O's work on command with hard-throwing, young Delmarva reliever

The Orioles have begun the process of building a bullpen with several flamethrowers for the late innings. Throughout baseball, we see playoff-caliber teams that seem to have one mid-to-high 90s velocity reliever after another to parade to the mound.

And up and down the Baltimore farm, the Orioles are looking to develop some hard throwers that could one day find their way to the majors. Right now, at low Single-A Delmarva, the O's have a young Dominican-born right-hander who has hit 100 mph. But, like his velocity, his walk rate is high too. 

So the process to harness that control and command is now underway at ballparks throughout the Carolina League. 

That Shorebirds roster is loaded with young international talent. That part of the O’s pipeline is starting to show its stuff. But there are also players there that are more long-term projects, like 21-year-old pitcher Alejandro Mendez.

When I ranked the top O’s international prospects in February, Mendez was No. 20 on that list, mostly because he has some of the best arm strength in the club’s international program. He has touched 98 mph this year and hit 99 and even 100 on some pitches in the rookie-level Florida Complex League in 2021.

Now Mendez needs to harness command that is leading him to walk way too many batters. But, with an at times wipeout slider, the Orioles have a young talent to keep working with here and Mendez has drawn some comparisons to Félix Bautista, who got his control issues straightened out and is now a late-inning weapon for the Orioles.

It would be an O's development success story to produce another big, strong, hard-throwing prospect from the Dominican who, like Bautista, got command issues under control and goes on to have big league success.

“When Félix Bautista was 22, he was still in the DSL (Dominican Summer League) and here is Alejandro at 21 in his second year in the States and at Delmarva,” said Shorebirds pitching coach Joe Haumacher. “Mendez is a big kid that throws really hard and he stands out because he throws hard. He has taken some adversity and has started to mature.

“There are sequences this year when he has thrown fastball, fastball to the outer half and then a wipeout slider down and the batter has no chance and he looks like a big league guy. And then he loses it for two batters because he is a young kid and there are a lot of moving parts (at 6-foot-5, 254 lbs.). But he has really taken to heart a pretty simple message of the timing of his delivery down the mound and he is really putting in a lot of work.”

Haumacher said Mendez is now clearly trending in the right direction. Where early in the year he was throwing just 46 percent of his pitches for strikes, he is now at about 58 percent and the goal is consistently 60 and above.

Last season in the FCL in 17 games and one start, the righty went 1-2 with a 7.13 ERA. Over 24 innings, Mendez allowed 28 hits and three homers with 14 walks to 26 strikeouts. He allowed a .280 average with a 1.75 WHIP.

Mendez, who turned 21 in February, sat 95 to 97 mph with his fastball then. He is working to develop a changeup or split as a third pitch. He was showing 92, 93 mph when signed but once he got into the club’s strength and nutrition program and made some delivery improvements, the club saw the nice velocity bump. He was signed at age 18 in July of 2019 for just $15,000.

This year, he is 0-0 with a 6.39 ERA for the Shorebirds. Over 12 2/3 innings, Mendez has allowed nine runs and eight hits with 18 walks to 17 strikeouts. But opponents bat just .178 against him and he's shown progress with three straight scoreless and hitless outings over 5 1/3 innings.

“He had an outing early this year where just about every single pitch he went down the mound with a different timing," said Haumacher. "The consistency factor, that has improved. Has been huge for him. We’ve shown him some big league pitchers and how consistent they are in that regard and he is a really sharp kid who understood that completely. He said, ‘Let’s do this’ and now he is about setting an example for other guys about trusting the process and putting in the work and it will show up.

“He has set solid goals. He knows he’s not going from 46 percent strikes to 68. Let’s go a little bit at a time. And he set his goal from 46 to 58 and so far he has met that in recent outings. You just see his confidence growing little by little. Sometimes you can’t worry about the stats in that one outing but the longer process and he is meeting those goals. He is proud of himself for his improvement and should be. Little victories like that are big on the farm. Happy for a guy like that," said Haumacher.

Mendez is one to keep an eye on. The big velocity is there and you keep working with someone with an arm like that to see if through the development process you can produce a future late-inning weapon in Baltimore someday.  



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