This year has been different. Since he's been signed he has metamorphosed into a physical specimen that can not only blow a fastball by a hitter but is finally beginning to understand the importance of location, changing speeds and movement.
At the very end of last year in Fort Wayne Portillo began to make some adjustments which he was able to carry over into the Instructional League, where he was the MVP on the pitching side.
In the Venezuelan Winter Leagues holding much older and experienced players to a .238 batting average.
This season he's off to the best start of his career with a 1.72 ERA in six starts and 32 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. He still walks a few too many batters at 15 but he's also only given up 17 hits.
Oh yeah, he's twenty years old and has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s.
"He's been in a good rhythm of throwing down in the zone and had been able to throw his off-speed pitches for strikes," said TinCaps' pitching coach Willie Blair on Portilo's season so far.
"He's made tremendous strides and we have to continue to build on positives."
You signed when you were only sixteen years old out of Venezuela. To me that seems like such an incredible adjustment to leave your family and your country to sign with a foreign team. What was the toughest adjustment?
Adys Portillo: My family was the biggest thing. I lived with them for sixteen years and then suddenly I am out in the Arizona Instructional League.
I remember my first days in Arizona and I was calling up my Mom and Dad at home and I said it was just so different. I didn't speak the language, I didn't understand anything and I ate the same food for five days in a row.
Your English now is very good. How did you pick it up?
Adys Portillo: I tried to speak to my American teammates whenever I could. I always asked them to correct me whenever I said anything wrong.
I've always read you were a really skinny guy. You are pretty good size. How much weight have you gained since you signed?
Adys Portillo: When I was signed I was around 180 lbs. and 6'2" and now I am 235 lbs. and 6'4". So I grew a little [laughs].
Last year was up and down. What was the best part of last year and what did you need to work on in the off-season?
Adys Portillo: The best part of last year was late in the season when I became more confident with my pitches and made some adjustments. In the Instructional League I was able to continue it and was the MVP on the pitching side and thought I pitched well in winter ball.
It gave me a lot of confidence. Last year I was too worried about trying to be perfect and left too many pitches up. I just wasn't consistent.
This year I have much better confidence. I know I have much better command with my fastball and my curve and changeup are much better. I feel good about throwing them at any point in the count.
In all of my starts, except for one, I've liked what I have done.
What do you throw?
Adys Portillo: I throw a four and two-seam fastball. A curve and a changeup.
Tell us a little about pitching in the winter leagues. It seems like the pressure down there is pretty intense compared to what you deal with here.
Adys Portillo: Yeah! [laughs] I mean you have 25,000 people at games behind barbed wire and police with machine guns. In the Venezuela League the fans are crazy and they really want to win.
If you don't pitch well then you aren't going to play again for awhile. The first time I out I started and went five innings and only did ok.
The second time I came out of the bullpen and got to pitch in the game with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning.
I got the first batter to ground out to third. The second one grounded out to second and I started to count the outs. I struck out the last guy and my confidence just really got big. The fans were really loud.
I think after that I only gave up one run in seventeen innings. So after going through that the hitters in spring training seemed like Little League guys.
This year I think I am going to get rid of a lot of ghosts. I am going to show San Diego was I was worth the bonus that I got.
It doesn't seem like you feel a whole lot of pressure right now. Your attitude seems to be this is what I can do and I'm going to prove it.
Adys Portillo: Exactly. I talked to my agent about it and I told him that I feel great. I think I can throw everything, breaking pitches and command my fastball. If someone gets me one night then I am going to come back the next and get better.
It seems you are much more focused on being a pitcher. You seem to realize that you need to change speeds and get movement instead of just trying to throw it by people.
Adys Portillo: That is part of maturing. I feel really good and I know its going to be my year.