Delgado Joins Casts Of Aces In Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach pitching coach Kent Willis has been a pitching coach in the Braves organization for 15 years. He also pitched in four different organizations during his playing days. Yet even he admits the collection of pitching talent the Pelicans have amassed this season is an once-in-a-lifetime group.

When the Braves promoted righthander Julio Teheran to Myrtle Beach in May, it meant the Pelicans could boast four of the top 11 pitching prospects in the organization counting the injured Zeke Spruill. But they weren't done. 

On June 10th the Braves bumped righthander Arodys Vizcaino, who they received in the Javier Vasquez trade and who started the season as the Yankees' No. 3 prospect, from Rome.

Willis could hardly contain his excitement.

"You can wait years and years without getting the type of pitchers we have on this team," Willis said. "Then one of those times comes along where you get blessed with not only talent, but kids that are willing to work to get better, and you feel lucky."

While Teheran and Vizcaino are just starting to make their mark on the Carolina League, fellow righthanders Randall Delgado and J.J. Hoover have spent all season at Myrtle Beach, much to the chagrin of opposing hitters.

The Braves practically stole Delgado out of Panama for $50,000 in 2006 when he was just a gangly 16-year-old. He impressed in stints in the instructional and Rookie-level Appalachian League and in 2009 they promoted him to Rome at the ripe young age of 19.

A Learning Curve

But just as with many other international prospects, Delgado admitted that adapting to life in the United States was difficult.

"When I was in the instructional league that wasn't bad, but when I got to Danville (in 2008) that was really hard," Delgado said. "The weather was so hot, and finding an apartment, and also learning English, it was all new to me."

Adapting to a new country and improved competition can be difficult, and Delgado started just 1-8, 5.45 in his first 16 starts in Rome. But Delgado rebounded and finished the season with a respectable 4.35 ERA and a staggering 141 strikeouts in just 124 innings.

Now Delgado has used that momentum to help him become even better in his first season in Myrtle Beach. Armed with a low-90s fastball that touches 94 mph, a 12-to-6 curveball, and a swing-and-miss changeup, Delgado was named to the Carolina League all-star team and was second in the circuit with a 2.40 ERA. He led the league in strikeouts with 89.

"He has that nasty stuff but he also has great makeup," Willis said. "He doesn't hang his head when he has bad games and everyday he comes to the ballpark, gets his work in, stays in shape and out of trouble."

"He is such a terrific kid, I would like to have him as my son," Pelicans coach Rocket Wheeler added. "Coming from a foreign country, communication is a big issue. But he is intelligent, hard-working and well-mannered, and that helps him both on and off the field."

Bulldog Mentality

One player who has watched Delgado grow and mature has been his current teammate Hoover. Drafted in the 10th round of the 2008 draft out of Calhoun (Ala.) CC and signed for $400,000, Hoover has risen through the Braves system alongside Delgado and has had success every step of the way.

Hoover isn't blessed with the same swing-and-miss repertoire that Delgado has, but his numbers have been almost as good. After dominating the South Atlantic League with 148 strikeouts and a 3.35 ERA in 134 innings last season, it has been a different league but the same result for Hoover at Myrtle Beach.

A fellow all-star with Teheran, Hoover has a heavy fastball and commands his curveball as well. The result has been a 4-5, 4.14 record with 56 strikeouts and 21 walks in 74 innings. 3.65 ERA through 69 innings, and if you exclude his June 13 start against Kinston where he allowed four earned runs in one inning of work, the ERA drops to 3.18.

According to Wheeler and Willis, Hoover's success is derived from his bulldog mentality on the mound that keeps him attacking hitters no matter the situation.

"He just will not back down to anybody, he is going to stand toe-to-toe and go right after you," Willis said. "He is not going to beat himself most of the time, he locates his fastball, makes hitters respect it, and then uses his secondary stuff to keep them off-balance."

But Hoover said it also helps that he is surrounded by an incredible array of pitching talent, and in particular that Delgado and Hoover often try to help each other get better.

"We try and talk pitch selection some," Hoover said. "The communication is semi-limited because his English is better than my Spanish, but baseball is a universal language. The big thing is the competition. You know, with so much talent around you, you have to go out and pitch well if you want to stick around."

The Pelicans stumbled out of the gate this season and were in last place in the Southern Division by a wide margin. But the team went on an 11-8 run since the end of May, which Wheeler credits to the improved pitching staff. A staff that he admits he has never seen the likes of in his 34-year career in professional baseball.

"Honestly I have never seen this many good pitchers on one team in my career," Wheeler said. "And to watch them all come up together and rise so quickly is amazing. It's great to watch these young pitchers, who are still developing, go out there and silence hitters. It makes my job a lot of fun."