It’s been some time since Part One of this series from my trip to Bluefield, which profiled young left-hander Jairo Labourt in a scouting report. The delay between entries wasn’t planned, and fortunately the rest of series will be published more regularly in the coming days.
In Part Two, the focus is on 18-year-old starter Alberto Tirado, who earned praise this past winter after his 2012 season and who I’ve now seen in person three times.
Signed by the Blue Jays last year for $300,000 according to Baseball America, Tirado generated interest by touching 91 mph with his fastball as a 17-year-old and by showing a feel for four pitches. In a star-studded 2012 international signing class that boasted Blue Jays seven-figure signings Roberto Osuna, Wuilmer Becerra and Dawel Lugo–not to mention other notable signings Jesus Gonzalez, Manuel Cordova, Jesus Tinoco and Jairo Labourt–Tirado commanded the lowest bonus of the group and his signing went relatively under the radar.
The hot Florida sun beats down on the Blue Jays’ minor league complex as another rookie ball game is set to begin. It’s July 2012, the middle of the summer, and the starting pitcher’s jersey number matches the name Alberto Tirado on the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays roster sheet.
A few minutes later, a fastball at 94 miles per hour blows by an inexperienced Detroit Tigers farmhand. After another handful of low-90s heaters, a potential plus slider starts away from the left-handed batter and finishes on the outside corner of the plate. Having stared at the pitch for strike three, the hitter walks back to the dugout shaking his head.
It’s the first of many missed swings on the day, as Tirado carves up the GCL Tigers lineup over a season-high five innings. He scatters three hits on the day, issues one walk, and racks up a career-high seven strikeouts.
That was the first time I saw Tirado, with another look coming about a month later after his promotion to Bluefield. That day, he gave up one earned run on a pair of hits in five innings of work. Since then, the secret known as Alberto Tirado has gotten out, as various outlets released information on him this past winter and he even came in at No. 10 on the top Blue Jays prospects list over at Baseball Prospectus.
After the first time I saw Tirado, GCL Jays pitching coach Dave Williams said that Tirado had made the biggest improvements from spring training, and that he truly earned his spot on the GCL Jays roster with a lot of hard work.
Like most pitchers at his level, Tirado struggles with his mechanics and can toggle between low and high three quarter arm slots. He has some things to clean up, as one scout put it when mentioning his mechanics, and he can get erratic at times from overthrowing, but there’s a lot to like. Tirado doesn’t fit the traditional physical mold of a power pitcher given his skinny frame, and he looks shorter than the 6-foot-1 that he’s listed at, but his arm speed and feel for his repertoire at his age make up for his size.
Though it’s been reported that he throws a curveball, Tirado primarily works with a three-pitch mix. After sitting in the low-80s with his fastball and touching 91 mph when he signed, Tirado’s fastball now sits 92-95 and touches 96 with late, arm-side movement. His slider, which is usually 83-84 mph, has late bite and good depth. It likely projects as an above-average pitch, and it’s particularly nasty when breaking away from right-handed hitters. Tirado also throws a hard changeup in the 83 mph range, which he’ll probably throw more often when he’s exposed to higher levels.
In his outing against the Princeton Rays, Tirado never truly settled in with his fastball, as a pair of early baserunners in the first inning made him decide to go to his slider right away. After the second hitter reached base, nine of his next 12 pitches were sliders and he finished off the inning with no damage.
Tirado cruised through the rest of his outing, with a 20-pitch third inning as his only real hiccup. Continuing to throw his fastball at 92-94 mph in the fifth inning, Tirado gave up a one-out double before striking out the next two hitters to end the frame.
The 18-year-old finished the day with five scoreless innings, having allowed just two hits and no walks with four strikeouts. While he kept his fastball low for the most part, he was noticeably overthrowing at times. He generated plenty of swings, including 12 whiffs by my count, and threw his slider exclusively to right-handed hitters, both inside and outside. He only threw a handful of changeups, but got a swing on each one.
While he did admit that Tirado will overthrow at times, Bluefield pitching coach Antonio Caceres said that the right-hander is quicker to notice when he is indeed overthrowing and is just making better adjustments while out on the mound.
“He’s more mature, he’s making adjustments quicker,” Caceres said. “He’s not waiting for me to go out there and tell him to do this or do that. He’s making adjustments on his own.”
Coming out of the bullpen first in relief of Tirado was 19-year-old right-hander Yeyfry Del Rosario, who I’ll talk a bit more about in the fifth part of this series. He struck out all three batters he faced in a scoreless sixth inning.
Trotting in for the seventh inning to close things out was 22-year-old right-hander Brett Barber, who the Blue Jays took in the 37th round of this year’s draft. A closer at Ohio University, Barber short-arms the ball and throws his fastball in the 87-89 mph range. He showed an average curveball in warmups that he never used in-game, but also threw a couple of changeups in the 78 mph range. He needed just nine pitches to record a scoreless inning, thanks to two groundouts and a swinging strikeout, and notched his fourth save of the season.
Shortstop Dawel Lugo and seldom-used outfielder D.J. Jones supplied nearly all of Bluefield’s offense in their 2-0 win, as the duo contributed four of the club’s five hits in the game and each of them hit a solo home run. First baseman Lydell Moseby pitched in with a hard liner down the left field line for a double, in an effort to make up for his error in the first inning when a routine grounder went right through his legs and into right field.
Reports on Adonys Cardona and Chase DeJong, among others, to come.