Since 1990 there have been just 10 pitchers to debut at 19 years old or younger. There have been some successes (Felix Hernandez, Madison Bumgarner) and some misses (Todd Van Poppel, Matt Riley) for the Blue Jays and Elvis Luciano the hope is he is more like the former than the latter.
Luciano is an interesting player as he was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft despite only being the tender age of 19. The Kansas City Royals left him off their 40-man roster and the Blue Jays selected him with the ninth pick.
The Blue Jays took a big gamble trying to keep a 19 year old pitcher who hadn’t pitched above rookie ball, on their roster all season, and they have done everything they can to give him low leverage innings. The results thus far haven’t been pretty; a 6.51 ERA backed by a 6.28 FIP and a 6.85 xFIP. He only has 22 strikeouts versus 23 walks, in 27.2 innings. His ERA is poor but it is right in line with what Johan Santana did back in 2000 when as a 21 year Rule 5 pick he pitched to a 6.49 ERA in 86.0 innings.
Despite the poor results Luciano has shown some flashes that he could be a solid pitcher in the future.
Luciano attacks batters predominately with his fastball. He uses it 54.7% of the time per Baseball Savant. He averages 94.1mph with the pitch and gets some good movement on it.
Using Baseball Savant’s pitch movement leaderboards, we can see that Luciano’s fastball drops 17.2 inches which is 1.5 inches less and 10% lower than fastballs with a similar velocity. It does however get really good horizontal movement. The pitch moves 13.8 inches which is 6.0 inches more and 77% better than similar fastballs. That movement ranks him sixth in the league, just a few spots than some pitcher named Chris Sale. Sale as lefty is obviously not a great comp for Luciano’s fastball. Looking at the right-handers with similar velocity, there are some pretty good names on the list, including teammate Aaron Sanchez.
What those pitchers have that Luciano doesn’t is command. Luciano has “scattershot command” as it was described in the Blue Jays top prospects list this winter.
This is why Luciano has walked 16 and hit another three batters with his fastball. Every so often though he paints the edge with a pitch like this:
And you can see the upside in this pitch. More command is needed so he can throw this pitch more consistently for strikes.
Luciano offsets his fastball with a slider that averages 84.4. It has a good velocity gap and different movement than the fastball. His slider drops 37.5 inches which is basically dead average for similar sliders. Horizontally the slider only moves 0.9 inches, which is 4.1 inches less and 82% lower than others. This is a slider that is similar to that of Blue Jays closer Ken Giles. This is the pitch Luciano throws the most when he is ahead in the count. He has seven strikeouts with the pitch, including this one of Jose Abreu.
Batters however, are still crushing the slider to the tune of a .406 average and a 208 wRC+. Like any pitcher, you hang a slider and it is going to get hit hard. This is part of Luciano’s problems, he either hangs it and it gets hit or he misses badly. He doesn’t have the control yet to paint the corners.
Luciano’s third pitch is his changeup. It looks something like this:
Luciano throws a hard change averaging 87.8. The pitch gets 31.5 inches of drop which is 2.1 inches above average and 7% better than similar changes. He gets 15.2 inches of break which is 0.9 inches and 6% more than similar ones. It’s a comparable changeup to Sandy Alcantara, and Raisel Iglesias.
This might be his best pitch, which is something as it was considered below average entering the season. Luciano generates a 13.6% swinging strike rate on the pitch, the best of the three. He has seven strikeouts, six swinging and no walks. Batters are hitting just .192 with a 67 wRC+ against the changeup. He has done a decent job at spotting this pitch right below the strike zone to get those swings and misses. When he misses his spots as he is prone do, damage can be done.
Luciano is on the 60 day IL with a sprained elbow, which is too bad, as in a lost season for the Blue Jays they could do worse than run out a kid with upside out of the pen. Luciano has already accrued 77 days of active service on the MLB roster, so the Blue Jays are able to bring him back in September and get him to the minimum 90 days needed to retain his rights. It’s unfortunate for Luciano as he has a good foundation and was starting to make some progress. He has three good pitchers, an Aaron Sanchez fastball, a Ken Giles slider, and a changeup that is his best pitch. The command needs work, and if he can find it, the Blue Jays might just have something here.