Name: Jackson Quezada
DOB: August 9, 1986
Originally signed by the Padres as an international free agent in July of 2003, Quezada spent the first two years of his career in the Dominican Summer League.
The right-hander dominated the league for two straight years, posting a cumulative record of 11-5 with a 1.64 ERA over 131.2 innings.
He was ready for his stateside debut. After beginning the year in extended spring training, Quezada was shipped to the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League.
The Dominican Republic native went on to post a 2-2 record with a 4.19 ERA over 18 appearances, including four starts. In 34.1 innings he allowed 30 hits, walked 13 and struck out 34.
A compact motion that has deception in it because of his quirky mechanics makes the ball tough to pick up for right-handed hitters. The result was a .212 average against and 24 whiffs in 85 at bats.
He does have some checkpoints in his mechanics that have to be cleaned up to continue his success and prevent him from injuring himself.
"There are some things that need to be tweaked," 2006 Eugene pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "He leans a lot and gets his body out in front of his arm. He doesn't allow himself to catch up. When he stays on top he has an electric arm. He will pitch anywhere from 90-94. He is a great kid who tries things that you get him to do on the side. It will take some time."
It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Quezada complained of elbow soreness during the early part of the year, forcing him to miss two weeks of action in late June and early July.
The right-hander surrendered runs in seven of his first eight appearances, including four starts. He was wild in and out of the zone, his fastball dipped into the high-80s, and he wasn't getting the movement on his pitches that he normally had.
His elbow pain had caused him to drop his arm and not get full extension. Armed with some sloppy mechanics already, it came apart at the seams.
"Jackson has what some people call ‘funny arm action,'" Padres' Dominican scout Felix Francisco said. "He has always been a little bit long. The thing he has always been able to do is be a competitor. He doesn't have the best arm action but is competitive and has always been able to throw strikes and something that was important to him – he improved his velocity this year because he used to work 87-89 and now he is throwing 89-93."
Things settled down, and he began regaining his command and his velocity started to pick up. He went on to yield runs in just two of his final ten outings, keeping the ball down in the zone.
The 20-year-old prospect throws a fastball that can hit 94 MPH but sat in the high-80s early in the year and ran regularly in the 90-92 MPH range as the season wore on.
He compliments the fastball with a slider and a changeup – both still developing pitches. His changeup has good action and has improved since he first began to throw it, but the slider sometimes comes out a little short-armed and his elbow tends to drop as he goes through his delivery.
"Jackson has a good slider and a great changeup," former catching prospect Luany Sanchez said. "He has worked hard to have a great changeup. The changeup is a great pitch. The hitter is waiting for a fastball and doesn't have a chance. He throws hard too – 93, 94. That is a very good fastball."
Quezada went out to the Padres' Instructional League this fall to get some more innings, work on the mechanics of his delivery and throw more sliders and changeups.
He tossed the changeup 15.1 percent of the time, experimenting a little with differing grips and finding success with the pitch.
"He has really improved a lot," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said. "He speaks fluent English now. I think that helps him tremendously. He is like a coach down in the Dominican. It is great. That helps in the process of developing them."
He had also worked from behind a tad too much in Eugene and concentrated on throwing first pitch strikes. He was able to throw 58.1 percent first pitch strikes in the fall.
Because of the setback, Quezada did not get as many innings as he had hoped. He had a productive off-season and is rested for the next stage of his development.
He should get better with experience and profiles well as a reliever – with the chance to start if he masters three pitches.
"This guy has unbelievable makeup," Padres' director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "He always had a feel for pitching and he came over here and his velocity jumped – and it jumped fairly significantly. That is what happens when these guys get over here, get in the weight room, start getting better food and start gaining some weight."
ETA: Quezada has a lot of tools to work with on the mound but needs to remain confident and work ahead in the count. The Padres would like him to attack the inside part of the plate more frequently to take advantage of a solid fastball. His mechanics are still a work in progress and with the elbow pain behind him he should continue his ascent. The coming year could be big for his future prospect status.