Prospect of the Day: Alexander Torres, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
If you like strikeouts, you need to pay attention to Tampa Bay Rays prospect Alexander Torres, currently leading the Triple-A International League with 130 whiffs for Durham. While teammate Matt Moore is a superior prospect, Torres is a fine talent in his own right and will be making his way to Tampa Bay soon enough.
Torres is a 5-10, 175 pound lefty, 23 years old. He was originally signed by the Los Angeles Angels in 2005, out of Venezuela. It took him three years to get out of rookie ball, but he jumped to the High-A California League in the second half of the 2008 season and performed well, posting a 3.91 ERA with a 62/29 K/BB in 53 innings. A return engagement in 2009 resulted in a 2.74 ERA with a 124/63 K/BB in 121 innings, bringing him to the attention of Rays scouts. He was traded to Tampa in the August 2009 Scott Kazmir deal and finished the year in Double-A.
The Rays are usually conservative about promoting prospects, and Torres spent all of 2010 in Double-A, going 11-6, 3.47 in 143 innings for Montgomery, with a 150/70 K/BB and 136 hits allowed. Moved up to Triple-A this year, Torres has put up similar numbers for Durham: a 3.23 ERA with a 130/67 K/BB in 123 innings over 23 starts, with 117 hits allowed. As stated, he leads the International League in strikeouts. His 9.5 K/9 IP ratio is best among league starting pitchers, although several relievers have better marks.
Torres isn't a big guy, but he generates plenty of velocity for a lefty with a low-90s fastball. The heater plays up because of its movement. He also has an above-average changeup, and his curveball, while inconsistent, is also a frequent plus pitch. All of his pitches have excellent movement, and he's maintained his superior strikeout rates at each level. His mechanics aren't textbook, but add deception to all the life in his pitches.
The downside is spotty command: Torres doesn't always know where the ball is going and walks a lot of people, although his ground ball tendency and low home run rates have limited the damage, resulting in solid ERAs. The question is: will that be true in the majors? He received one inning of work in the major leagues back in July and walked three guys, not an auspicious beginning, granted it was just one game.
Since his stuff is so good, Torres has been ahead of minor league hitters at every turn, but he'll likely require adjustment time in the majors due to his command issues. It remains to be seen how he fits into Tampa's plans: for many teams he would be a definite rotation candidate for 2012. Although his control problems mean he's not a terrific bet for immediate success, keep in mind that strikeout rates are an excellent indicator of future success for young pitchers. It may take awhile, but Torres has a good shot at eventual major league effectiveness.