I was in attendance for Saturday night's showdown between the visiting YD Red Sox and the Falmouth Commodores. I saw YD once before and had an idea of what to expect from their hitters but I wanted to get a closer look at A.J. Vanegas, YD's righthander from Stanford. Coming into the 2010 MLB Draft, Baseball America considered Vanegas one of the best righthanded high school pitchers from Northern California. His strong Stanford commitment pushed him down draft boards before San Diego took him in the 7th round but couldn't meet his quote and he attended school.
He only started three games his freshman year but made 23 appearances and threw just over 40 innings, striking out 30, walking 21, and not allowing any home runs.
After making two appearances out of the bullpen this season, Vanegas made his first start on Saturday. He has a simple, smooth delivery and uses his lower half beautifully during his long stride to the plate.
To be blunt, Vanegas was all over the place with his fastball. Here are some of my notes as the first couple innings progressed: - Shaky control, not getting ahead. - No control And that's how Saturday night went for Vanegas. He had no idea where his fastball was going and because he couldn't use his fastball to setup his other pitches, he wasn't able to use his offspeed pitches much. It's too bad because he flashed a solid curveball with sharp break those few times he was in a position to utilize it. He even seemed more confident snapping off his curveball than throwing his heater.
Vanegas walked 6 and hit another batter in his 5.1 innings of work. Falmouth didn't barrel many balls against him but they didn't have to because he was so erratic. He didn't miss bats. He didn't keep the ball on the ground.
Vanegas was, in essence, lucky and nothing defines that better than his fifth inning. He gave up a fly out to center, a walk (surprise), a fly out to right, another walk, and a fliner that was sliced down the left field line that looked destined to find the outfield grass. However, YD's Cody Keefer (UCLA) had a different idea. He wasn't the fleetest of foot in left but he picked the ball two inches off the ground for the out. Hopefully Vanegas bought Keefer an ice cream after the game, because Keefer saved him.
When he had a runner on first base, which was frequently, he fired over to first time and time again. Seeing how he was making his first start in the Cape League and only his fourth start of 2011, there's the strong possibility that his nerves got the best of him, which is certainly understandable.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Vanegas. First, he's young. Vanegas will enter his sophomore year in the fall so he has two seasons before he's draft eligible. And second, a pitcher cannot be taught how to snap off an effective curveball. He either has it or he doesn't and Vanegas certainly has it. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing him later in the season.