Name: Adys Portillo
DOB: December 20, 1991
Signed as an international free agent as part of their July 2, 2008 haul for $2 million, Portillo was brought stateside to compete in the Padres fall Instructional League. Once there, his assault on becoming a top prospect began in earnest with coaches gathering around in droves to watch him pitch.
Portillo allowed nine runs on nine hits in 8.1 innings during that Instructional League, striking out eight and walking six.
"There is a guy with a prototypical pitcher's body and arm strength," Padres minor league field coordinator Tom Gamboa said. "When we got him, his first time in the states in Instructional League, he not only had the raw stuff but also performed."
The right-hander skipped the Dominican Summer League and began his official professional procession in the Arizona Rookie League this past season.
Unfortunately, Portillo would end up leading the league in losses with nine while earning just one victory. He posted a 5.13 ERA across 52.2 innings, allowing 67 hits and 28 walks. The opposition hit .321 off him during his 12-appearance stint and his BABIP of .383 was the seventh worst mark in the circuit. Portillo struck out 44, but his 1.80 WHIP was the worst mark in the Arizona Rookie League and his 4.78 walks per nine innings was the third worst.
"At times, he showed the stuff that proved why we like him so much – the good arm and movement," Padres director of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said. "I think a lot of it is location. He needs to pitch in more. Mechanically, he is off a little bit."
"He's exactly where Castro was three years ago," former pitching consultant Bob Cluck said. "He's a little further advanced as far as the English, and I mention that again because it's such a factor. With English teachers everywhere and this kid – Venezuelans, historically, come in with better English, so we're not starting from scratch with him. So the communication is better.
"Adys is a bright kid and a hard-worker. He's right where he should be. It's unrealistic to look at the radar gun and assume he's going to get people out. Castro couldn't do it three years ago, and Portillo, in many ways, is more advanced than Castro was three years ago. Now does that means it's three years before he dominates the Midwest League? I hope not! But if it is, it is."
The Venezuelan native saw the opposition hit .338 off him with runners in scoring position as he struggled to control the bleeding. He walked three or more batters in four of his outings.
Most team officials believed it was a growing year for Portillo and were not disappointed.
"It wasn't disappointing because of where he was in extended through the end of the year," AZL Padres pitching coach Jimmy Jones said. "In extended, he couldn't even get out of an inning. If he was slated for two innings and 40 pitches, he might only get two-thirds of an inning in and already have 30 pitches thrown. He started to get better in June.
"He put together six quality starts in a row in July to early August before he just got tired. I remember watching him straighten out his arm a couple of times in mid-August. It made sense because that is when he started struggling again."
"I would have thought the numbers would have been better," Smith said. "I saw a number of his starts. His velocity crept up. When he got in trouble is when he didn't pitch inside enough, and I think he worked really hard on developing his changeup. I just think a 17-year-old kid who would run into one bad inning and couldn't turn the faucet off."
Playing in the AZL as what would equate being a high school senior, Portillo suffered from confidence issues throughout the year. He also battled some mechanical issues that meant his location was not as crisp.
"Unfortunately, sometimes in development, a guy will take one or two steps backward before he takes three forward," Gamboa said. "Adys ran into some mechanical problems with his delivery. I think his confidence got shaken a little bit when he had some rough outings. Then he started pitching away from contact. When you are not used to getting hit and do get hit, the result is it looks like you are pitching away from contact. The walks went up – more men ended up scoring. There is no question his confidence took a beating. Although he has been somewhat inconsistent, no one is disappointed. He is a youngster in his first full season."
Portillo first burst onto the scene with a 94 mph fastball that had late life. He didn't disappoint in that category this year, sitting anywhere from 88-93 and touching 95 mph. He gets good downward plane on the ball, which creates a tough angle for hitters to get good wood on the heater. What he lacked was consistency with fastball location and a willingness to attack the inside part of the plate. Hitters would setup shop on the outer half and take advantage.
