Scouting Report: Johnny Cueto

Last season, I was able to see a number of impressive players, just as Frankie did in the Cape. Being in Tampa, these players were the occasional amateur stud, but mainly top-level prospects in the High-A level Florida State League. Three teams are a short drive from my place and a fourth is certainly in the neighborhood, so every good player came to my neck of the woods at some point. Before the new season gets going late next week, I’ll be rolling out some of my reports from last summer to whet your prospect appetites and also set the stage for what should be a steady flow of reports all summer.

First up is former Sarasota Red and current #3 starter of the Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Cueto. Cueto was a personal favorite of mine in this league, and when I filed my report a few days after the outing, I pointed out that Cueto “could be in the Reds’ 2008 rotation at some point depending on Cincinnati’s urgency.” It turns out Cueto decided to skip the gauging of urgency stage and not even give the Reds the option of sending him back to the minors for seasoning (despite a tough last spring outing). I definitely saw something in Cueto this night, and the full report is after the jump…
I didn’t take any video of Cueto last season, but former-Cincinnati Post Reds beat reporter C. Trent Rosecrans did during some pre-Spring Training intersquad games this February. With a tip of the cap his way, here’s some video of Cueto:

Johnny Cueto, RHP, Sarasota Reds (Cincinnati)

Pitch – Present Grade/Future Grade

Fastball – 65/65

Slider – 45/50

Changeup – 55/55

Command – 55/55

Physical Description – Medium to small frame, not much room to add bulk. Naturally wiry with deceptive strength. Well proportioned throughout, solid trunk for a smaller guy. No injury history. Looks like Pedro Martinez.

Fastball – Sat at 93-95 effortlessly with great command and late explosion the entire game. Moves it inside, outside, keeps it down, rarely elevated but it was eye level and purposeful when he did. Almost every one had heavy sink, mixed in some with cut, above-average life. Works mostly with four-seamer with late cut and some sink, mixes in occasional two-seamer with more run and sink. Kept the ball down and overmatched FSL hitters. Clearly his best pitch and he knows it—fun to watch him confidently throw darts at 94-95 pitch after pitch.

Slider – Didn’t throw it that much and it was short with late bite, used as a chase pitch low and away to RHH. Didn’t get a good look with only a few and thrown in the dirt, but many other reports rave about the slider and he threw at most 5 tonight. Clearly didn’t have the feel and stayed away from it because FB/CH was enough. It’s probably a future 55 pitch, I just didn’t see that so I can’t project it.

Changeup – Was his second pitch tonight and while it’s an average pitch with fade and sink, he throws it often and with conviction and great command that plays it up. Probably isn’t an out-pitch in the big leagues as hitters were cheating and looking fastball, but certainly a good third pitch if the slider is what I think it can be. Good deception and arm speed, almost impossible to pick up.

Mechanics – Simple and quick, similar to Octavio Dotel. High 3/4 arm angle, clean and easy arm action with some deception in delivery—doesn’t show the ball in the back. Does a better job than most power pitchers of keeping his front shoulder loaded and not flying open. Some concerns with him spinning of to 1B more times than not and also would periodically land on stiff front leg and have borderline violent recoil (you can see this in the video as well). [Note: it was nowhere near as common of a recoil as in the video–I would guess he’s a little lazy early in camp for the video] Given there have been no noted injuries since signing in 2004 despite size and finish, he could just be a freak. Is a good athlete as well.

Summary – Has a lot of the classical things you look for in a pitching prospect with the fearless attitude, fastball command, above-average changeup, workhorse mentality, comfort pitching to contact, and clean arm action. The size will probably always worry some, but I’m not worried—there’s no history to suggest he’s as fragile as anyone else his size—he’s an exception in many ways. My only two concerns are the lack of an out-pitch at the big league level and the injury implications of his sometimes problematic finish (didn’t affect command at all tonight). He’s a low-risk, mid-range ceiling, high-probability guy with good intangibles and is a #3 starter on a championship team.

Adjusted Overall Future Potential: 56

Present Group: C-, Future Group: B

Projected Role: #3 starter

ETA: Late 2008

Overall Comparison: Javier Vazquez (with an extra tick or two on the fastball, and trapped in Pedro Martinez’s body)

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