Name: Pablo Menchaca
DOB: November 28, 1987
One of the points of emphasis that the Padres are stressing is the prototypical body type when scouting international talent. Menchaca, at 6-foot-4, fits that mold.
Signed at a tryout camp in Mexico in January of 2006, the Padres deemed him ready for stateside action as an 18-year-old.
He began the year in the Arizona Rookie League, going 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA over 13 games, including seven starts.
"If you watch him throw, the ball comes out of his hands so easy," AZL Padres pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "You say, ‘wait until we get him to start using his legs a little more.' He was just kind of turn and fall and is just coming together. The ball out front comes out of his hand absolutely gorgeous. This ball just explodes and is heavy. I talk to the catchers and he throws a real heavy ball.
"One day he was throwing his two-seamer and I was standing behind him watching it and he was throwing it with a split-grip. I stopped him and put his fingers together – that is all I did, just move them together – ‘now, throw another one' and he about took the catcher's head off. It was lighter, quicker, late movement and the catcher Ali Solis looked and threw it back to him.
"It was absolutely spectacular to watch. Here is a kid who is 18-years old and I am thinking, ‘if he doesn't get real heavy, if he just stays the way he is and continues to learn and utilize that body more, his legs and torso, this guy can be throwing 93, 95 consistently in two or three years.'"
Splitting the season between the bullpen and starting rotation proved one point – he isn't nearly as good out of the pen as he is when he takes the bump to start a game.
Menchaca posted a 7.41 ERA over his six relief appearances with the opposition hitting .354 off him. Six of the 14 earned runs he surrendered came in one outing early in the year but he never enjoyed a comfort level coming in mid-game and put undo pressure on himself to perform.
Things fell in line for Menchaca when he was used as a starter. In his seven starts, Menchaca allowed five earned runs, tossing shutout ball three times. He held a 1.32 ERA over that span and limited the opposition to a .205 average against.
And Menchaca got better as the season wore on – earning him praise for his bulldog mentality.
"I think Menchaca has a chance to be outstanding," Padres' director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "He throws the ball so easy. It is a heavy ball and he will eat up some innings. He reminds me a little of Freddy Garcia."
Over his final 23.2 innings of the regular season, Menchaca allowed just three earned runs and held the opposition to a .193 average, whiffing 31 over his final 29 frames.
The big right-hander earned the win in the AZL Championship game, tossing 5.1 innings of two run ball, striking out seven and walking two while yielding four hits.
"'Big Chief' has a high ceiling," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said. "A lot of potential there. He has a chance to be a frontline starter. I think our Mexican kids have improved greatly."
He pitched in one game for the Eugene Emeralds late in the year, giving up one run over three innings.
The weakness in Menchaca's game is his tendency to work from behind in the count. Too often, he is missing out on the first-pitch strike. His stuff was good enough to skate by in the AZL, but he won't be afforded such luxuries moving forward.
"He pitches a little too far behind in the count for me and doesn't throw enough first pitch strikes," Rajsich agreed. "It is almost like he tries to get them to swing at the first pitch without throwing a good one and then comes back 2-0 in the zone, which is just the opposite of what I want. Throw a first pitch strike one when I know those guys are taking or looking at his velocity. You have a better chance to get them out with the first pitch when they don't know – it might sneak up on them or something they haven't anticipated or a little two-seam movement.
Mechanics are another issue being smoothed out. He worked hard over the first half of the year to improve and the results showed in better command and increased velocity on his fastball.
He had a tendency to fly open and not follow through with his extension. The general result becomes pitches up in the zone that can be hammered and less movement on his pitches.
Blessed with a loose arm, repeating his mechanics will be one of the keys to his future. He already sports a plus fastball that tops out at 94 MPH right now and there are a few who believe that pitch could add another two ticks as his strength increases and mechanics improve.
His fastball has heavy sink and late pop – adding speed as it reaches the hitter. When he hits his spots, hitters are topping the ball into the dirt and making easy outs.
Fearless, he attacks the inside part of the plate to both lefties and righties.
"Pablo is a tall, Mexican kid with a nice loose arm," 2006 AZL Padres manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He throws in the low nineties right now and is learning how to become consistent in his delivery right now. He is a young kid and I like his size and looseness in his arm. I think he is not going to get hurt and will be fine when he moves up and matures and learns to repeat his delivery better, consistently. He is going to be a good one."
Changeup and cutter/slider are next on the agenda – pitches that are still in the developing stage and he sometimes lacks confidence in.
The right-hander is adept at keeping hitters close to the bag and has a quick delivery to home plate, giving catchers more than a chance to nail baserunners attempting to steal. In fact, 64 percent of thieves were caught under his watch – nine caught stealing in 14 attempts, the best percentage and highest number of baserunners caught among pitchers in the AZL.
"He has great balance," said Rajsich. "For a big guy he is a little bit quicker than you think. He has good agility. He is an athlete."
ETA: Menchaca has a lot to learn and plenty of time to do it. He could be a fast rising prospect given his plus fastball, willingness to learn, and the development of his secondary pitches. Still, he won't be rushed and will have to prove he can get ahead of hitters before being anointed – still, he is one to watch – and could end up being a legitimate 1/2 pitcher if he meets his ceiling.