Name: Manny Ayala
DOB: November 6, 1984
Going 8-0 over that span, Ayala was the surest thing the Lake Elsinore Storm had on the hill. He wound up making 17 California League starts, allowing two runs or less in 13 of those outings to post an impressive 11-3 mark with a 2.22 ERA.
"I love Manny," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "He is a guy signed out of a tryout camp and you know how I feel about those guys, always going for the underdog. And he has done nothing but go out and take the ball and compete."
"He was outstanding," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He ended up with 11 wins and was money. He competed and was consistent all year long.
"He had some kind of shoulder injury at the end, something minor, but he was a true pitcher for us. He was money."
Moved up to Double-A after his worst start of the season, the right-hander pitched in five games before injury claimed the rest of his year. A 1-3 record with a 5.28 ERA was his Texas League greeting, and he gave up five homers over 29 innings, as opposed to the seven he allowed in California League play.
What was a strength in Lake Elsinore – his .101 average against with runners in scoring position (just seven hits allowed in 69 at-bats) – became a weakness in San Antonio. He surrendered nine hits in 19 at-bats in Double-A action. Fifteen of the 30 hits he surrendered went for extra bases with the Missions, whereas 25 of the 95 hits he yielded for the Storm went for two bags or more.
He just wasn't the same pitcher, as his pitches were elevated and his changeup lost some of its luster and precipitous drop. While he remained in the strike zone, the pitches were a little fat.
In Lake Elsinore, Ayala was a master of control, spotting up his fastball on the corners.
Typically a fast starter, Ayala gets his adrenaline pumping just enough while warming up. He likes setting the tone early with first-pitch strikes and using his deliciously devilish changeup to put people away.
His fastball comes in between 88-90 and tops out at 91 MPH. His ability to locate the pitch in all four quadrants separates him from many other pitchers. Over the last year, he has favored the two-seam fastball more than the four-seamer for its movement.
Ayala's heater has good run down in the zone but does not necessarily make him a ground ball pitcher. He gets many of his outs through the air as well by keeping hitters off-balance with the placement of the pitch.
And the fastball is really there to setup his changeup. The California native makes up for many of his mistakes with a fantastic changeup. His confidence in the pitch rarely waivers and he is able to bring it back inside to a right-handed hitter with precision.
Ayala's changeup is a pitch he loves dropping in on hitter's counts, getting the batter to commit to the slip and roll over or undercut the pitch as they try to hang back in anticipation of a fastball. He can get out of precarious situations with his use of the off-speed pitch – a plus pitch in any circle. Ayala's ability to use the same arm speed as his fastball makes it a difficult pitch for hitters to lay off.
His slider is a below average pitch that Ayala rarely has faith in. While he has worked on it for two years, it has not developed as he had hoped. For some reason, he has a difficult time staying on top of the ball to gain maximum efficiency and movement. His arm has a tendency to drop, making the pitch flatten out.
"The slider is pretty new to him and he throws five or six a game," Padres roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "The five or six he throws are better quality than he has had in the past. He is not going to be a guy to throw a lot of sliders because he has that good changeup. But, it gives him the option to give the hitters something else to think about and is something that goes the opposite way to right-handers too."
When the slider is called, Ayala often shakes off the pitch. And its lack of effectiveness will frustrate him – particularly when he works on it in the bullpen. To take his game to the next level, a third offering that can be consistently thrown is a must.
"If he gets a consistent breaking ball/slider, he will be a major league starter," Bryk said. "He has a great changeup, basically an average fastball but he can get it up to 92 – great pitchability. He is a right-handed LeBlanc with a little better fastball and maybe a little worse breaking ball."
Ayala is a focused individual who puts a lot of time into preparation and game planning.
He wants to have a clear picture in his mind of what he will do when he takes the mound in the first inning and beyond. He is meticulous in executing that plan throughout the ball game and recognizes the cerebral aspect of pitching and pitch sequencing very well.
"He is very consistent in his approach," former Lake Elsinore and current San Antonio pitching coach Steve Webber said. "That carries over to the games. He was able to throw his fastball for a strike. The equalizer for him is his changeup. That is the thing that was consistent throughout his time in the California League. That allowed him the ability to have the success he had."
He has clean mechanics and has a good tempo to the dish. His arm comes out smoothly and he stays on top of the ball relatively well with his fastball and changeup – giving him impeccable control. He prefers more of a slide step, quick enough to the plate to give his catcher a chance to throw out any would-be base runner. He also keeps runners close to the bag with a vigilant eye.
ETA: Ayala is a two-pitch master that throws a lot of strikes and works in his changeup at least 25 percent of the time. He needs a consistent third pitch to be a starter at the major league level and the 2008 season back in Double-A will be important for him to put that together. If he can add that elusive slider as a go-to pitch, Ayala could be in the mix for a spot in late 2009 or 2010.
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