His second best pitch is his changeup – a pitch that he began learning as soon as he signed on with the Friars. While it is inconsistent, it shows plus tendencies with drop and fade. Controlling it and being able to execute it in any count has been a challenge. As a result, Portillo often discards the pitch and becomes a two-pitch guy. It is a feel pitch that Portillo will sometimes throw too hard, but it has made considerable progress. He simply needs to trust it.
The 18-year-old also throws a slider that lacks command and consistent spin. There are times when the pitch is telegraphed, giving the opposition a leg up. Hitters have also learned to stay away from the pitch upon recognition since they know he does not have the finite control to put it over the plate with precision. Instead, they take and wait for the coming fastball.
Pitch sequencing will be important to Portillo. That begins with confidence in his arsenal. Getting hit for the first time seemed to break him mentally and the rest crumbled.
Mechanically, Portillo will fly open on delivery and that causes his arm to drag behind his body. The result is often elevated pitches. He also has a tendency to tilt his head to the side, cutting off his line to home plate.
His follow-through is not consistent either. There are times when he sinks down on his plant leg and cuts his arm short – resulting in it not show any flexion but remain straight through his delivery. That makes for an inconsistent release point. The Padres would like to get him standing taller while fixing the minor issues that cause his pitches to stray from the strike zone. A novice in many ways, Portillo tends to stiffen up when he is not mechanically sound and does not look fluid through his checks.
"Our concerns are teaching him a good delivery and polishing up his skills so he can go out and compete," Cluck said. "Right now, you start to see flashes of it. But he's got such a good base. I'm talking about those three pitches. He's spent enough time down here in Peoria and enough instruction on all his pitches, and in my opinion, we're doing it right. We don't -- some organizations, a lot of guys just throw his fastball until he gets command of that and then they address the other issues. That is not intelligent teaching. We're pedal to the metal here, we're teaching that changeup right out of the gate. And that's a big part of his success is when he commands his slider and his changeup. And Portillo is not to that point yet.
Projectable in body, frame, and stuff, Portillo is a hard worker that has already made significant strides in learning English. His grasp of the language will only aid his development.
"The stuff is still there, it comes and goes from time to time based on delivery and tension level," former vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "Really, he's like any kid that we sign that is given a lot of money, the competition turned out to be a little tougher than he initially thought. He wasn't just going to come in here and breeze through it.
"Mentally, he held up really well, wanted to compete and found out that this is real baseball. He learned that if he started pitching behind too many times in the count, he could get hurt. The numbers don't show that he was very dominant at times, and although there is a ways to go, there is a lot to like."
"This guy is still going to be very, very special," Smith said. "No real negatives other than the won-loss record. but ERA, hits, strikeouts, and that stuff, all ok, walks got better as the season went along. All in all, I thought he did ok, and I'm sure he feels a lot better, and we'll probably see a much more relaxed kid going forward where his natural ability can come out.
"It is a matter of getting him straightened out again and focused," Smith said. "He is still a premium, blue-chip guy."
"We have high, high hopes for him in the future," Gamboa said. "He has all the ingredients to be well worth the investment we have in him. It will just take some time."
"I really like him," Jones said. "He is strong, willing to learn, smart, gets along with the guys really well. There are a lot of positives with that guy."
Portillo is not very good at keeping runners close. With so much focus on his delivery and locating his pitches, he largely ignored the running game. The opposition was successful in 21-of-25 stolen bases off him and his catchers. He will need to improve his time to home and varying looks in future years.
Conclusion: It is easy to compare the projection of Portillo to that of Simon Castro. They both have similar stuff, and Portillo is further along development wise than Castro was at the same point. He has things to work on but should be better served from going through the mental challenges he faced in 2009. Portillo has the potential to consistently locate three above-average pitches with projection to add even more velocity to his fastball. Those types of guys don't come around often. Development takes time, and Portillo has that on his side. Look for vast improvement in the numbers Portillo posts in the coming year. His potential is that of a No. 1 starter at the MLB level.
Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards
Join MadFriars.com on Twitter at http://twitter.com/madfriars