Name: Cesar Carrillo
DOB: April 29, 1984
The right-hander was on the fast track to the major leagues before serious injury, resulting in Tommy John surgery, claimed a year of his professional life.
Had he been healthy, Carrillo would undoubtedly have been in San Diego staking his claim to one of the bottom two spots in the rotation with an eye on elevating his status over time.
It was after his start on May 18, 2006 that Carrillo first felt the twinge. He tried to allow time to heal the wound but on June 6 he returned to the hill – the last time he would pitch that season.
Rest followed with the hope that a prolonged rehabilitation period of strengthening the arm would solve his woes. He made it through 14.2 innings during the 2007 season and wasn't the same pitcher he had shown since being drafted. Instead of displaying the confident demeanor that led to him being named a top prospect, Carrillo was hesitant and elevating his pitches.
On April 30, 2007, Carrillo's season was officially called and an MRI confirmed surgery was needed.
Since then, nary a word has escaped the lips of many observers. The Miami native has been relegated to obscurity with other prospects getting the verbiage.
"Carrillo – I am putting my neck in a noose on him – Comeback Player of the Year," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current major league scout Bill Bryk said. "No one is talking about him. I think he has something to prove. He is determined. He could pitch in the big leagues this year if he comes back like he can."
But Carrillo is an impact talent with a rocket arm and smarts to supplement his hurler skills.
"Carrillo, I love," former Portland Beavers pitching coach Gary Lance said. "Better to get it done now. I think he is going to be a top-flight major league pitcher. I think he is going to be a number two or number three starter in the first division when it is all said and done.
"He is the total package. He is a heck of a competitor. If everything comes back after surgery – they are doing a heck of a job – but it is still an if."
Blessed with a mid-90s fastball that generates a ton of movement, Carrillo is ahead of the prospect game in many respects. He has a firm grasp of pitch sequencing, good control and several plus pitchers.
Setting up hitters has been a strength for Carrillo. While he has a fastball that can be dominating at times, Carrillo rarely falls in love with one pitch. Instead, he gets a hitter expecting one pitch and delivers another. His baseball acumen is off the charts, especially for a power pitcher.
Carrillo's placement of pitches has also been a plus. He can move the ball to different parts of the plate and it is infrequent that he elevates his repertoire. There are times when things will get a little too juicy down the middle of the plate but more often than not he will miss down in the zone – making it harder for a batter to beat him with one swing.
Besides the plus fastball, which tails down and fades across the plate, Carrillo has developed a solid changeup that mixes in with a plus curveball.
His fastball has reached as high as 96 MPH and generally sits in the low-90s. He works the two-seamer early in the count to get quick ground ball outs and uses the four-seamer as a put-away pitch. He began trusting the changeup more prior to the injury, using it in off-counts.
While he uses the four-seamer as a put-away pitch, his curveball is used against both lefties and righties and has a natural tendency to buckle knees, giving him a second strikeout pitch.
There have been times when Carrillo is too focused on striking out a hitter when he gets them to two strikes rather than continuing to work his game.
He is a competitive pitcher that finds a way to get through each outing. If one pitch isn't working, he eagerly goes through the rest of his repertoire to find one that will. He isn't afraid to challenge a hitter and is at his best when he is working the inside corner of the plate with reckless abandon, setting up hitters for failure by nipping the outside corner later in the at-bat.
While he has the innate ability to dominate, injuries have cast a pall on his status. How will he be affected? Will he come back better than before? How long will it take to become the pitcher he was?
All these questions have to be answered before Carrillo can take the next step in his progression – San Diego.
"His progress has been good," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "Since the end of the fall league, we got him a place in San Diego and he has been rehabbing and working out down in the clubhouse.
"He is in good shape and working out at 120 feet. Everything is on schedule. We are probably looking at – hopefully, depending on any hiccups he goes through – late May."
ETA: At the start of the season, a month shy of a full calendar year will have passed since his surgery. His competitive spirit will surely have him ready for the season, but this year might be one that sees his innings limited as he build his stamina back up. Still, given his impressive credentials, it would not surprise to see Carrillo in San Diego by the end of the year. If not, health pending, expect him to be in the plans for 2009 and beyond.