Name: Cesar Carrillo
DOB: April 29, 1984
Drafted in the first-round of the 2005 draft out of Miami, Carrillo started his professional career in Lake Elsinore rather than at the lower levels.
He posted a 2.79 ERA across his first four outings and was immediately moved up to Double-A Mobile where he went 4-0 with a 3.23 ERA across five starts. Carrillo was moved back down to Lake Elsinore in anticipation of the playoffs and was shelled over his final three outings, allowing 14 runs in 6.1 innings.
The 2006 season saw him begin the campaign in Double-A. In nine starts, the right-hander was 1-3 with a 3.02 ERA. He allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and struck out 43 across 50.2 frames. A promotion followed.
Just a year removed college and Carrillo was in Triple-A – on the cusp of making his move to San Diego. His Triple-A tenure, however, ended after just 2.2 innings in 2006. Pain in his forearm resulted in the end of his year by early June.
Rest and rehab was prescribed and the right-hander came out to make five starts with Triple-A in 2007 but never appeared to be the same. With 15.2 innings in the books and a 8.62 ERA in tow, Carrillo was shutdown. He underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the remainder of the season.
The 2008 season marked his return – June 15 to be precise. He was sent to the California League and appeared in 15 games, including 14 starts. In his first game, Carrillo surrendered six runs on six hits across one inning of work. Things did improve from there.
Across 57.1 innings, Carrillo went 3-5 with a 5.97 ERA. In 57.1 innings, he allowed 69 hits, walked 33 and struck out 32. It was a year of frustration – and expected upon major reconstructive surgery.
Over the last three starts, Carrillo yielded five runs over 15 innings – an ERA of 3.00 that showed the progress the year had brought. He walked three over that span after walking four or more in the three previous games.
The leadoff man of an inning had a .483 on-base percentage – putting Carrillo in the hole early and often. He rose to the occasion with a .218 average against with runners in scoring position but there were only so many runners he could keep from scoring.
The Illinois native went on to pitch in the Arizona Fall League after the season, going 1-0 with a 3.79 ERA across 19 innings.
It was clear that the feel for his pitches was lacking for much of the year, as he walked three or more six times during 2008 – a feat that rarely happened prior to injury.
Ending the year on a lot of positives, however, had to make Carrillo feel like the 2009 season was the year he shows his true form.
The right-hander went 8-4 with a 4.24 ERA across 20 starts with the Missions. In 121 innings, he allowed 115 hits, walked 37 and struck out 57. He recorded 19 double play grounders and held the opposition to a .257 average. He allowed two runs or less in eight starts, including each of his last four where he pitched at least seven frames in each.
"I think you judge Carrillo on the second half of this year," former pitching consultant Bob Cluck said. "I saw him in San Antonio, he was terrific. I didn't see him in Portland, and he had some trouble in Portland."
Carrillo was moved up to Triple-A where he had two stints, going 0-3 with a 5.52 ERA across five starts. He allowed 37 hits and nine walks while fanning 26 in 29.1 innings, as the opposition hit .308 off him. He did notch another six double play grounders.
"I think a lot of that too was that fact that he went up a level, a little bit too much in the middle of the plate," former Portland and current San Antonio pitching coach Glenn Abbott said. "That's always been a problem of his, even before he got hurt was getting that ball away to a right-hander, which he was better at it. He was just getting himself behind in the count and too much in the middle of the plate."
He was called up to San Diego and made three starts for the Padres. He was 1-2 during his stint with a 13.06 ERA, giving up 15 runs on 16 hits and 12 walks over 10.1 frames.
Carrillo is armed with a low-90s fastball that can reach 95-96 mph. He throws both a two- and four-seam fastball. The two-seamer has more downward movement, dancing down in the zone. The four-seam has late life as well. Carrillo shelved the two-seamer during the second half of his time with San Antonio to gain more control, as its movement was significant and hard to keep in the zone on a consistent basis.
"The velocity is back up around 90 to 95, but the fastball command is the issue," roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "Steve Webber, the pitching coach (in San Antonio), made a bit of an adjustment and took away the two-seamer and just limited him to a four-seam fastball, change and curve and the next night he had a dominant game. Hopefully that will help him turn the corner."
"He didn't eliminate the two-seamer altogether but the majority of his fastballs were four-seamers and that was in an attempt to improve his fastball command, which I think, as a result, it did," Webber said.
His curveball is not what it once was. Once a plus pitch with late, tight break, the hammer he throws now is more loopy and slow. A lot of that has to do with not throwing it nearly as much as his other pitches and losing the overall feel for it. The hope is it returns to pre-surgery form – but that story won't be known until 2010.
"The curve is gradual, but it is going up," Kennedy said. "I can see some rhythm in his motion, he's starting to repeat his delivery more, and he's getting a little more confident in letting go of some fastballs. He has the ability its just a question of the mental part. Its about gaining confidence that his arm is not going to get hurt and refining his talent."
One of th benefits from surgery often comes in form of the changeup. Since most players coming back from major surgery are not allowed to throw their breaking ball, the fastball/changeup diet turns into a much better slip. Carrillo is no exception. His changeup has a nice drop and is a ground ball inducing machine. His ability to miss the sweet part of the bat with his changeup has aided his game immensely. It is also a pitch that gets swings and misses against left-handed hitters, in particular.
"His ground ball to fly ball ratio was really good," former San Antonio and current Portland manager Terry Kennedy said. "I mean he gets ground balls. He doesn't throw fly balls. He kept the ball down. His last 10, 12 starts were all very consistent.
"He has the stuff. You don't have to strike out guys to win. He did a great job. He made the adjustment, never once said, you know, ‘Why am I back here.' He knew what he had to do, and he did it, and he kept his nose to the grindstone and got it done."
His ability to get ground ball outs has been a huge benefit, although the lack of strikeouts is a concern. Carrillo is prone to bouts of wildness – and that stemmed from a lack of control with his two-seam fastball. When he can't locate the fastball, he can't even get to his off-speed pitches to keep hitters off-balance.
One of the reasons his strikeouts numbers were down was the lack of confidence in his curveball. Not being able to throw it where he wanted to meant hitters could sit on the fastball/changeup combination. With only two pitches to react on, hitters were able to improve their timing and make hard contact.
"His stuff is good, but the command within the strike zone was what was hurting him," Abbott said. "In Triple-A, they get better and had more veteran guys, and they took advantage of that. I liked what I saw of him this year a lot more than before. I had him a half a year the year he got hurt, and everything was better, everything. He hasn't pitched really in two years because of the arm surgery. I liked everything I saw about him better; it's just the command."
Carrillo is quick to home and has a good tempo to his delivery. He varies his look with a compact delivery and is able to control the running game.
He has become a hard worker after appearing a little lackluster in the effort department in the past. Everything came so easy to him prior to the surgery that he had to change to meet the demands.
"Cesar's just now brand new again, and I think his best year, as far as I've seen, is going to be next year because he's going to be 100 percent healthy, his strength is back," Cluck said. "How good he is, he'll let us know next year."
Conclusion: Two years removed from surgery, Carrillo should be back to top form. What form is that? He was on a quick path to San Diego before the surgery. Now, the loss of his curveball is concerning, as is the lack of fastball command. If he regains the fastball command, his numbers will improve. If the hammer also returns, he might be a better prospect than he was before because he will be a strikeout pitcher that also gets ground balls.
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