With rain having cancelled the first game that I was supposed to see here in Bluefield on Saturday, the Jays and Princeton Rays were forced to play a doubleheader on Sunday, with 19-year-old lefty Jairo Labourt getting the ball for Bluefield in Game 1.
Signed by the Blue Jays in January 2011 for a reported $350,000, Labourt was eligible to sign when the 2010 international signing period opened on July 2 that year but developed into a better prospect and wound up inking a deal with the Jays in the winter. This is his first year in Bluefield, having spent a season in the Dominican Summer League and another in the Gulf Coast League.
Listed as 6-foot-4 and 204 pounds, Labourt has added about 20 pounds to his tall frame since signing over two years ago. He has an easy, effortless delivery with a slow leg kick, clean arm action, and a balanced finish. In his outing against Princeton, he toggled primarily between his fastball and slider, throwing his 77-79 mph changeup that he showed in warm-ups only once or twice in the actual game.
Facing a lineup that consisted entirely of right-handed hitters, Labourt established his fastball early, kept it low in the zone, and threw it inside at times for strikes. While his overall command was off in the middle innings of his start, he often missed low; a positive sign for a pitcher at his level. His fastball ranged from 89-92 mph and touched 94 once, meaning he’s only seen a marginal increase in velocity on the offering from when he signed and that’s likely as hard as it will get.
Labourt threw only a handful of sliders in his first couple of innings, but they were all with two strikes to put away hitters. It was an average slider in the 83-85 mph range, with some downward break and usually finished in the dirt by the hitters’ feet. He definitely got swings from it, though, attributed partly to the pitch but also due to the immature, free-swinging approach of rookie ball hitters. By my count, he got nine whiffs with his slider.
Labourt finished the day having tossed a season-high six shutout innings, allowing four hits (all singles) with six strikeouts and one walk. It was the third time this season that he’s managed six strikeouts, and the second time in as many starts. Four of his strikeouts came in the first three innings and all six of them were swinging on sliders.
Labourt’s lone walk came in a full count, on a slider that looked to be a called third strike on the outer half of the plate but was ruled ball four by the home plate umpire. His low walk rate with Bluefield this season has been one of his key improvements, as he issued 23 free passes in 38 innings last season.
One other thing I did notice was that Labourt threw his slider from a high three-quarter arm slot but his fastball more overhand, so it was easy to tell when the breaking ball was coming in. I would have liked to see more of a third pitch as well, but Labourt has apparently been working on his changeup and is throwing it enough in games.
Given Labourt’s six scoreless innings in a seven-inning doubleheader game, it’s not surprising Bluefield held on for the 6-0 win. Right-hander Adaric Kelly came on to toss a scoreless seventh inning in relief, but things got more interesting than they needed to after he walked two of the first three batters he faced. Using an 87-90 mph fastball and a 78-79 mph changeup, Kelly, the smallest pitcher on Bluefield’s roster at 5-foot-10, managed to get the final two outs on contact.
The Blue Jays spread their offense around to get their six runs, as catcher Jorge Saez had an RBI double and a sac fly, second baseman Tim Locastro hit his first home run of the season, first baseman Matt Dean had a pair of singles and an RBI, and outfielder Derrick Loveless chipped in with an RBI triple.
Check back for upcoming reports on hard-throwing Alberto Tirado and Adonys Cardona, as well as 2012 second rounder Chase DeJong.