The fastball. Velocity is only one part of the equation. The ability to spot the fastball up at…
Name: Pablo Menchaca
DOB: November 28, 1987
Since entering the system, Menchaca has baffled coaches with his stuff and angered them with his blasé attitude.
The Mexico native debuted in the Arizona Rookie League in 2006 and helped that squad earn a championship – pitching the final game and earning the victory.
A year later, Menchaca was pushed to Fort Wayne before an injury forced him to miss a majority of the year. Before heading to the Midwest League, his coaches applauded the electrifying stuff he had.
With the 2007 season a lost year, Menchaca was eager to come back strong in 2008. But – the stuff wasn't quite there, even though he flashed it at times.
"His first year he was absolutely phenomenal," former Eugene and current Lake Elsinore pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "Last year, he had a little bit of issues with some stretched ligament in his elbow; there was no surgery required, just let it rest. I still think he had that mental scar that it was hurt.
Finding the electricity in his arm consistently became the problem and the Padres held him back for short-season Eugene.
While he was outwardly non-committal about the sleight, Menchaca fumed on the inside. The same inner fire the Padres hoped to bring out was bottled up. Menchaca took it out on himself.
After five starts, the ineffectiveness of his pitches was evident and a second message was sent. After compiling a 4.71 ERA with 25 hits and just six strikeouts in 21 innings, Menchaca was sent to the bullpen.
Coming in as a long reliever, he made just two appearances, giving up one run while fanning six in 6.2 innings. Whereas his velocity had dipped early in the year and his off-speed pitches weren't crisp, Menchaca found the free and easy motion that has allowed him to have success in the past, seeing his fastball go up several ticks in the process.
"His biggest thing has always been consistency," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "Took him out of rotation and he kind of got a little bit mad about that. The next time he got a chance, man, he came back out of the bullpen like the old Pablo that we knew. And then he was kind of sporadic, he had a couple good games and a couple bad ones where he couldn't get them out. Just inconsistent in what he was doing."
Because of this, the bullpen stint was short-lived. He was moved back into the rotation and would allow eight earned runs over his next seven starts, sporting a 2.08 ERA across that span while striking out 25. In his final outing he allowed seven earned, spiking his ERA to 3.76 for the season.
The sentiment among the coaching staff is Menchaca was not fully recovered from an elbow injury he suffered the year before. Playing head games to motivate might have also backfired.
Menchaca has one of the smoothest deliveries in the system. His arm comes out clean and the ball explodes out of his hand. The one issue mechanically is that he doesn't use his lower half to propel the ball towards the plate. Using his whole body through his delivery has been something the Padres have continually preached, but Menchaca has not come aboard with.
"The ball came out really easy and I haven't seen that as much this year," Rajsich said. "Last year in extended, he was lights out before he hurt it. I think it's juts a matter of him getting through that period; getting out and long tossing more, stretching it back out, getting out the release point, learning to throw with his body more than just straight arm. As he does that, through the small toss program and getting it stretched out and driving with the legs and the hips, then it's all going to come back and it's going to come back pretty special."
The benefit of using his whole body would be quite evident in the velocity of his pitches and break of his breaking ball. Instead, Menchaca is happy to work at 89-92 mph with his heater, although he has thrown as hard as 95 mph in the past and the velocity dipped further this season.
His fastball has late pop and because of the easy motion it often catches hitters off-guard, as they look for something slower and have trouble gaining good timing.
"We never see him at 95 anymore," Riddoch explained. "He's 90, maybe, tops, 87-to-89 mph."
He does have a tendency to lean too far forward, losing the downward plane on his ball. It also flattens his fastball out.
The Mexico native also tosses a changeup and slider. The slider gets loopy at times and appears to be more like a slurve. Given his fastball, the slider could be a deadly weapon if he can consistently throw it where he wants. He has pulled the pitch short on his follow-through and is trying to throw it harder to get the break tighter and later in its descent towards home.
"We took away his soft curveball because it put way too much twist and turn and we're teaching him a slider that doesn't cause any twist or any problems to the elbow," Rajsich said. "I see him throw it in the bullpen, but I don't see him throw it in the game yet. It's just like he guides it and still wants to turn and throw it soft; he doesn't trust it. You have to remember he's only 20 years old and that arm is still really pretty special."
His changeup is a solid offering and is thrown with the same arm speed as his fastball, making those two pitches interchangeable through an at-bat. It has improved over the last year but still has room fore refinement.
"He's got to be able to get his off-speed pitches over more consistently than he did this last year," Rajsich added. "I don't think he was really fully recovered from the slight injury that he had the year before. It just doesn't look like he's the same confident pitcher that he was a year ago, but as he gets farther away from the shoulder strain or whatever it was, the elbow, I think he's going to start using it more and more and get right back to where he was in the past."
Conclusion: With hitters getting more and more experienced, Menchaca will need to have a solid third offering to stay in the rotation. He has shown more in the past and has dynamite stuff at times. The Padres know it is in there but won't wait forever to see it show up.
Menchaca still lacks emotion on the hill. The Padres had hoped to challenge him in a number of ways and hope the bullpen move may have lit that fire. His weight is a constant issue as well. He needs to stay well conditioned and start taking instruction and putting it into application on the field.
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