The Tampa Bay Rays have four starting pitching prospects at Triple-A Durham. Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, and Alex Colome got the most attention pre-season, but all three (plus minor league veteran J.D. Martin) have been out-pitched by left-hander Alex Torres. Torres is a fascinating talent in his own right, but a poor 2012 season knocked him off many prospect lists. He's back on thanks to a strong spring and is today's Minor League Ball Prospect of the Day.
Alex Torres was originally signed by the Los Angeles Angels back in 2005. A left-hander out of Venezuela, he was held back in rookie ball by command problems for three seasons, not reaching a full-season league until the second half of 2008. He performed adequately in 10 starts for High-A Rancho Cucamonga (3.91 ERA, 62/29 K/BB in 53 innings), showing good stuff but also walking a lot of people. He broke through in 2009 with a 10-3, 2.74 ERA in 19 starts for Rancho, with a 124/63 K/BB in 121 innings. He then went 3-1, 2.77 in five starts for Double-A Arkansas.
He was then shipped east to Tampa Bay as part of the August 2009 Scott Kazmir trade that also netted Matt Sweeney and Sean Rodriguez for the Rays. His 2010 season resulted in a 3.47 ERA with a 150/70 K/BB in 143 innings for Double-A Montgomery. 2011 was similar: a 3.08 ERA with a 156/83 K/BB in 146 innings for Triple-A Durham. He made his major league debut for the Rays and pitched eight innings of relief, fanning nine but walking seven.
Torres always walked the narrow edge with his control, but he tumbled off in 2012. He lost the touch with his mechanics and suffered a command meltdown, walking 63 in 69 innings for Durham. He also fanned 91 batters to post an excellent K/IP ratio, but the walks were simply too much and his ERA ballooned to 7.30. He continued to whiff hitters at a good clip in the Venezuelan Winter League (86 in 60 innings), but he entered '13 as an enigma.
So far, 2013 has been much different. Through five starts for Durham, Torres has a 2.08 ERA with a greatly improved 34/9 K/BB ratio in 26 innings. He's allowed just 15 hits and continues to rack up punchouts, although this year without so many walks to spoil his overall results.
Torres isn't a big guy, just 5-10, 175 pounds. Born December 8, 1987, he generates good speed despite his relative lack of size, with a fastball in the low-90s. The heater has movement as well as velocity and seems to get on top of hitters quickly. His breaking ball and change-up also have above-average movement. A cross-body delivery adds deception and makes it tough for hitters to pick his pitches up. At his best, he has three plus pitches and can overpower just about anyone.
His mechanics are a two-edged sword: his delivery gets out of synch easily, resulting in serious command troubles when things go wrong. A lot of things went wrong last summer, but he looks much more like his previous self so far in 2013. If anything, he looks better than he ever has, with the lowest walk rate of his career. It's very early, of course, and five good starts doesn't mean he's turned everything around permanently. Still, five good starts are better than five bad starts, and his run of success so far in '13 shows what he's capable of.
Torres remains behind Odorizzi, Archer, and Colome on the prospect chart, but his stock value is heading back up from last year's nadir. We will see him in the majors in 2013 if he continues to maintain improved command. Lefties with live arms get plenty of opportunity, and Torres still has a shot at being a useful starting pitcher or relief option.