Juan Carlos Sulbaran announced himself to baseball fans on the big stage of the World Baseball Classic. That’s where the 19-year-old righthander came out of the bullpen for the Netherlands against Puerto Rico with two outs and two runners on base in 1-0 game and struck out the first hitter he faced—a future Hall of Famer named Ivan Rodriguez.
Sulbaran pitched one more inning and worked out of a bases loaded jam, getting Carlos Beltran to ground out to end the threat. He’s since faded back into the relative obscurity most 19-year-old minor leaguers face as he pitches for low Class A Dayton of the Midwest League. But even though Sulbaran had success against big league hitters in the WBC, Dragons pitching coach Tony Fossas thinks he’s already better now than he was then.
"At this particular moment, he’s throwing the ball better than he was at the Classic," Fossas said. "I look at command of the zone. He didn’t have a lot command at the Classic. A lot of guys were swinging at balls out of the zone. Now, he has an idea about the zone and he has an idea of what pitches to throw. There are intangibles that are very hard to teach and he’s one of those guys that possesses them—work ethic, the mental part of the game, the fear factor. He possess a real intelligence on the mound, having confidence in his offspeed stuff when he’s behind in the count, especially his changeup."
A native of Curacao, Sulbaran pitched for American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla., where he was teammates with 2008 third overall pick Eric Hosmer. The Reds didn’t pick Sulbaran until the 30th round last year, but they saw enough to spend $500,000 to sign him away from a Florida commitment. After pitching for the Dutch in both the Olympics last fall and the WBC this spring, he didn’t make his official pro debut until joining the Dragons in May, but the early returns on Cincinnati’s investment in him have been good.
Sulbaran debuted for Dayton on May 1 and has made seven starts in all, pitching 37 innings. He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of those starts while compiling a 2-0, 3.16 record with a 43-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He had one of his best outings last night against South Bend, allowing only one run on four hits over six innings while fanning seven and walking two.
Sulbaran’s fastball has been ranging from 89-94 mph, but Fossas believes Sulbaran’s curveball might be his best pitch down the road. The curve has impressed both for its tight spin and good depth. Fossas also said he was surprised at the quality of Sulbaran’s changeup.
Fossas has been working with Sulbaran to make sure his delivery comes on a straight line to home plate, so he won’t have to throw across his body as much he has in the past. Sulbaran has also had a tendency to outthink himself on the mound, sometimes taking 15-20 seconds to deliver his next pitch. Fossas wants him to establish a more consistent rhythm on the mound.
"Once you have your rhythm, you don’t want to lose that rhythm," Fossas said. "Just because you threw one ball doesn’t mean you have to circle the mound a couple of times. Just get the ball and get ready to go. There’s a time a time and place to take your time, and there’s a time and place, when you have good rhythm, to continue the rhythm."
Sulbaran’s numbers are solid across the board, but there’s one that sticks out like a sore thumb—he’s third in the MWL with eight home runs allowed. But five of those home runs have been solo shots, and Fossas doesn’t necessarily see them as such a bad thing.
"You can give up two home runs in a game and still win 3-2," Fossas said. "When you’re young like him, my teaching method is to attack the zone, the middle of the zone. Throw strikes early. Attack with your fastball and good things are going to happen. You can’t have the fear of throwing the fastball and you can’t have the fear of throwing the ball down the middle with good stuff.
"When he’s giving up a lot of home runs, I’m good with it because he’s giving up a lot of solo home runs. He’s attacking the zone, not giving up a lot hits and not giving up a lot of walks. So he’s doing exactly what I’m preaching to him."
Montero Heading North
The Yankees are promoting catcher Jesus Montero from high Class A Tampa to Double-A Trenton. Montero, 19, had no trouble mastering the Florida State League, a circuit that’s usually hard on hitters. Montero departs with a line of .356/.406/.583 in 180 at-bats, and he was leading the league in average and slugging percentage while ranking fourth in home runs (8), fourth in RBIs (37) and fourth in doubles (15).