DAVENPORT, Iowa—One quick look—or even just the sound of the mitt popping as he warmed up—was enough evidence of why the Astros and scouts are excited about the development of righthander Albert Abreu.
The 20-year-old Dominican signed for $185,000 in August 2013 and rose quickly from not ranked within the Astros’ Top 30 entering 2015 to No. 12 entering this season. On a chilly night in Iowa, Abreu showed both why he’s rising with a bullet and why excitement should be tempered.
Pitching in Houston’s favored tandem system with Jose Hernandez, Abreu entered the game in the sixth and warmed up some blanket-covered fans by hitting 94 mph on his first pitch and 97 on his third—although he walked his first batter, $3 million Cuban signee Eddy Julio Martinez, as you see in the video below.
Abreu’s mechanics are smooth yet quick with a short sidestep as he winds up to deliver. Beyond the elite fastball velocity, he has three secondary offerings that show above-average potential. The best of those Tuesday was his slow curveball, which showed good downward action. The changeup flashes above-average, but was inconsistent and the slider lacked bite, which could be attributed to the cold, especially by the time Abreu entered, when temperatures dipped into the high 40s.
A talent evaluator on hand said Abreu shows more feel for offspeed pitches than other pitchers his age. The more important factor will be whether he learns to sequence them well enough to line them up as chase pitches.
Pitching out of the stretch, as seen in the video below, Abreu was almost too quick.
The key for Abreu will be the consistency of his delivery, the evaluator said. He’ll need to be able to repeat that delivery out of the windup and stretch in order to have enduring success.
That lack of consistency leads to command issues, which cropped up Tuesday as he walked three and threw two wild pitches. Abreu also struck out three in two innings and now has 22 punchouts in 14 innings against seven walks.
Hernandez, who pitches in tandem with Abreu every two to three outings, was signed by Houston during the 2014-15 signing period from the Mexico City Red Devils. Hernandez is more pitchability and poise than stuff, sitting 88-89 mph in his 3 1/3 innings and showing a good, slow curve. He struck out six.
• Preston Morrison, the four-year starter at TCU drafted in the eighth round a year ago by the Cubs, got the start for South Bend Tuesday. He allowed seven hits and four runs over five innings, striking out five and walking two. Morrison dropped down from a sidearm slot several times to give batters a different eye level and mixed his 85-86 mph fastball with a curve that he added and subtracted velocity from.
• Donnie Dewees, the Cubs’ No. 17 prospect and former North Florida star, continued his hot start to 2016 by hitting the go-ahead triple in the seventh off Abreu. Dewees has a Midwest League-best six triples, not surprising given his plus speed. Dewees has a sweet, lefthanded swing and has toned down some of the pre-swing movement.
• Eloy Jimenez, the Cubs’ No. 9 prospect, had two hits, including a double that scored Dewees in the seventh. Jimenez also struck out twice. The Dominican looks bigger than his listed 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, but is athletic and takes a ferocious cut.
• Daz Cameron, Houston’s No. 5 prospect, was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and walk. The son of Mike Cameron, Daz physically resembles his dad and carries many of the same traits, although with less raw power.
• Kyle Tucker, the No. 5 overall pick a year ago and Houston’s No. 4 prospect, was also 0-for-4 with a walk and strikeout. Tucker did hit the ball hard twice, lining out to short in the first and hitting a long, high drive to right that was well foul in the third. Athletic and lithe, Tucker has gotten 60 hit and 60 power grades from scouts who are sold on his bat.