Name: Alexis Lara
DOB: March 23, 1987
Signed as an international free agent in 2006, Lara debuted in the Dominican Summer League. He worked just 8.1 innings, giving up three hits and three walks while striking out seven. While he did not allow an earned run, he was saddled with two losses.
The lithe right-hander came stateside in '07 and appeared in 22 games for the Arizona Rookie League Padres. He went 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA across 29 innings. Lara struck out 11.79 batters per nine innngs that year while earning one save in two opportunities.
He continued the upward ascent in 2008, working for short-season Eugene. Lara appeared in 20 games with the Emeralds, going 1-0 and posting a 2.79 ERA. While he allowed just 18 hits and held the opposition to a .180 average against in 29 innings, Lara also walked 28. He also worked two innings in the Midwest League, not allowing a run while seeing four reach base via a hit, two walks and a hit batsman.
Brought back to Fort Wayne this past season, Lara saw his share of struggles. He surrendered 11 earned runs – half of his season total – across a four-game stretch that spanned 5.1 innings. After his outing on June 5, the right-hander held a 7.61 ERA. He would allow two runs the rest of the season, spanning 32 appearances, to lower his season ERA to 3.03.
"The biggest thing for him was throwing the ball over the plate and confidence.," Padres director of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said. "I talked to the staff a lot about these guys who revert back when they've been in jams. But these guys haven't been in jams before. These guys don't have game experience. I think for him it was learning how to pitch a game and pitch with runners on base, and that type of stuff."
Lara allowed just 39 hits hits in 65.1 innings and walked 28 while striking out 80. Over his last 42.2 innings, Lara posted a 0.42 ERA with 14 hits allowed. To put it mildly, he was dominant.
"Well, I think Alexis finally realized that he needed to calm his delivery down," former Fort Wayne and current San Antonio manager Doug Dascenzo said. "He's still a maximum effort kind of guy, but now instead of going 110 percent, he's only going 98.4 percent. So, I think realizing that he doesn't have to throw 96, 97 that he can throw 94 with some command."
"His numbers were absolutely sick," Smith said. "From the All-Star break on...even before the All-Star break, an 0.52 ERA, a .105 average against... his career average against is under .200, going back to Eugene a year ago."
He held the opposition to a .175 average overall and limited opponents to a .159 average with runners in scoring position. Lara also stranded eight of the nine runners he inherited on the season and route to a 4-0 record that included two saves in as many opportunities. He allowed just one hit all year with runners in scoing position and two outs.
The 2.51 BABIP he posted was the third-best mark in the Midwest League amongst pitchers with at least 60 innings and his 11.02 strikeouts per nine innings ranked third.
Lara went on to post a 3.38 ERA across five games during the TinCaps championship run, earning three holds along the way.
His career average against in four years of professional baseball is a paltry .184.
"I think it's just a matter of repeating his delivery, not being so violent," former Fort Wayne and current Eugene pitching coach Tom Bradley said. "He used to jerk his head real bad, at times he still does a little bit. He is able to command his fastball better. He throws it in the zone. I think he pitched backwards a lot of times. He's got a very good changeup and he would throw that too much. He's throwing 93, 94, 95, and I think he finally realized after we told him and catchers told him, and I told him, and Dougie told him, ‘Now listen, you've got an above average fastball and you've got to use it more.' He started doing that and he saw that he could get hitters out with it and he stayed with it."
"He just kept having a success," Bradley said. "He only gave up a couple runs the last, gosh, the last half of the season. He had a string of like 19 or 20 innings where he didn't give up a run. I think he's growing up. He's maturing more and that I think plays a big part in it. He set off the fact we had a good bullpen. He saw how well everyone else was doing and he wanted to be a part of that. Winning breeds that confidence, that swagger, that, ‘Hey, I don't want to be that guy that can't do the job. I want to join the parade.' He took the ball and went from being a pitcher that really was not in a lot of close games initially in the season, but then at the end – look at the games in the playoffs. He came in and got two big outs in the last game and in a crucial situation, so there you are. That's what you are looking for. He had a great year."
Despite his thin frame, Lara boasts a mid-90s fastball that can hit 96 mph. With some deception in his delivery, the ball appears to come in even faster on hitters. In the past, Lara struggled to control the pitch. Hitters would sit back and wait for him to make a mistake or take a walk. Hitters who do make contact generally hit the ball in the air as they get under the ball.
He improved the overall command of the fastball this year by cutting down on some of the violence in his delivery. Seen as a max-effort pitcher with mechanical flaws, Lara looked like his arm might come off at any moment. More controlled in his approach, he has been able to spot his pitches better with more consistency. It isn't perfect but has come a long way.
Lara also boasts a plus changeup that uses the same quick arm action as seen on his fastball. It is a swing-and-miss pitch that has drop. It routinely has hitters swinging over the pitch. Those who try and make an adjustment will get blown away by the fastball, making the changeup that much more effective. When his fastball command is on, there is simply no way for hitters to stay back on the ball to get good wood. Even those who manage to hit the pitch only muster weak contact.
"He has his great pitches," Dascenzo said. "His changeup and realizing that throwing fastballs and mixing those up moreso than just throwing changeup after changeup after changeup after changeup with a calmer delivery showed that he could have success at this level and probably at any level.
"He was in the instructional league working on a slider a little bit more and give him a third pitch. He just gained so much confidence when he was finally able to sit back and get out of the fishbowl and look and see exactly what he was doing."
His slider took strides forward this year and has flashed above-average potential. It has crisp break but is tougher for Lara to control. Throwing it consistently in the zone has been the biggest challenge.
"His changeup is a plus pitch," Bradley said. "His slider is a little bit slow, but he's going down with that auxiliary league, or whatever they call that, and that's the one thing he's got to work on. They were going to try to and work with him to speed his arm up and get a little bit harder break to (the slider). He throws it for strikes, he just needs to get a little bit tighter. As hard as he throws, he should be able to throw, 83, 84, 85 and then he'll really have a nasty slider. I just think it's a matter of him gaining a lot of confidence."
Pitch seqencing was also a big factor in his renessaince. There was a time when he would throw eight straight fastballs during his warmup routine, giving hitters a clear change to time his heater. He now mixes his routine and his pitches when they are in the box to keep them guessing.
"His stuff has always been good," Smith said. "He's got a fastball approaching the mid-90s, a plus changeup, and a slider that's average to above. He put himself on the map with what he did this year, that's for sure. Certainly deserves an opportunity to move up the ladder and see what happens... He's a slight frame guy, but boy he's got a fast arm."
Conclusion: Lara has always had plus stuff but operated at 110 percent. He has dialed that down and seen the results. Once he got over radar gun results, he has been able to become a pitcher rather than a thrower. Another strong year could have him protected. With his stuff and ability to miss the heart of a bat, it would not surprise to see him helping the San Diego ‘pen by 2011.
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