In 2011, the Atlanta Braves found themselves the envy of professional baseball behind a quartet of impressive young arms in Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor and Arodys Vizcaino. The chatter about these young pitchers remained loud throughout the season to the point where other arms in the system were overshadowed. A handful of those names made headlines only after being dealt to the Houston Astros for Michael Bourn. That trade created a pitching void at the middle levels of the Braves organization. Cue Ronan Pacheco.
In the history of Fangraphs, I wonder how many positive pieces have ever been written about a 23-year year old pitcher in the lower minors who strikes out less than six-per-nine innings while walking a shade under four-per-nine? Knowing full well this piece will draw the ire of a great many Fangraphs readers based on the numbers alone, Pacheco is simply too perfect an example of a pitcher who bucks just about every prospect stereotype on both the statistical and scouting sides to not discuss.
A contact versed in not only scouting, but statistical analysis put it best when he said:
“I don’t know what Ronan Pacheco is. I don’t know if he’ll every play in the Major Leagues. However, I see Pacheco and I want him in my organization.”
This general statement was repeated to me multiple times over the course of the 2011 season to the point where Pacheco generated more prospect buzz in Rome than fellow left-handed pitcher Carlos Perez, voted the top prospect in the Appalachian league just last season.
Physically, Ronan Pacheco has what I would consider to be a pitcher with an awkward build (6-foot-6, 170 lbs.) and extremely deceptive mechanics. When watching him pitch, It’s difficult to concentrate on his release point with what appear to be arms and legs flying everywhere. And while the average prospect fan envisions scouts looking for that perfect pitching formula of size, projection and clean mechanics, scouts also like pitchers with “funk” and will target them as potential “acquires” in smaller deals or as players to be named later.
In game action, Pacheco possessed a fastball with wicked tail away from right-handed hitters. Consistently sitting 91-93 MPH, touching 94, the pitch featured plus velocity for a lefty. Additionally, Pacheco may even have more in the tank as I’ve received reports of his touching 96 MPH with movement from contacts. This pitch is the primary reason for Pacheco’s 66% ground ball percentage in the South Atlantic League and a strong foundation to work from.
And while Pacheco worked predominantly off of his fastball, he flashed an upper-70’s curveball and low-80’s changeup. Pacheco had a difficult time locating the curveball and hung it a handful of times. At its best, it was more of a big breaker than something I’d consider to be sharp. It may have enough movement to keep left-handed hitters at bay (2.36 ERA, 5.38 GO/AO), but it’s simply not sharp enough to work against right-handers.
Pacheco’s third pitch is a changeup at 80-81 MPH. In game action, he slowed his delivery and worked to guide the pitch more than throw it. Left-handers often use the change to fade it away from right-handed hitters, but Pacheco lacks the feel to locate consistently at this point as exhibited by a severe drop off in right-handed splits (6.02 ERA, 2.77 GO/AO).
By all accounts, Ronan Pacheco is an imperfect pitcher in many ways and every indicator for future success one can point to supports that assessment. However, it’s important to understand scouts often identify and attempt to acquire the “imperfect” to fill defined roles. And while nobody will confuse Ronan Pacheco with Clayton Kershaw anytime soon, a bit of smoothing out of his mechanics may provide for improved command and a rapid ascent up the organizational ladder as a left-handed specialist.
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