Fastballs are screaming out of the hands of pitchers with greater speed than ever before. Not just in the big leagues, but throughout the minors, down to the lowest levels. In gathering information from scouts for league Top 20 prospects lists last summer, I was amazed that we had reports of 11 pitchers in domestic rookie ball and short-season leagues who had touched 100 mph. The velocity evolution extends even further down the chain. During conversations with scouts and team officials over the past month, five new names popped up of pitchers who have reached 100 mph, all of whom are from the Dominican Republic and have yet to throw a pitch in an official game in the United States.
Most of these players are more thrower than pitcher, with a good chance that they might all end up in the bullpen if they can’t refine their feel for pitching and secondary stuff. Some of them might never make it out of Class A ball. But a triple-digits fastball is a major weapon, even if it is becoming more common, and carries trade value as teams become more aggressive digging through lower-level prospects. Here are five new names to add to the radar gun century club.
Joel Cesar rhp, Pirates Cesar is only 5-foot-11, but he was a 19-year-old throwing 90-94 mph with some strength to his frame to go with a delivery and arm action the Pirates liked when they signed him for $50,000. After he signed, Cesar, now 20, quickly saw his velocity jump into the mid-90s and reach 100 mph. He’s an undersized two-pitch guy with a fastball and a solid slider.
Victor Diaz, rhp, Red Sox In 2014, the Red Sox signed one pitcher you already know about—Anderson Espinoza—who throws 100 mph. Later that year in December, the Red Sox saw the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Diaz at an International Prospect League event touching 94-95 mph and gave him $10,000. As a 21-year-old closer for the DSL Red Sox2 last year, Diaz pitched well, posting a 1.38 ERA with a 35-16 K-BB mark in 32 2/3 innings. He started to get stronger after he signed and his velocity ramped up, sitting at 94-97 mph and cranking up to 102 mph with a solid slider.
Angel Felipe, rhp, Rays Felipe was showcasing as a shortstop, but he kept growing and growing. Eventually, he got to 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, so his trainer, Josue Mateo, decided to put him on the mound. He was raw, but he was 17 and touching 93 with a quick arm and a ton of physical projection left on his lean frame, so the Rays signed him last year in June for $115,000 on the final day of the 2014-15 signing period. Felipe pitched a little bit out of the DSL Rays bullpen, where the results weren’t great, with 13 walks and an 8.68 ERA in 9 1/3 innings, not surprising for someone with his lack of pitching experience and who’s still learning to control his newfound long levers. But while the results weren’t there, the stuff was quickly climbing. Within six weeks of signing, Felipe was already touching 98 mph. Then during the team’s winter program, he hit 100 mph. Now 18, Felipe has a hard, low-80s curveball and a changeup in his arsenal and is going to be developed as a starter this year.
Luis Medina, rhp, Yankees The Yankees signed Medina last year for $280,000 shortly after July 2. As a 15-year-old, Medina was throwing in the mid-90s, and the month before he signed at age 16, he touched 100 mph. So why was there not more interest from teams in a player with a strong, athletic frame (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) and seemingly unprecedented velocity for his age? One is that teams shied away from dealing with Medina’s trainer, Victor Baez, given his issues in the past with steroids and age fraud. Medina was also wild, getting out of sync with his delivery and struggling to throw strikes, with his secondary stuff and feel for pitching lagging. While he’s shown some signs of progress with his control, Medina is a wild card who might walk a batter per inning in the DSL or could have his power stuff propel him to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League this year for his pro debut.
Jeffrey Rosa, rhp, Nationals Just before the DSL season began last year, the Nationals signed Rosa for $10,000. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo happened to be in the Dominican Republic at the time, and Rizzo and his international scouts liked Rosa’s frame (6-foot-3, 190 pounds), electric arm speed and a fastball that was up to 92-93 mph. He turned 20 in June, so he was an older signing. The Nationals put him on a shoulder strengthening program, straightened out his mechanics by helping him stay on top of the ball and getting better separation from his body, adjustments that helped his velocity soar into the mid-90s regularly and touch 100 mph, with good angle and running action. His arm is so quick that he might even have more in the tank. He’s a two-pitch, fastball/slider guy who might end up in the bullpen, but he’s coming off a strong year as a starter in the DSL, where he had a 3.05 ERA in 56 innings with 69 strikeouts and 29 walks.