Sunday, May 15, 2011

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 19, Jorge Bucardo, RHP

A right handed pitcher from Nicaragua (home of Marvin Bernard and Ricardo Mayorga...he's a boxer by the way who does really awesome pre-fight interviews), Jorge Bucardo has had an interesting professional career that was beset by injury this season. If Bucardo recovers from the shoulder issues that landed him on the 7-day Disabled List to start off the year, he could be a sleeper prospect that might have some upside.

Bucardo signed with the Giants in 2006 (he was signed by Pablo Peguero, one of the main Giants Latin American scouts who also signed Francisco Peguero, Rafael Rodriguez and Jose Casilla) and broke into the Giants' Dominican Summer League club in 2007 as a 17-year-old. He did very well in the DR, going 7-2 with a 1.35 ERA and 0.87 in 12 appearances (including 11 starts) and 60 innings pitched. He didn't strike out a lot of batters in the DSL (he only K'd 39, a 5.8 K/9), but he showed exceptional control (only seven walks) and command (5.57 K/BB ratio) for a pitcher his age.

The next year, he made his debut stateside in the Arizona Rookie League and again built on the confidence he garnered in the DR. He made 11 starts and pitched 51 innings in the AZL and struck out 51 batters and posted a K/BB ratio of 3.4. The walks went up (15 free passes) as did the hits (8.9 H/9 in comparison to the 6.8 rate he posted a year ago), but at 18 years old, his United States professional debut was a very promising sign.

In 2009, Bucardo was promoted to the Northwest League and pitched 30 more innings and his stat line remained solid. He finished the year with a 2.66 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and a 2.27 xERA in 15 starts and 81.2 IP. The strikeout numbers went down a bit (his K/9 fell to 7.1) as did his K/BB ratio (3.05), but he allowed less hits (7.2 H/9) and walked less batters (2.3 BB/9).

His stint in Augusta in 2010 seemed to be the big jump for Bucardo. He threw a career high 114 innings and went 9-4 with a 2.21 ERA, a 1.83 xERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 3.06. His performance in the Sally was so promising that Bucardo earned a promotion to San Jose later in the year. However, he wasn't able to capture the effectiveness of his Green Jackets stint in the California League, as he proved to be quite hittable. In 38 IP, he finished with an ERA of 4.40, a WHIP of 1.70 and a xERA of 5.32. He showed a lot of problems with walks (he gave up 18 base on balls, a 4.5 rate) and wasn't able to make batters miss as much in San Jose (his K/9 was 6.1). Furthermore, his K/BB ratio with the Cal League Giants was a career low at 1.37.

Despite the lackluster campaign in the California League, he was 20 years old at the time, which is a couple of years younger than the average Cal League pitcher. Furthermore, scouts and experts were actually encouraged by his overall 2010 season, even with the mediocre stint in San Jose. After not being ranked the previous season, Bucardo was named the 20th best prospect in the Giants system according to Baseball America, and John Sickels ranked him as the ninth best Giants prospect, giving him a C+ grade.

As noted earlier, Bucardo is currently on the DL, apparently suffering through shoulder issues. If he comes back healthy this year, he probably will get another stint in San Jose. Overall, Bucardo brings some nice tools to the table. Baseball America in their Prospect Handbook noted that he has the stuff of a starter and reliever, and that he is a good athlete, who throws from several arm angles (which makes his pitches deceptive to hitters). Reports have his fastball touching 94 MPH, though it mostly sits in the 88-90 MPH range (though Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball Analyst rated his fastball as a four-plus pitch). His best pitch seems to be his sinker (it is a hybrid sinker/slider really), which generates a lot of groundballs (2.1 GB/FB ratio in 2010) and broken bats according to Gordon. Gordon also notes that his arm action leads to solid movement and velocity.

His frame is a bit concerning because its so lean and wiry (he's six-foot, two inches and a 155 pounds), but he's only 21 years old and thus he is going to be growing into his body really soon. That being said, the latest injury this year is a bit of a red flag mainly because one has to wonder how serious it is and how it's going to affect his performance when he returns to the mound. We have seen pitchers come back easily from injury. However, shoulder injuries are always unpredictable and they have come back to nag pitchers and put serious blocks in their development.

The strikeout rates aren't great for Bucardo, but his good command and control, and groundball-inducing sinker, make him an interesting pitching prospect that could have some real upside (read this article from Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles about the effectiveness of the sinker). With his solid pitch repertoire and athleticism, he certainly has the potential to be a good, middle of the rotation starter (Gordon ranked him as an 8D prospect with a No. 4 starter potential). At the very least, he could be a solid, middle innings reliever.

Like I said before, let's just hope this injury isn't serious. Sure, he's still young and even if he misses extended time, he is young enough in his professional to certainly bounce back. However, it would be sad to see his development take a blow, especially considering how well he's pitched as a professional thus far.

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