Friday, January 2, 2009
2009 Top Prospect List: #21 Pedro Viola, lhp
Height 6-1, Weight 185, B/T: L/L, DOB: 06/29/1983
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #18
Pedro Viola has traveled an interesting road during his professional baseball career. Viola was originally signed by the San Francisco Giants as an outfielder, but was promptly released when they discovered that Pedro had used a cousin's birth certificate to appear younger than he was. The Reds snapped him up for a pittance, as they wanted to try the left-hander on the mound. They were quickly rewarded when Viola was found to have an even livelier arm than expected. Even so, to make it to the majors, Viola will have to overcome his late conversion to pitching and resulting lower level of experience than would be expected of a 25-year old pitcher. That said, he does have an electric arm, which can make up for a lot of flaws.
Viola set the bar very high for 2008, as he was coming off a stellar 2007 season in which he posted a 1.42 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 82.1 innings at three separate minor league stops. So, to say that expectations were high for Viola would be an understatement. Perhaps it was inevitable that there would be a let down in 2008.
In 2008, Viola stumbled to 4.48 ERA with a 1.51 WHIP in 82.1 innings at double-A Chattanooga. However, it wasn't all disappointment, as he did post a very respectable K/BB ratio of 84/36. However, Viola's performance level really wasn't all that different than his 2007 level of performance. Factors beyond his control were largely to blame.
In 2007, Viola benefited from a BABIP of .204 and in 2008 it snapped back the other way, as Viola suffered from a .369 BABIP. Oddly enough, Viola took off when the Reds plugged him into the starting rotation. While the improvement may have been the result of luck more than anything else, the coincidence may ultimately cause the Reds to rethink the appropriate role for Viola.
As a reliever, Viola had a 4.76 BB/9, 9.53 K/9, 1.73 WHIP, and a .414 BABIP. Later in the year, the Reds switched Viola to the rotation, where he posted a 2.38 BB/9, 7.94 K/9, 1.09 WHIP, and a .284 BABIP. So, ultimately, it may have been hit luck regressing to the mean more than anything else, as his fielding independent pitching was 3.61 as a reliever and 3.79 as a starter. So, you could argue that Viola was actual better as a reliever than he was as a starter, but the hit luck discrepancy makes his performance in the rotation look vastly superior.
Regardless of his role, Viola continued to demonstrate the power left-handed arm that makes him a rather intriguing prospect.
REPERTOIRE AND PITCHING MECHANICS
Viola works primarily with three pitches. His bread-and-butter is his 91-94 mph fastball, which has good movement. In addition, he possesses an average slider and a spotty change-up. Given his advanced age and the lack of polish on his secondary offerings, the Reds had him pegged for as a reliever prior to 2008.
Click here for a really great look at Pedro in action during the 2008 Arizona Fall League from David Pratt on Vimeo.
Viola has fairly uncomplicated mechanics. He begins his motion by taking a step towards third base with his glove side (GS) leg. He then un-weights his pitching arm side (PAS) leg, rotating his foot down onto the rubber. He brings his hands up to his chest and his GS leg up into a high leg kick with some body coil. After breaking his hands, Viola uses a smaller than usual half-circle with his pitching arm to bring the ball up to the throwing position. It's not quite the "throwing darts" style arm action of Ken Hill or Keith Foulke, but Viola does work with a bit of a short-armed throwing motion. He doesn't use as much arm extension after breaking his hands as other pitchers do.
As Viola brings the ball up into throwing position, he begins to drive off the mound with his lower body. As his stride finishes, Viola plants his GS foot in an unusual manner. Instead of planting his foot with the toes pointed directly towards home plate, Viola's GS foot lands pointed somewhat towards first base. His foot lands in a more closed off position than is normal for pitchers. In fact, it looks a bit like a pigeon-toed delivery. Even so, he doesn't have the "throwing across his body, cross-fire action" of Matt Maloney or the "throwing against a stiff leg" of Travis Wood, but he does seem to pitch against his plant leg a bit. His plant leg seems to cause his momentum to work against his leg muscles a bit more than the traditional pitcher, as his plant leg is closed off a bit more. Despite the position of his plant foot, Viola still gets his body squared up and in good fielding position after delivering the pitch.
In addition to his shorter arm action, Viola also throws from a three-quarter arm slot, rather than using a pure over-the-top delivery. His lower arm slot is not a problem in and of itself, but Viola seems to have difficulty maintaining a consistent arm slot from pitch to pitch. The inconsistency of his delivery is the real problem and it's possible that his closed toe, lower arm slot, and shorter arm action may be partially to blame for the lack of consistency.
Viola still intrigues. He's got the rarest of gifts, the power left-handed arm. The number of lefties who can reach the mid-90s is a very small group. And, even though he is a bit older than one would like, the age of a pitching prospect just isn't as important to development as it is for positional prospects. Pitchers often put it all together at different points in their development and, hence, don't work off the same linear development curve as that of position players. So, the Reds can still afford to be patient with Pedro, but it'll be interesting to see what role they choose for him in the 2009 season.
Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Reds overreact to the "improved" performance as a starter and keep him in a minor league rotation for 2009. Ultimately, that may be fortuitous for the organization, as a good starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever. I wrestled with the appropriate rankings for Travis Wood and Pedro Viola, as each has his positives and negatives. Wood is younger, wields a tremendous change-up, and not much else. Pedro is at a higher level of competition, throws a nasty fastball, and not much else. Each has one dynamite pitch, but also significant question marks. In the end, I ranked Wood higher, but Pedro may end up being the one with the MLB career.
In any event, 2009 will reveal a great deal about both Pedro Viola and the Reds view of him. His 2008 season opens the door for Pedro to be a starter, but he could also be moved back to the bullpen. Either way, he'll need to improve his consistency and polish up his secondary offerings to find success at the major league level. An electric arm can only take a prospect so far. At some point, all throwers have to become pitchers in order to find success at the higher levels. For now, Pedro checks in at #21.