Image credit: Los Angeles Angels
For two years, the Angels tried to fit Robinson Pina‘s changeup into the righthander’s repertoire before finally scrapping the pitch.
Sizing up Pina’s huge hands and over-the-top delivery, coaches and instructors instead taught him a split-fingered fastball at instructional league after the 2018 season.
It was a decision that could be career altering for Pina, who signed for $50,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2017.
The 21-year-old Pina’s new pitch, which he throws at about 87 mph with sharp break, helped him strike out 146 batters in 108 innings at low Class A Burlington in 2019. Just two other Midwest League pitchers had more strikeouts.
“When a guy struggles to throw a changeup, then we usually go to a split-fingered fastball,” minor league pitching coordinator Matt Wise said of Pina, who posted a .213 opponent average.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Pina has gained about 20 pounds since he signed, and the two years he has spent in the organization’s strength-and-conditioning program have clearly paid off.
Pina’s fastball once sat at 91 mph. Today it sits 93 mph and tops out at 96 with late life up in the zone. His curveball, which sits at 83 mph, was his best secondary pitch until he learned the splitter, but his breaking ball still has potential to be a plus pitch.
Pina has shown an ability to miss bats, but control is an issue. At three Rookie-level stops in 2018 he recorded a 3.48 ERA in 19 appearances, striking out 61 and walking 19 in 44 innings.
With his strikeout rate held steady in 2019, his walk rate rose. In addition to walking 5.1 per nine innings, Pina also hit nine batters. But his control should improve as he grows into his body and learns to repeat his delivery.
The Angels love Pina’s competitive nature and the way he attacks hitters, and they will keep him in the rotation at high Class A Inland Empire in 2020.
But with his repertoire and mentality, he could eventually develop into a high-leverage reliever.