Last weekend, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino from the Toronto Blue Jays for cash considerations. Last night, Aquino made his organizational debut with the Bradenton Marauders, and looked fantastic. He threw seven shutout innings, giving up a walk and three hits, with four strikeouts. He was extremely efficient, needing just 79 pitches to get through the outing, and pounded the strike zone with 56 strikes.
This wasn’t the first time the Pirates had seen him pitch well. They went up against the lefty earlier this season when he was with the Blue Jays’ organization.
“We saw him in Dunedin,” Bradenton pitching coach Scott Elarton said. “We don’t pay a ton of attention to the opposing pitcher, but knew we liked what we saw when we were over there.”
The Pirates didn’t have to give up much to get Aquino, but they obviously liked what they saw enough to take a flier on him. Last night was the first time I saw him, although I got a few reports on him prior to the outing. Last week I talked with an AL East scout who had seen Aquino earlier this year. The scout said that he didn’t seem to trust his fastball, using mostly the off-speed stuff, and relying on a changeup, which the scout liked as his best offering. He was sitting 91-92 MPH with the fastball in that outing, and the scout gave his fastball a 60 grade. The scout said that Aquino looked like a guy who could be a good bullpen option in the future, and more than a LOOGY.
I talked with an AL Central scout last night who covers the Florida State League. This scout confirmed the first report on the fastball velocity, and said he used his changeup a lot more than he did in his debut with the Marauders.
That last part was the biggest difference I noticed in the debut. Aquino didn’t go to his off-speed stuff much, probably because the fastball was working so well. He threw a two-seam fastball from a three-quarters arm slot with easy arm action, getting good sinking movement and a lot of ground balls with the pitch. He didn’t have the best command, flattening a few out up in the zone, but for the most part he kept the ball down and pounded the strike zone. Some of the flat fastballs may have been four seam fastballs, since they had almost no movement. The fastball was about 89-93 MPH, and mostly sitting in the 90-91 range, holding that velocity late in the game.
I asked Aquino after the game why he didn’t go to his changeup more in this start, and he said it was because the fastball felt good. He also mentioned that he was working on a new slider that he added during Spring Training with Toronto. The pitch was inconsistent, sometimes sitting up in the zone with little break. When it was on, it had some sharp tilt, and was buried deep in the strike zone, or in the dirt.
Bradenton manager Michael Ryan said that Aquino did the same thing when he played the Marauders earlier this year, keeping the ball down and getting a few good swings against the slider.
“What I liked was the attitude and the effort that he had out there,” Ryan said of his start last night. “He looked like he was in control, and he looked like he had a lot of confidence. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Aquino is on a six inning and 90 pitch count limit, although he was able to go seven last night because he got through six with so few pitches. The most impressive thing about the seventh was that it came after a long half inning that approached 30 minutes in length. Despite the long layoff, Aquino came back out and got three quick outs to finish off his night, showing no ill effects of the delay.
The Pirates will spend some time getting to know Aquino before they start making any changes to his game. Elarton liked how he was aggressive last night, and in control of the game. He said that he might have gone to the changeup more if he got in more trouble, so that will be something to watch in the future, to see if he abandons pitching off the fastball when the pitch isn’t working in a given night.
While Elarton won’t be making any mechanical adjustments any time soon, he’s already started working with Aquino on learning the way the Pirates like pitchers to approach the game.
“With approach stuff, it’s right away,” Elarton said. “It’s not like we have a sit down talk. It’s just back and forth. You see something happening in the game. You see a situation. And whoever the nearest pitcher is, you grab them and say ‘let’s talk about what happened there’, versus just sitting down in a room and talking.”
The start from Aquino last night was impressive, although it was just one outing. He looks like a guy who could probably make it up to Double-A this year, especially with more starts like that one. Between the two scouts I talked with, and my view of him last night, he looks like he’s got the talent to reach the majors. That’s especially true in the Pirates’ system, since they love a ground ball pitcher, and Aquino did a great job of keeping the ball on the ground last night. I’m looking forward to seeing more from him in the future, including getting more opportunities to see how the changeup looks.
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