement on his pitches.
"This kid has a chance to be special," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said. "He has a great belief in himself. He has pitchability, a good fastball, some deception, even though it may only read 90 on the gun it plays higher because it plays higher. A very good changeup and improving curveball."
He offers some good deception but will leave some of his pitches up in the zone. Lara must be cognizant of working down in the zone as his pitches tend to have more side-to-side movement than down, meaning he can catch the meaty part of the plate with an ill-timed pitch.
When asked who had the best changeup of all the pitchers he caught last season, catcher Clint Naylor didn't hesitate in simply stating, "Orlando Lara."
"Lara is a great left-hander with a great changeup and good curveball and fastball," said former Padres catching prospect Luany Sanchez who saw him in Eugene last year. "He has fastball command."
"I think this guy has a chance to be – we lost Soria but I talked to scouts at the winter meetings who said they would rather have Orlando Lara," Bryk added.
Lara is currently 0-2 with a 5.32 ERA in the Midwest League. Over his first four starts, spanning 15.2 innings, the lefty had allowed 25 hits and walked five while striking out 16. His last outing went 6.1 innings with no runs allowed on three hits.
ETA: Lara currently has time on his side. He will be given some leeway over the next year to see where he stands against full-season competition. If he can continue to work ahead in the count and keep the ball down, his pitchability as a left-hander could have him skyrocket up the prospect list.