Name: Alexis Lara
DOB: March 23, 1987
There are times when it appears that Lara's arm is about to come off its hinges. And technically it did during the 2006 season. After just 8.1 innings in the Dominican Summer League, Lara's season ended and he underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder.
"There is some effort in his delivery, but there is effort with the delivery of K-Rod too," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "I am not saying he is K-Rod, but I think you go with what this guy does naturally and see how far it takes him. That little violence in his delivery is deceptive, particularly when he throws that changeup."
Healthy in 2007, the right-hander went 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA for the Arizona Rookie League Padres. In 29 innings he fanned 38 while allowing just 24 hits for a .226 average against. He posted an 11-inning scoreless streak during the season and fanned the side four times, including all six outs he recorded in an August 20 relief appearance.
To say his delivery is violent would be kind. His arm cocks back during his windup almost unnaturally and goes through a long process of coming forward to deliver the ball.
"A little guy with a good arm," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "You look at him and say, ‘An accident waiting to happen. His arm is going to come flying off his shoulder.'"
Rather than having a round motion that rotates the shoulder, it is a modified look that makes it appear like a shot put being forced out of his cannon. He manages to generate arm speed and gets good life and velocity on his pitches.
"Clean his mechanics (up) - he is very violent in his delivery and has to calm that down" former AZL Padres manager and current roving hitting instructor Tony Muser said.
He has worked on maintaining his balance on the mound so his arm does not drag behind him and put further strain on his arm. His head was also not aligned to the catcher, making his arm the pivot point for his move towards the plate rather than driving with his legs.
Now, in a conscious effort to improve his mechanics, Lara is well-aligned to the plate and has a more pronounced bend at the waist to pull his body forward and on a downward plane to the plate.
His leg kick has a hitch to it where after tucking it towards his chin it kicks out before landing softly towards the dish. It slows down his delivery slightly and gives his arm a chance to work in concert with the rest of his body.
Ironically, his delivery is much cleaner out of the stretch. The hitch in his leg kick disappears and his arm has a more natural flow.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that with men in scoring position, Lara yielded a stingy .154 average against, allowing six hits in 34 at-bats.
"Lara has three pitches that he throws," former AZL Padres and current Eugene pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "He short-arms a little bit. He is very explosive, very jerky. The ball comes out in front, and when he throws the ball on a downward plane, he is pretty good.
"He is aggressive in the zone. He is not afraid to challenge you in the zone. Three pitches – fastball, slider, changeup. I like his changeup more than his slider."
Lara was throwing between 94-96 MPH before the surgery and is now hovering in the 93-94 area with his fastball, sitting consistently in the low-90s.
He compliments the fastball with a changeup that has made tremendous strides in the last year, perhaps due to surgery and the need to throw it more often. It offers good movement and can be used as a put-away pitch. He can clip the outside corner against left-handers, as it starts out moving towards the middle of the plate before moving away. Against right-handed hitters, he will start the pitch off the plate and it tails back over the outside corner.
"He has come up with a heck of a changeup," said Smith. "He has arm strength, a pretty good slider."
Lara also throws a slider, which comes in at 78-80 MPH and has smooth dipping action across the zone away from a right-handed hitter.
There are times when the right-hander out of the Dominican Republic overthrows the baseball and gets wild up in the zone. As a fly ball pitcher, that could hurt him as he graduates to better hitting leagues.
He has a breaking ball that he can get over, and he also has a quality changeup," said Muser. "In my opinion, his changeup is better than his breaking ball. If you can get a breaking ball over at the Arizona Rookie level, you can give the hitters a lot of problems. Lara has a slider he can get over. We are trying to get him away from the slider and not try and strike everyone out and use the changeup."
He also pitched behind in the count at times and felt like he needed to make that perfect pitch or reach back for something more.
"Early in the year he wanted to go fastball, slider," Rajsich explained. "I convinced Clint Naylor to not let him throw his slider.
"He would throw the changeup – and it really sinks. He has great arm speed with it and is quick to the plate, holds runners, and is ahead of the game for that level."
"I saw him before we signed him, and we all said he was worth signing but is probably going to have surgery and he did," Bryk said. "He is a guy – a Dan Micelli-type. He has a good changeup, his slider is inconsistent, but he has a plus fastball. If he gets the slider back that we once saw he will be a major league pitcher as a one, two-inning guy."
ETA: Lara has a chance to move pretty fast because of his plus fastball and emerging changeup. He has a competitive nature and good feel for pitching but has to show he can hang on the bigger stage. The 2008 season could dictate how fast he comes – or doesn't.