Name: Yesid Salazar
DOB: November 2, 1986
The Columbian native spent the 2005 season in the Venezuelan Summer League, going 2-6 with a 4.66 ERA and two saves over 16 games, including five starts.
In 46.1 innings, he allowed 45 hits, walked 22, plunked eight batters, and struck out 39.
Brought to Peoria, Arizona as an 18-year-old, Salazar stayed in town to play for the Arizona Rookie League Padres.
The progression he made through the year was obvious. After posing a 4.89 ERA and 2-3 record over June and July, Salazar went 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA over his final five outings, including his last four which saw him yield five earned over 18 frames.
Where he really excelled was the rotation. He was 3-1 with a 3.07 ERA when he started but 1-2 with a 7.71 ERA in relief. The extra warm-up time produced zero runs allowed in the first inning of his eight starts.
"When we went from the eight-man rotation and into the four-man rotation, and he knew he was going to be getting the ball every five days with the off-day he was always in the gym working and much more serious about what he was doing out there," Eugene pitching coach Dave Rajsich said.
The right-hander saw time at three different affiliates in 2007, posting a 4.50 ERA in short-season Eugene before being demoted to Arizona. He wound up dominating the Arizona Rookie League with a 1.17 ERA.
"He came back with a lot more confidence," said Rajsich. "In Eugene he didn't do so well – overthrowing, up in the zone, trying to throw it past college hitters. When he came back down after failing, he said I want the ball and I gave it to him in the ninth inning. He pitched dynamite. He was outstanding. He was focused. And that was key. That is what you look for in terms of improvement."
Down the stretch, Salazar was promoted to Low-A Fort Wayne and worked out of the pen as a long reliever, going 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA.
"His thing was getting the fastball down in the zone and keeping it down and throwing strikes," 2007 Fort Wayne pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "He gave us a big boost out of the pen. He is very aggressive. He gets in there and throws the ball; he is not afraid to take the mound."
He proved to be a hard worker in the weight room and reshaped his body to add strength and flexibility. The result was improved mechanics and some extra ticks on the fastball.
"Salazar worked his butt off," said Rajsich. "This kid really turned it on in the second half."
The right-hander did hang more pitches than he would have liked and caught too much of the plate with his fastball early on instead of locating it on the lower half of the plate.
When he is excelling, Salazar is getting hitters to swing over the top of his pitches and producing ground ball outs.
The Columbian native features a fastball that hits 92-93 MPH and is consistently 89-91. Command of the pitch has been one of his strengths, as he locates the ball well to both sides of the plate.
Salazar has a very good curveball that he drops in to both right-handers and left-handers. It has tight spin and good tilting action with a chance to be a true plus pitch. It has good looping action and comes in at a hitter nearly 20 MPH slower than his fastball, ranging from 71-74 MPH.
There are times when Salazar's balance on the mound is off-center and his front shoulder flies opening, flattening out his pitches. When he keeps proper balance and mechanics, the breaking ball is at its deadliest. The problem has been consistency.
The development of his changeup has enabled him to get even more groundball outs. It has improved tenfold from when he first arrived in the states and throws off a hitters timing.
"He is a groundball guy and fits our profile of guys that go after guys and try to get outs with three pitches or less," said Randy Smith, the Padres director of international and professional scouting. "I thought his stuff was a little crisper."
Salazar also has a slider that he tosses to right-handed hitters, but it is a pitch that he rarely flashes, especially when he comes in as a reliever.
"I think he is starting to figure it out," said Rajsich. "That is going to be a big factor."
Salazar has settled in with his role as a reliever but has a deep enough repertoire to be considered for a rotational role. He attacks hitters and is not afraid to pitch inside, making him a candidate for an expanded role in the future.
ETA: The right-hander has to enter each year with confidence and has struggled, at times, with overthrowing when he enters a new league. If he can stay consistent mechanically and keep the ball down, there will be a future for him. The 2008 season will be a big one in determining his fate.