Let it be known that I have Julio Teheran ranked on my personal top 25 prospect list. He is a special talent -- has been since the Braves signed him. Objectively, I write this report to give an update on Teheran's progress over the last year.
I write to provide an in-depth breakdown of a pitcher who is going to make his big-league debut tomorrow, not to gloat about seeing a potential star before most baseball fans knew his name.
I had a chance to see Teheran from right behind home plate at Braves camp last year. My detailed report on that outing can be found here. Today, I watched every pitch of his April 30, 2011 start on MiLB.tv. Seeing a guy from behind the plate is preferred over TV, of course, but some kind of updated look is better than no updated look.
Teheran has plus fastball velocity and a sneaky-quick tempo. His changeup and curveball are both quality offerings, giving him a three-pitch mix that's too much for most minor league hitters. He also has a quick pickoff move.
He has improved his body control and calmed his delivery some since I saw him a year ago, but there's still a good amount of effort as he accellerates his arm toward the plate. Teheran is thin with a lean torso. His legs have thickened -- in a good way -- since I last saw him, but I don't see a guy who's due for a lot more physical maturation. What you see now may not be too different from what he is five years from now.
The fastball is the foundation for any pitcher. It's thrown more than any pitch in baseball, and a pitcher needs a good one to find success in the big leagues. He needs a great one to surface as an ace.
Teheran has a good fastball. It sits in the low-to-mid 90s and he can dial it up to 97 MPH when he needs to. His quick tempo leaves hitters without much time to pick up the pitch, but it's straight and Triple-A hitters squared up on it regularly in his last outing.
The minors are for development and I'm sure the Braves are aware that Teheran is going to need to take a big step forward with his fastball command in order to surface as a top-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues. He threw almost exclusively fastballs his last time out. Like most fastballs, Teheran's is hittable when he leaves it up in the zone, unless the batter is minor league veteran Jorge Vazquez. Vazquez chased more than a few Teheran fastballs up in the zone last week, giving Teheran three of his seven strikeouts. Jorge Vazquez is not a big leaguer.
Teheran isn't sharp with his fastball. He can hit his spots at times, but he doesn't carve up hitters by consistently throwing his fastball with pinpoint command. More minor league time may be a disservice for him. He doesn't need great fastball command in the minors; what he has now is too good for many Triple-A hitters.
Around the zone with his fastball a lot, Teheran is capable of throwing the pitch for a strike most of the time. He isn't afraid to deliver it in the zone, which certainly is a factor in his low walk totals. He's confident and he has the velocity to get away with mistakes in the zone in the minors.
I don't see Teheran's fastball getting nearly as many swing-throughs in the majors as it did in the minors. It's a good pitch for him to steal a first-pitch strike with and blow past hitters who chase up, but he is going to miss up in the zone with it and MLB hitters will make him pay.
As I mentioned earlier, Teheran threw almost exclusively fastballs in his last outing, but he still flashed a swing-and-miss changeup. The pitch has significant sink and will elude barrels both in and outside of the zone. He's not afraid to throw it either. I saw more changeups from him this year than I did last year.
Teheran throws a sharp, hard-breaking curveball. He rarely threw it in this outing, and when he did, he had trouble finding the strike zone. Low-minors hitters may have chased it outside the zone, but it didn't tempt any of the Yankees Triple-A hitters on this occasion.
Teheran has not made a lot of progress since I saw him last year. He's still very young and has found success in the upper minors, but I don't know what areas of his game he can improve in order to surface as a true ace. He'd be hard pressed to re-work his high-velocity fastball to gain movement. And with his tempo and quick arm, he's not going to be able to easily improve his command. Maybe he can learn to throw more quality strikes with his secondary offerings and mix them in better. Even then, though, that may only make him a good No. 2, not a true ace.
Teheran is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, no doubt. It's extremely rare to be able to call someone his age a likely No. 2-3 starter in the big leagues. I'm standing by what I said about him at first glace a little over a year ago, though: He's more of a thrower than a pitcher.
His stuff is good enough that he's been able to more than get away with being a thrower in the minors. Jesus Montero was in control of both his at-bats against Teheran, though. I think MLB hitters are going to respond similarly. They just need to work themselves into counts where he's forced to come after them with a fastball. More of a fly ball than a ground ball pitcher, Teheran will leave some up in the zone and hitters will take advantage.
I think there's a no-zero chance that the bullpen ends up being Teheran's ultimate home. He's in his comfort zone when he's spitting out fastballs and blowing guys away. Then he's capable of finessing in an off-speed pitch and going for the juggular. He may be able to get into a groove as a starter and have a decade of successful seasons in the bigs. I just don't see him as one of the best bets in the minors to surface as an ace. Neil Ramirez, who I also saw pitch this week, is currently a better pitcher than Julio Teheran.
There's a chance that Teheran gets tattooed in his MLB debut. He's gained a bit of an "untouchable" label as a darling of a young pitching prospect. That doesn't mean anything to the MLB hitters he's going to face. They'll either bring his confidence to an all-time low -- he's a cocky, confident kid -- or put my advance scouting skills in question...we'll see!
If you've scouted Teheran and want to share your opinions with me, I'd love to hear from you. Hit me up on Twitter @AdamWFoster.