Name: Pablo Menchaca
DOB: November 28, 1987
Arizona Rookie League (AZL) pitching coach Dave Rajsich compared Menchaca to King Felix – Felix Hernandez. Hernandez went from short-season to the majors in a year within the Seattle system. Rajsich noted Menchaca might have been even smoother than Hernandez was at the same age.
With the hype machine filled to the brim, Menchaca was sent out to Fort Wayne where he posted a 7.36 ERA over 7.1 innings, getting shutdown with some soreness in his pitching arm, proving how tough it is to match the hype. He appeared in one game for the Eugene Emeralds, allowing two runs over five innings before he was shutdown for the season with the same elbow soreness – something that turned out to be a stretched ligament and did not require surgery.
What was once filled with promise became a season of angst. The coaching staff in Arizona said no one was throwing better than the right-hander out of Mexico – but a lost season was essentially the result.
"I don't think it hurts him that much, as long as its not surgery," Rajsich said of the lost season. "They felt it was a stretched ligament type of situation. He had pitched so well prior to going to Fort Wayne – and then he went to Eugene and that is when his elbow was bothering him. He had pitched so well that it shouldn't have hurt him. He is going to go through the process and repeat the level."
Menchaca was hoping to build on a first season that saw him post a 3.33 ERA across Eugene and the AZL. The encouraging news is Menchaca returned to pitch in the Instructional League and was hitting 92 MPH with his fastball while maintaining his efficiency.
Armed with a heavy fastball that sits in the low-90s and tops out at 94 MPH, Menchaca came in with good command of his arsenal and a delivery that allows him to stay on line to the plate.
His ball has late explosion to the plate, making it seem even faster on its final descent. It also has good sink and when he is on top of his game, hitters are pounding the ball into the pavement and not getting good wood on the ball.
He is still learning to use his legs to drive towards the plate but his easy delivery isn't something the Padres are eager to tweak too much. The feeling is if he can propel towards the plate with a tad more lower body, he can consistently be hitting 93-94 and topping out at 96 MPH.
The Padres feel he will be a big game pitcher in the future. He wants the ball in his hands and has earned the nickname "Big Chief" for his ability to come up big at crucial times and not being fazed by what happens around him.
There have been some who question his intestinal fortitude. He lacks any emotion on the mound, and the fear is that is a sign of complacency.
Internally, the Padres would prefer to see some anger out of him when things don't go his way or some joy when they do. At least then they will understand that he has the burning desire to succeed – even if his ability to pitch already says the same thing.
"He throws very easy and has a plus fastball – and there is more in there," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "You have to light a fire under him. He is not lazy and not scared, but he is kind of a laid back kid."
His changeup has been a point of emphasis for the right-hander. As of now, it comes in too hard and Menchaca understands that he has to be easy with it and allow it to do its natural work while keeping the same arm speed.
Conditioning has also been an issue for the Mexican righty. With relatively clean mechanics, his weight fluctuation towards the higher end of the scale keeps him from reaching his full potential. When he gets heavy, Menchaca can't use his legs and torso to propel him towards the plate as effectively. The good news is Menchaca is aware of his conditioning deficiencies and is working hard to stay in top shape for the coming year.
He has a turn and throw mentality and does not drive towards the plate well with his legs. While his mechanics are clean, he doesn't produce the torque many think he can. The ball comes out of his hand easy and free – again making insiders believe there is untapped potential there.
"The big thing for Chief is just maturity, and physical condition is something I have harped on him about," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "He has such a heavy ball. He is close to a breakout year. I think he is one of our more interesting guys. When you look at that first year – eighth in the league in ERA and just kept getting better and better. I think you will see significant progress this year."
While Menchaca doesn't walk many, he will, at times, work from behind in the count. He can't throw his best pitches when he needs a strike and has not progressed enough to be confident in throwing his off-speed pitches in a fastball count.
There is the feeling that he is actually throwing a first-pitch ball on purpose, attempting to get hitters swinging at his junk early in the count. The Padres want just the opposite – throw a strike while a hitter is feeling out the at-bat and work magic from ahead in the count.
"We are just hoping for 100 percent health and some emotion out of him," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "Once we get him healthy, I think you will see him start to grow a little bit. He is still young enough. There is no need to force feed him anywhere. At the same time, we hope for good health. He and his arm are in good shape, and we will see what it looks like."
"There is a big upside there," Bryk added. "He can show you a curveball and a slider that can be major league average, he has a plus fastball, and an average changeup. You have to be patient and let him go out there and sow his oats."
ETA: Losing a year will inevitably put him back in repeat mode. Poised for a breakout season, Menchaca has the stuff to vault up the list and be a true force from the international market. A healthy year could make others believe and could allow him to jump levels in the future – look for him in 2011.
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