Forrest Wall, the No. 8 prospect in the Rockies organization, shook his head slowly as he trudged back to the bench Monday night in Hickory. "Watch out for that changeup." He said as he made his way down the steps into the dugout.
"He has a change," was heard up and down the Tourist's bench as Asheville faced Hickory's starter Pedro Payano for the opening game of the South Atlantic League championship series on Monday night. Asheville's hitters were warned, but unable to capitalize on the information as Payano struck out six batters in a row and finished the game with eight total in Hickory's 7-2 victory.
Payano is a wildcard in the Rangers system and there was very little known about him prior to this year. We know he signed with the Rangers in 2011 for $650,000 and then toiled for three and a half seasons in the Dominican Summer League before breaking out this year, but the rest is a mystery even to his manager.
"To be honest, I didn't know a lot about him when he got here," said Hickory manager Corey Ragsdale to the Hickory Record. "He's exceeded my expectations and has been a real pickup.
The 6'2 right handed pitcher displayed good location by not walking a batter Monday, despite max-effort on his fastball which stayed between 91-93. He complimented his fastball with offspeed pitches which were consistently down in the zone and mixing in a change in the low-80's and a curve which fell off the table.
"The one thing I tried to focus on," said Payano through a translator to Milb.com, "was repeating my delivery and making everything look the same. I was especially confident with my curveball tonight and was able to change speeds."
The Dominican native, who incidentally was born in New York, enjoyed a hot start in the DSL this year. The righty had an ERA of 0.00 through his first three starts, including a complete game. Additionally Payano struck out batters at a 13.8 K/9 rate with only three walks and was quickly promoted.
Debuting in the Arizona Rookie league, Payano posted a 1.77 ERA in eight appearances and maintained a high strikeout rate before the Rangers jumped him to Low-A Hickory to finish out the season. Payano lowered his ERA while in the SAL, posting a 1.10 ERA with a strikeout rate of 8.5 K/9.
The most impressive part of Payano's game to me was how consistent his delivery was, no matter if he was throwing an offspeed pitch or a fastball. He maintained the max effort throughout the delivery and was able to fool the hitters into swinging too soon on his breaking pitches.
At just 20 years of age, Payano is still two years younger than the average pitcher in the SAL and it will be interesting to see if he maintains this trajectory into next season. Since he was signed in 2011, Payano will be Rule 5 eligible after this season is over.