Name: Euclides Viloria
DOB: September 9, 1989
Nestled between Buchholz and Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Clayton Kershaw – both top-10 talents in the entire minors – was Viloria.
With 12.09 strikeouts per nine innings, Viloria bested the marks of nearly every prominent prospect. And the southpaw was the youngest of the bunch.
While he fanned an impressive 73 in 54.1 innings at the Arizona Rookie League level, Viloria also had his share of angst – namely the walk. The Venezuelan native issued a free pass to 34 batters on the year, walking three batters or more in eight of his 14 starts.
While the excitement of the strikeout was genuine, the walk totals meant runners on base and long innings. Instead of working to contact to pitch deep into games, Viloria was petering out by the third frame.
His impressive strikeout numbers, therefore, were impeding his progress. With each at-bat taking more than the three pitchers that the Padres preach, his pitch count was elevated by the time he hit the third inning.
As a result, he reached the fifth inning just three times during his tenure with the Arizona Rookie League Padres.
"For me, that is not that unusual- sometimes our development guys get a little frustrated with that but they forget these guys are 16 and 17 and where they are coming from," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said.
"The thing is he is so young that he runs out of gas very quickly," former AZL Padres and current Eugene pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "He is absolutely lights out for the first few innings. And he will strikeout seven or eight. All of a sudden when he gets at about 60 pitches he starts to fly open and his head starts to lose the line and starts to fall away and he loses his command. That is where he gets into trouble. Then he walks two or three guys in a row.
"His first few innings are very impressive. The key was we took away his curveball and showed him the changeup was more important. We made him throw more changeups to right and left-handed hitters and he found out how good it was. He fell in love with it. He was throwing 15-25 changeups – tremendous for a young arm. That fastball at 86 or 87 just slices at people."
The depressing part of it all is Viloria yielded three hits or fewer in eight outings – holding the opposition to a .238 average along the way.
It makes you wonder if the raw hitters in the league were fishing often at balls outside the strike zone. He will need to make strides in that area – as well as upping his stamina for the rigors of a season.
Viloria has good deception out of his delivery, as the ball appears to come out of his shirt. That added split-second makes his fastball appear to pop in the mitt with late zooming action.
"He has always had the ability to pitch," former Latin American scout Felix Francisco, who now works for the Houston Astros, said. "That is something you find in young, Venezuelan pitchers. They make good pitches for their age. Euclides – a left-hander – everyone keeps hoping he will just keep doing what he has been doing and go up the ladder."
His fastball tops out at 89 MPH with room for projection and he generally works in the 86-88 MPH range. When he is locating the fastball well, he is really tough to hit. When the command is off and he falls behind in the count, Viloria becomes more ordinary, as balls will be left up in the zone.
Viloria also has a plus changeup that is an incredible equalizer. He favors throwing the pitch to right-handed hitters, burying it on the outside corner to get them chasing when he is ahead in the count. He can also throw it for a strike and he tosses it with the same arm speed as his fastball, making it even tougher for hitters to pick up.
"He has command problems with the fastball," former AZL Padres manager and current roving hitting instructor Tony Muser said. "He has trouble getting the ball down. He showed periods – one game he struck out six in a row – boom, boom, boom – boom, boom, boom. Then he went out in the third inning and had problems. He has shown glimpses of being an outstanding pitcher for his age. He has a real good feel for a changeup – and you don't see that from a 17-year-old kid, especially left-handed."
His breaking ball could use some work – it is a pitch he rarely has confidence in and does not throw often.
While we mentioned stamina before, it is a bigger issue because his pitches are often elevated as he tires, and his mechanics will slip as well. His release point becomes inconsistent and the erratic nature of his repertoire escalates further.
When this happens, Viloria overthrows and overextends himself, opening up his front shoulder, increasing his wildness.
"Stamina is part of the process with most of these players," Francisco said. "You have to be patient with them and understand it is a long process."
Viloria is a cocky pitcher. He has confidence in himself and believes he is good. Early on, there were some who worried he might be a problem in the future but those thoughts were quelled by the maturity he showed during the season.
"This kid is a smart kid," Smith said. "He understands strikeouts may be fun but you might get a little bit deeper into the game if you are not striking everyone out. A ground ball to second base is ok. A first pitch ground out counts just as much as a six-pitch strikeout."
The southpaw has a firm grasp of the English language after just one year and many believe that will propel him to future success. It is often said that the prospects that learn the culture quickly have an easier time adapting.
"He has a little bit of bounce – he is a little cocky, as a 17-year-old is," Rajsich added. "He just loses his line so fast. In the fourth inning he hits the wall. He has to learn to stay under control and take away the radar gun, since he always wants to know how hard he is throwing – eliminate the gun and he will be fine. He is fine anyway.
"He was second in all the minors for strikeouts per nine innings. That is freaking impressive for a 17-year-old kid."
"I like him; he is just a kid - you have to look in the crystal ball and dream on him," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "He has a great changeup, a fastball that is projectable and average at times. His curveball has tight rotation and needs to improve on its bite a little bit. He is guy you have to be patient with and by the time he is 21 you might really have something."
ETA: Coming off his first season in rookie ball, Viloria is a world away. The promise he showed in year one will be the starting point and if he can continually build off that he could move methodically through the system. Still, that appears to be five years away.