Prospect Fail: Adys Portillo Through the Years

In 2008, the San Diego Padres signed 16-year-old right-handed pitcher Adys Portillo out of Venezuela. The $2 million bonus baby was one of the top international prospects available on July 2, sporting an elite fastball and body you could dream on (6-3, 195). There were questions about his secondary stuff but, holy shit, a 16-year-old who can shove it at 95? Yes, please. It was a big investment (at the time, it was the biggest bonus ever given to a Venezuelan amateur), but ultimately one then-GM Kevin Towers felt worthy.

Portillo immediately became one of the Padres top prospects. That wasn’t really saying much, as Cedric Hunter was also a top ten prospect in the system (I didn’t mean to make you sad, honest). Unlike most pitchers at that age, Portillo wasn’t just a hard thrower, he was a pitcher.

From Baseball America’s 2009 Prospect Handbook:

The Padres value Portillo’s polish, clean mechanics and mound presence.

Portillo had a rough statistical debut (2009). Pitching in the Arizona League, Portillo went 1-9 with a 5.13 ERA in 12 starts (53 IP). Obviously these stats were meaningless. Portillo was still very young and wasn’t going to start dominating statistically for a couple of years.

From Baseball America’s 2010 Prospect Handbook:

There was nothing wrong with his fastball, as he touched 93 in all 12 starts. Tall and projectable with a strong body control, he figures to add velocity as he learns to repeat his delivery.

So all-in-all, everything was going according to plan. Portillo was showing present stuff (mostly the fastball) with tons of room for improvement. The lack of consistent secondary stuff wasn’t anything to be concerned about because, again, he was crazy young.

In 2010, another rough statistical season for Portillo, the youngster spent most of the season in short season ball in Eugene before getting some run in Low-A ball. This time the reports were not as glowing. Despite gaining velocity on his fastball, Portillo’s secondary stuff still left much to be desired.

From Baseball America’s 2011 Prospect Handbook:

Development of his secondary stuff is slowed by a stiff arm action and wrist wrap, which also results in poor command. His change-up is ahead of his breaking ball, but it’s also below-average.

With all that being said, BA still believed that Portillo was ready for full season ball.

Portillo’s breakout season wouldn’t come until 2012, when he pitched most of the year in Low-A before jumping two levels to Double-A San Antonio. Portillo was excellent in Fort Wayne, allowing only 54 hits in 91 2/3 IP. Going into 2013, there were still many who were high on Portillo, including Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks.

From the Baseball Prospectus Futures Guide 2013:

Massive arm strength; very fast action; big, physical frame; fastball is bread and butter; as a starter, can work 93-97; in bursts can sit 96-99; slider will flash potential.

Parks also listed some of his weaknesses, including below-average command. Parks thought Portillo’s future role was as a power reliever, with a lack of an elite secondary pitch holding him back.

So how did Portillo go from a potential monster out of the bullpen (Parks thought Portillo’s ETA was 2014), to being designated for assignment? Padres Beat writer Corey Brock tweeted that triceps tenderness and a strained lat undid Portillo in 2013. He also mentioned that the lack of position players in the system made it easier to part with him. Nate from the Vocal Minority also made a very good point:

I remember the Padres signing Portillo and thinking “Holy shit we got one of the big names GONNA PRINT ME WORLD SERIES TICKETS.” I became attached to Portillo, having followed his development ever since he signed. He was one of those arms that you could dream on (75% of being a Padres fan is dreaming on things that are probably never going to happen). It was a nice change from the years of being cheap in both the draft and international signings. I hope Portillo catches on with a team (hopefully still with the Padres), and has a long, successful career.

Good process, bad result. Meh.

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