Trio of Puerto Rican Pitchers Flying High

In past World Baseball Classics Puerto Rico has done a credible job scattering their lineup with position players that are major league caliber. In 2014 they surprised the world by taking second place in the WBC despite having a starting staff of Nelson Figueroa, Orlando Roman, Mario Santiago and Giancarlo Alvarado. Nelson has won some big games in Taiwan and the Caribbean and Alvarado pitched for one year in the NPB but their major league careers have been less than impressive. This may change as this current trio of starters develops.

Baseball America announced their minor league all star team. Three pitchers from Puerto Rico made either the first or second team. Myworld ranked two of the three pitchers in our top ten prospects from Puerto Rico for 2014. We thought about Jorge Lopez but selected Alex Claudio instead, our eyes tainted by the good spring he was having. We did have Jorge mentioned in the future roster for the 2017 Puerto Rican WBC team and that may come to fruition.

The ace of the staff will be Jose Berrios who was selected to the first team after going 14-5 with a 2.87 ERA. Twins fans were a bit critical Berrios was not called up to help the Twins reach a playoff spot this year. After throwing 166 innings this year, twenty more than he threw last year Twins brass decided to shut him down. Jose has the distinction of being the highest drafted pitcher ever out of Puerto Rico, drafted in the supplemental first round in 2012. He has a mid-90s fastball that was enhanced with an improved changeup resulting in his leading all minor league baseball in whiffs with 175. Expect 2016 for him to make his major league debut, perhaps sliding into the rotation breaking out of spring camp.

Jorge Lopez from the Brewers is another player to make the first team. He finished 12-5 with a 2.26 ERA. Opponents hit only .205 against him. The fastball does not have the same velocity as Berrios but his breaking pitch (curve) is superior. It was so good the pitch was voted the best breaking pitch in the Southern League. The second round pick in the 2011 draft is still about a year away from pitching in the major leagues. At best expect a mid-season callup in 2016 if he continues to dominant in the minor leagues as he did this year.

Jose Deleon of the Dodgers made the second team, but he had the best strikeouts per nine innings of the trio (12.8) and his .208 opponent average was three points higher than Lopez. He finished 6-7, 2.99 between High A and AA. Not a lot was expected from the pudgy righthander drafted in the 24th round of the 2013 draft, but he has slimmed down and his fastball has rocketed to the mid-90s. It may take longer for Deleon to see the Dodgers rotation with Julio Urias ahead of him but don’t be surprised to see a 2016 September callup.

Puerto Rico will have a wide variety of catchers to select from for the 2017 WBC to nurture these young pitchers to compete against major leaguers. Yadier Molina would be the ideal candidate but Rene Rivera or Geovany Soto would be other options. The defense should be solid with Francisco Lindor at short, Carlos Correa at third and Javier Baez at second. The outfield could use one more glove with Eddie Rosario and Alex Rios two solid players patrolling the corners. Repeating second place may be a lofty ambition, but with an improved pitching staff perhaps a 2017 WBC world championship is not out of the question. A lot will depend on their major league teams making them available to pitch.

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