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Scouting Pitchers: Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

The Reds have brought along two excellent young Dominicans this year. Volquez lost just once in his first 12 starts, posting a 1.32 ERA. He is third in the NL with a 2.77 ERA and 12 wins and fourth with 134 strikeouts. ESPN's Amy Nelson chronicled his rise in May. Cueto made headlines with his big league debut on April 3, when he fanned 10 Diamondbacks and allowed one run on one hit in seven innings. He has been vulnerable to the home run ball (23, tied for third-most in the NL) but has at least as bright a future as Volquez.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception. Please feel free to post your thoughts below.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

The Rangers signed the right-handed Volquez (6-0, 200, Born 7/3/1983) out of the Dominican Republic in 2001. After the Dominican Summer League and Rookie ball, Volquez struck out 108 in 127 innings at Class A in 2004. In 2005 his velocity jumped to 95 MPH, helping him climb from Double-A (5-4, 4.19 in 11 starts) to Triple-A (1-5, 4.14 in 10 starts) and make his major league debut. Volquez went 6-6, 3.21 in 21 starts with 130 strikeouts and 72 walks in 121 innings at Triple-A in 2006. Called up on August 7th, he was hammered for the second straight year, leaving him 1-10 with a 9.20 ERA in 46 big league innings.

As Nelson notes in her ESPN piece, the Rangers gave Volquez the tough love treatment last year, and he responded with some maturity. He worked his way back through each level of the minors and improved as he advanced. Volquez spent September in the Texas rotation and went 2-1, 4.50. The Reds traded current AL MVP leader Josh Hamilton for Volquez in December 2007.

Edinson Volquez: (G/F 1.69)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	70		55
Curveball	50		5
Slider		55		10
Changeup	75		30
Control	50
Delivery	45
Composure	50

Volquez was throwing 93-97 MPH early in the season, and he hit 98 as recently as his July 12 start in Milwaukee. He sat on 91-94 in his July 25 start against Colorado and touched 95. Volquez' fastball and his 81-85 MPH changeup have good movement. Johnny Damon told NJ.com after facing him in June: "He can cut his fastball, sink his fastball. His changeup has screwball action to some of them. The bottom drops out of a few." Volquez pitched the seventh inning in the All-Star game, striking out two.

Volquez' changeup has a lot of action and he releases it with the same motion as his fastball. Hitters can pick up the release point of a breaking ball much more easily than they can spot a change-up. There is no cocking or pronation of the wrist for the hitter to see as a pitcher releases the change-up. The change is also easier on the arm than a breaking ball, helping it become the main off-speed pitch taught to teenagers in the Dominican. Volquez' boyhood idol was Pedro Martinez.

Volquez has a 76-79 MPH curveball and an 80-86 MPH slider, but his confidence and command of them is inconsistent. He froze plenty of hitters in April and May with snappy sliders and pitched to contact with his breaking ball. Lately he has put his breaking stuff to the side in favor of his changeup. Like Chicago's John Danks, Volquez relies too much on his change in jams, costing him command of his fastball. It's hard for a young pitcher to nail the outside corner with a fastball after throwing three straight change-ups.

Volquez has an unconventional motion. He drops his arm and has a loose and funky action before bringing it through. As more of a drop-and-drive type, he pitches uphill a bit and needs to work on keeping his fastball down. Pitchers with this type of delivery have good deception but are prone to hanging breaking balls. This year Volquez' G/F ratio has been good but has declined as the season progressed.

Volquez has thrown the ninth-most pitches in the NL (2192) but ranks 22nd in innings (126). He needs to pitch to contact more and refine and trust his breaking stuff. Dusty Baker is not known for breaking in young pitchers easily, and he recently said when asked whether Volquez might be tiring: "He's a strong young man. You have to get through that threshold at some point." Great American Ballpark favors the hitter, although it has slipped this year in its Park Factor rating. Volquez has a 2.18 ERA on the road, second in the NL to Tim Lincecum. If he can stay healthy and cut his walks, he'll be a #2 or #3.

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The Reds signed the right-handed Cueto in 2004 (5-10, 183, Born 2/15/1983) out of San Pedro de Macoris, the "shortstop factory." Cueto was originally a third baseman until the Reds moved him to the mound. Like Volquez, he pitched in the DSL and Rookie ball in his first two years. Former Reds pitcher Mario Soto worked with Cueto on a changeup in 2006, and he dominated Class A (15-3, 3.02 with 143 strikeouts) as a result.

The Reds played it safe with Cueto to open 2007 as they sent him back to High-A (4-5, 3.33 in 14 starts). He allowed five runs in four starts at Double-A and threw 61 innings (6-3, 3.10) at Triple-A. Cueto then pitched winter ball and was dominant for most of spring training, finishing second on the staff in strikeouts (19) to Volquez (26). The pair were one of the biggest stories of Florida, ESPN's Jayson Stark reported.

Johnny Cueto: (G/F 0.90)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	65		55
Curveball	N/A
Slider		70		30
Changeup	65		15
Control	50
Delivery	60
Composure	55

Cueto features a 91-95 MPH fastball, an 84-89 MPH slider and an 81-85 MPH change-up. He takes the high-risk and high-reward strategy of working his fastball inside consistently. Cueto does leave his pitches up as he tires. A good goal for him would be to improve his lower half strength to drive his fastball down in the zone. Physical maturity, conditioning and pitching more to contact would help him work deeper into games. Cueto is currently a five-inning pitcher who is being pushed by Dusty Baker. Batters are hitting .243 with 11 home runs off him in his first 75 pitches, and .307 with 12 homers afterwards.

Cueto's tight, hard slider is a good strikeout pitch. He is over-using it currently, and any 22-year-old throwing repeated sliders will eventually hang one. Cueto's change-up has a nice action. He does tip it some by slowing his arm speed. Cueto doesn't pitch to contact with it enough. In jams he sticks with the fastball and slider. A smart pitching coach might work with Cueto on trusting his change more and perhaps adding a cutter or sinker to induce more double plays.

Cueto has good mechanics. He repeats his high three-quarters delivery well, and it won't prevent him from improving his control. Of course, there aren't many 5-10 pitchers who throw 200 innings. I don't see his size as being a major issue. Ron Guidry was 5-11 and Whitey Ford 5-10. Short right-handers are less common than lefties, but Greg Maddux and Roy Oswalt are both 6-0. It seems silly to say Cueto won't pitch 200 innings based on a two-inch discrepancy.

Cueto is fun to watch - aggressive and animated on the mound. He is learning and doesn't know how to retire major league hitters efficiently. Cueto goes for the strikeout too often rather than pitch to contact when he has hitters down. I see him as a safer long-term investment than Volquez, who has issues with his delivery and command. Cueto has to run the gauntlet of being a flyball pitcher in a hitters' park under Dusty Baker, but I think he'll out-perform Volquez over time.

Radar Love: Heat in the last week

94-96: Carlos Marmol in Milwaukee on July 28.
93-94: Fausto Carmona in his unsuccessful return from the DL against the Twins on July 26.
90-94: Scott Baker in Cleveland on July 26.
88-91: Zach Miner in Chicago on July 27.
86-91: Jarrod Washburn in Toronto on July 27.
83-85: Greg Maddux against the Diamondbacks on July 27.

In two weeks: AL West: Dana Eveland and Greg Smith

 

Article first appeared 8/3/08