Checking off the boxes: Luis Medina flashing improved command

Scouting the stat line in regards to young players can lead to a lot of disappointing outcomes, especially given the level of competition in the low levels of the minors. Rather, our aim is to scout the tools and try to determine what adjustments players make to further their development. This is what it means to “check off the boxes.”

When it comes to pure stuff, Luis Medina is one of the best prospects in all of baseball. The 19 year old (turns 20 on May 3) has struggled mightily to command his stuff and showed signs of regression in 2018. Medina posted 11.5 BB/9 during a tumultuous 2018 campaign, leaving many to wonder if he could ever harness his plus-plus stuff. But player development is a fluid and evolving process that requires patience and an individualized approach.

For many pitchers that struggle with command, one can look to their mechanics to ascertain the origin of the struggles. For others, it’s a lack of trust or confidence. Command isn’t a quick fixbecause often times it involves a myriad of reasons. For Medina, the struggles with command seem to be mental. He struggled with off-field issues in 2018 that led to poor execution on the mound. Moreover, Medina is still very young and very raw. When I saw him in May of 2018, he was all over the place. His release point was erractic and he seemed to press. The more he struggled, the more he tried to overthrow everything.

I saw Medina again in September in the Instructional League, and I came away impressed with his ability to throw strikes. He walked two in two innings but stayed around the plate. I was expecting to see The Wild Thing Ricky Vaughn or Nuke Laloosh. Instead, I saw a pitcher that tried to overthrow his fastball with two strikes and would lose glove side command. But overall, stayed around the zone and challenged hitters.

I came away enthralled with what Medina could be. For starters, his delivery is fluid, effortless, and athletic. His arm is fast as hell and the fastball just explodes out of his hand. He touches triple digits with run and sink. It’s the type of fastball that just needs to be thrown over the plate and it will generate swing-and-miss. Medina followed the fastball up with an elite curveball that flashes plus-plus. His curveball velocity is 80-82 mph with hard 12-6 break. The third pitch in his arsenal is a 92 mph change-up with fade. I didn’t notice a change in arm speed between his fastball and off-speeds, which is very impressive at his age. Package all of this with a projectable frame and good present strength and it’s bold statement time: There is NO amateur pitcher in the upcoming draft with his combination of athleticism, pitch-mix, pure stuff, and projection. None. And there are very few in the minor leagues that can come close to his arsenal. So it all comes down to command…

In Medina’s most recent spring training start, he was even better than he was in the fall. Medina pounded the zone with all three pitches, showing good feel for the curve and change. He was able to locate his fastball to both sides of the plate and elevated with two strikes. In fact, Medina rarely labored and consistently got ahead of hitters. When they did make contact, it was weak. Medina was able to maintain tempo and remained poised when runners did reach base. While I didn’t chart his pitches, I recall very few three ball counts and only one walk.

Now, the six innings I have seen him pitch in exhibition games are an incredibly small sample size. However, at this time last year, Medina could not throw a strike. This time in 2018, he was slated to start in Low A Charleston, but his command was so bad the Yankees held him back in Extended Spring Training. This small sample size is a testament to how much Medina has improved. A guy that walked 11.5 per 9 is now throwing the ball over the plate and showing confidence and feel in his off-speed to throw it in hitter’s counts. While there is still a lot of work to be done to reach his ceiling, finding success in low pressure backfield situations is the first step. This is what it means to check off the boxes.

Photo courtesy of Robert Pimpsner of PinstripedProspects.com.