Scouting Report: Johnny Cueto

March 25th, 2008 · 11 Comments

By Kiley McDaniel

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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Tags: Scouting Reports

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 dan12 // Mar 25, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    I’ve heard that he isn’t capable of throwing a straight pitch… any truth to that? And the recoil in the video certainly looks painful.

  • 2 TKO // Mar 26, 2008 at 4:42 am

    Well … I’m gonna be doing my upmost to get him in my fantasy team. I took a late round punt on Homer, which doesn’t look to have worked out. Cueto is the obvious replacement. I’m #3 in waiver priority, but the #1 guy is a Reds fan so i’ll just need to keep those fingers crossed…

  • 3 kileymcd // Mar 26, 2008 at 5:12 am

    dan12, added the comment to clarify that when I saw Cueto, he was on top of his game and only recoiled a few times. Certainly appears he just had some bad habits early in camp when the video was taken–no pitching coach would allow that for very long. It really isn’t painful or he wouldn’t do it, in some ways it’s stylish like how a hockey goalie shows off a glove save. The effects are like beach erosion, but a full spring of that finish likely ends in a sore arm.

    As for not being able to throw a straight pitch, I hadn’t heard that regarding him. Usually that is a function of arm angle, arm action, grip and length of fingers–from freaks like Jered Weaver or Pedro Martinez. I’d have to talk to him to evaluate the last two criteria, and his arm angle is pretty ordinary. That being said, he’s a real live arm with electric stuff and a good arm action. I think he’s capable of pumping 96 straight, though. So there’s your lengthy non-answer.

    TKO, I like Cueto for fantasy purposes given the polish and command. The GABP is quite homer-friendly, and I might watch a few starts to see how he adjusts to the bigs if you can afford the luxury–even the best flop sometimes in the first try. But there are much worse bets out there.

  • 4 Saber-scouting | // Mar 27, 2008 at 3:01 am

    […] At any rate Cueto is going to start the season as the Reds No. 3 guy and while I’m excited about the idea I don’t know if it’s a good move. He was absolutely rocked in his last spring training appearance and while he’s got some talent, I think he’ll be very up and down this season. That said, I haven’t scouted him either. Luckily Saber-scouting has done it for me. […]

  • 5 cggarb // Mar 27, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Not as much “absolutely rocked” as “absolutely couldn’t find the plate.” 0.2 IP, 10 batters faced, 5 BB, 3 H, 1 HR.

  • 6 Cueto Spectacular in Debut // Apr 4, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    […] Cueto is only 5-10, 185 pounds, but he sports a 95 mph fastball that he combines with a superb changeup. Saber Scouting delivered this scouting report. […]

  • 7 Baseball Mastermind » Blog Archive » Johnny Cueto Makes His Major League Debut, Everyone Notices + Scouting Reports // Apr 4, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    […] One final scouting report on Cueto: “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.” […]

  • 8 ShortPitcher // Apr 5, 2008 at 3:59 am

    “no history to suggest he’s as fragile as anyone else his size”??? what does this mean? is there any study, anywhere on this green earth, that indicates shorter pitchers are more fragile? How tall is Mark Prior? Kerry Wood? Kevin Brown? On the “I’m not a human DL list” side of things, how tall is Roy Oswalt? Billy Wagner?

    vertical height is a non-predictor of fragility, just like race or toothpast preference; but it is a big factor for scouts projecting fragility, which means, in this regard, scouts are idiots, just like Billy Beane suspected when he became GM

  • 9 kileymcd // Apr 5, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    ShortPitcher, this a a sticky topic, I personally don’t think short big league starters are any more susceptible to injury than big ones, if not less susceptible. But that’s because they are the select few that got through the filter of the minor leagues and the bullpen and are the select few with the stuff, mechanics, command, and consistency so they are a small, elite population, that’s simple selection bias.

    On the other hand it’s much easier to get to the big leagues being the prototypical tall pitcher, so some less elite mechanics or consistency wise talents make it. If I had to guess I’d say of MLB starters and veteran relievers, shorter guys are less injured becuase they have to prove they are good enough and aren’t injury prone to so many more people.

    Now, in the general population of pro baseball is that true, and should the shorter guys have to prove that? That study I suspect hasn’t been done and I’m not sure the data is out there. On the whole the short pitcher=frail thing has some basis in truth, but I don’t really buy it.

    But, if you’re writing a scouting report, it isn’t just for you, and something that is a widely held belief, or at least widely questioned, has to be addressed.

    And that phrase you pointed out basically says that I think Cueto is that elite combo of skills that can let him be that long-time MLB starter. Should I have to say that? Matter of preference and who I’m writing for. People will always debate this and your (and it sounds like my) views will probably always be the progressive one.

  • 10 ShortPitcher // Apr 5, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    Kiley: well-put; I think, on the whole, organizations have decided to invest their resources developing tall pitchers; the decision that leads to this creates a disparity in development opportunity, kind of like what was long held as truth about blackness and quarterbacking, or blackness and golfing: if time is not spent developing the players, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    This bias, however, creates a real opportunity for organizations with the guts to steer their dollars towards developing smaller pitchers, because they’ll pretty much have the market to themselves; and the opportunity cost will be much less because of the lack of competition, so it’s a smart bottom-line move as well.

    I can’t help but think that if baseball clubs were run by more results-oriented folks, like Sandy Alderson and Theo Epstein, instead of the casual mega-rich and their often poorly-educated ex-athlete minions, high-potential short pitchers would be more predominant in elite D1 programs and the minor leagues.

  • 11 Scouting Report: Jeremy Jeffress | SaberScouting // Jun 17, 2008 at 7:20 am

    […] signing as a raw arm out of high school. It’s now a solidly average pitch that reminded me of Johnny Cueto’s changeup in that it comes from a high arm angle and doesn’t have much fade, but a good amount of late […]

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