José Albertos had an interesting April in his first taste of full-season baseball. If you just look at his stat line, you would think it was a disaster: A 24.30 ERA in 6.2 innings over five games. He walked 17 batters and hit another while striking out only seven However, stats don’t tell the whole story.
Here are five key points to consider when reviewing the coveted pitching prospect’s performance:
1. On the surface, Albertos has just been wild and is struggling with his release point. He’s had trouble commanding his fastball and curve, and he hasn’t really thrown his change much at all. It looks like the Cubs tweaked his delivery a little and he’s still making adjustments, including pitching in relief for his first outing in May.
2. This is somewhat reminiscent of his first month at Eugene. Last year, Albertos came out throwing 90, 91 in the 1st inning and worked his way up to 95 by the middle of the game. He focused on his fastball and curve in his first few starts and kept the changeup for later in the season.
This year, he’s throwing up to 95 in the right out of the gate and, while he was on a strict pitch count last year, the only restrictions on him this year are a pitches-per-inning limit. He maxed that out in the first inning of work this year and he’s come close to doing the same in every outing so far. Last Thursday, he had 29 pitches in one inning of work, albeit in relief.
3. When you break down the actual moments within an inning, he’s not that far from turning it around quickly. A pitch here or there and he’d have three outs, but instead he would give up two to four runs on 28-30 pitches. For example, he walked three batters in his only inning of work Thursday, but got a double play and looked to be almost out of the inning with just 20 pitches. He was ahead of the next batter with a 1-2 count but gave up a single.
What’s really wild is that allowing just a single run in that frame actually lowered his ERA by 2.40 points. Going back and looking at each start that he’s made, there were key moments where he had a way out. It’s just a matter of him making that one pitch to get that ground ball, to pop a guy up, or to strike him out.
4. It’s easy to forget since we’ve been hearing about him for a couple years, but Albertos is only 19 years old and playing against players two and three years older. That’s not so much an excuse as a reminder that he’s still learning how to pitch and he’s doing it against more seasoned hitters. Once he gets that release point down on his fastball he can start mixing in his change. Until he does, he’s going to struggle throwing just the fastball and the curve.
5. He’s not going down to Mesa to work on it, either. Ultimately, it is about his development and where it’s best to continue it, so he will be in South Bend to improve every six days. What the Cubs really want to avoid is Albertos starting to press; what may at first be a physical problem with his release point could evolve into something mental that he needs to get past. Sending him down could damage his confidence. If he’s injured, that’s one thing. But he’s not.
Albertos can get through this. And when he does, he just needs to continue to build on it outing by outing. Get those first three outs, then another three, then another, and the confidence will begin to roll for him. It could take a bit of time to get there or it could be next week. When he does get that consistency, though, it will be well worth the wait.