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Michael Pineda: Awesome, yet unrefined

Anyone who watched Michael Pineda’s major league debut yesterday saw why he was such a highly touted prospect after dominating the minors in 2010. Pineda looked sharp through the first five innings before running into the top of the Texas order in the sixth and allowing two more earned runs.

Pineda has some awesome raw stuff, but like a young wine, he needs refinement.

OK, I’m no wine connoisseur — I’m more of a two-buck-Chuck man myself — so I have no idea how much refinement a young wine needs, but Pineda needs it. See below.

Pineda’s raw stuff will get major league hitters out, no question. However, in his debut he didn’t throw a single changeup, going exclusively fastball/slider. There aren’t many successful two-pitch starting pitchers in the major leagues. Pineda does have a changeup, that is to say he throws it every so often, but it’s a pitch that needs significant improvement. The changeup, in particular, is a valuable pitch for right-handed pitchers to use against left-handed batters.

Last night, the most damage done against Pineda came off of left-handed bats. Mitch Moreland went 2-for-3 with a double, triple and the first RBI of the night. In the sixth inning, after Texas hitters had seen Pineda a couple of times, the wheels came off a bit. Ian Kinsler reached in a base hit and then the left-handed power of Josh Hamilton drove a Kinsler home with a double. Then, one batter later, Michael Young squared up a fastball down the middle for an RBI double. By this inning, Pineda’s velocity had dropped a bit and despite throwing only 85 pitches, he was done for the night.

Another issue that may hold Pineda back, at least this season, is location (command within the strike-zone). The pitch f/x data from BrooksBaseball.net shows us Pineda’s pitch location and how the majority of Pineda’s pitches withing the strike-zone were not only toward the middle of the zone horizontally, but middle-to-up in the zone vertically as well.

The other important point to take away is that Pineda, despite a mid-to-upper 90′s heater and mid-80′s slider, only generated three swings-and-misses (one with the fastball and two with the slider). This is and important note because it might give us some insight as to why his walk rates were so low in the minor leagues.

At the minor league level, a pitcher with Pineda’s pure stuff can go right after hitters. Obviously, the competition level is much lower than what Pineda will see at the major league level. In his debut, Pineda’s fastball had good velocity, but lacked big-time movement. It doesn’t matter how hard a pitcher throws, as major league hitters can hit just about anything straight. If Pineda can’t hit the corners better and keep the ball down, his fastball won’t be as affective as it could be.

While Michael Pineda is loaded with potential, he has some work to do before becoming a top-notch fantasy option. He’ll need to find confidence in his changeup and work on location within the strike-zone.

If you are a Pineda owner in a non-keeper league, it might be worth while to put him on the trading block and see what type of offers you get.

Consider him a sexy bottle of wine (lots of hype and a cool logo on the label) that will probably reach it’s peak (potential) in two-to-three years.