Cubs Prospect Roundup: The disappointing 2018 season of Jose Albertos

Jose Albertos (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Jose Albertos (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

A relatively unheralded prospect out of Mexico before signing with the Cubs during the 2015-16 IFA, Jose Albertos lacked physical projection at 6'1" 185 pounds, but he quickly put himself on the map as a 17-year old during extended spring training in 2016 thanks to effortless velocity that touched the mid-90s and occasionally higher, as well as pair of secondaries that flashed above average.

After making one impressive outing during the 2016 AZL season, in which he struck out seven and and allowed just two base runners over four scoreless innings, the Cubs shut him down immediately upon learning he experienced elbow/forearm discomfort. It made sense for the team to be cautious with a potential prized asset, but there were rumblings from scouts of other teams that the Cubs wanted to hide him as they looked to augment their eventual World Series winning team at the trade deadline. That always seemed like a stretch to me, especially given the team did not allow him to throw even as the deadline passed, but it bears mentioning because the impression from both outside and inside the organization was that the injury was not serious and the time off was precautionary only.

In John's prospect rankings that offseason, his scouting report noted the risk and long road ahead for an 18-year old prospect, but also highlighted the impressive upside that Albertos possessed:

"Much of the time I saw Albertos he was in the 94-95 mph range but as the spring wore on and perhaps the adrenaline of live games kicked in, that fastball kicked up a few more notches, hitting 97 mph on several occasions in his first and only appearance for the AZL Cubs... Albertos was surprisingly polished.  He was able to throw that fastball for strikes, even showing some command in terms of location.  He also backed that up with solid secondaries... What makes him additionally interesting is that he reaches that high velocity without a lot of effort, which in turn gives hope that a) he can sustain that velocity deep into games and b) he can be consistent with his mechanics and continue to improve his already advanced command. All the parts are there for Albertos to be a frontline starter and his advanced command and feel for pitching suggests he could move quickly."

Albertos once again remained behind in extended spring training as the 2017 began. At 18-years old and with just 4 professional innings under his belt a posting to South Bend would have been a stretch, and so Albertos waited until the short season leagues began play. After making two starts in the AZL he was moved up to Eugene where he made an additional eight. There, he showed off all the skills which gave him as high of an upside as any pitcher in the Cubs system:

It wasn't all roses though. In my offseason scouting report on Albertos prior to this season, I rated his current command as a 30, and noted in the comments when asked to expand upon it:

"Most of the time his command would rate a 40, but right now he has the trouble with his release point, which leads to the wasted pitches that miss by a mile, and thus I tried to incorporate that into his current command rating. Thus the 30."

I added among the bullet points in my scouting report, my concern regarding his immature physique and his his tendency to spike multiple offerings in the dirt during each outing:

  • Soft physique and limited athlete
  • Needs to add strength and improve balance
  • Struggles to find consistent release point, leading to wasted pitches spiked in the dirt or sailing above shoulder height

Unfortunately, the issues which were of intermittent concern for Albertos in 2017, have become the norm throughout 2018, and it is the stretches of good command that became intermittent. A disastrous stint in South Bend to open the 2018 season, which saw him walk 32 hitters in just 13 innings of work, saw Albertos bounced from the rotation after just four starts and then sent back to extended spring training once the results did not improve over five relief outings. He failed to make it beyond two innings in any of his nine Midwest League appearances.

There wasn't a ton of positive news coming out of Arizona after he arrived either. AZ Phil documented several of Albertos's appearances where a lack of control was still a major issue. Perhaps the Cubs believed a return to a familiar environment where he had enjoyed success in the previous season would be an elixir because once Eugene began their season, the club assigned Albertos to join the squad:

The roller coaster did not end there. Because after hitting rock bottom, Jose Albertos rebounded with his most encouraging outing of the season on July 8th:


The hope it brought was short-lived unfortunately, because in his last two times out he has walked 10 in 3.1 innings, although the stuff is likely still crisp as he has limited the damage to two runs on just one hit. Neither game had a video feed however, so I can't confirm that.

Is it injury? Mechanical issue(s)? The yips?

 

I do believe that there is some level of elbow damage for Albertos, but that is likely the case for many professional pitchers. The team probably shut him down quick enough in 2016 to prevent a significant tear, and with the time off to heal he was able to come back and pitch well enough, perhaps even without pain throughout 2017 and into this season as well. But we have seen this type of scenario play out before. Forearm tightness and control issues are often precursors to elbow injuries. It may simply be a matter of time.

Jose Albertos (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Jose Albertos (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

It is also possible any underlying structural damage has led to mechanical issues as his body tries to compensate. This could eventually lead to further unraveling of mechanics to the point that Albertos completely loses his release point. Again, there are plenty of accounts from players having similar issues occurring without much pain or discomfort in the elbow itself. I can imagine it could spiral further out of control for a player like Albertos, who lacks the experience and plus athleticism that could help him compensate.

I have tried to pinpoint mechanical changes Albertos may have made from 2017 to 2018 but have had limited success. Any changes he has made appear to be minimal, but there was word that the Cubs wanted him to make alterations to take some pressure off his elbow. There appears to be times that Albertos is flying open a bit and his glove arm is further away from his body. But it is difficult to get perfectly timed screencaps from the video I have access to in order to verify his arm path, his timing at foot strike, etc. Even the fact that he has returned to Eugene hasn't helped in side-by-side comparisons as it appears to me the camera position is slightly different this year than it was in 2017.

The real concern for me is whether any health or mechanical issues that he has encountered have lingered long enough to have dealt psychological damage. Are we actually dealing with a full blown case of the yips at this point? And if so, is there any coming back?

Famously, Steve Blass never did, which is why the yips have also been referred to as Steve Blass disease over the years. Rick Ankiel abandoned pitching and made it back to the majors as a position player. The Cubs currently have a vivid example of the phenomena, as well as one of the more creative ways of working around (but not solving) it, as Jon Lester has developed a bounce throw to first to combat his inability to hit the first baseman's glove in the air. None of these examples provide encouragement, though, and our greatest hope as fans may oddly lie in simply believing that this is in fact injury related and not a completely psychological issue at this point.

Like most things in life, there is probably not a single cause, nor an easy solution. I take solace in the fact that the Cubs have not shut Albertos down at any point this year. He has continued throwing in game action, even when he was sent back to Mesa from South Bend.

If Albertos was experiencing pain they would be more cautious. If he was severely struggling with a specific mechanical issue they would likely try to do more extensive bullpen session to correct it. If this issue was all in his head I think they would at least have considered some time off as a tactic by now. This leads me to believe that the Cubs think this is a fixable issue.

I'm a patient guy. Albertos was likely 3+ years away from contributing in Chicago even under the best of circumstances, so a setback, even one as significant as this season may not even alter that timeline. At this point 2018 appears to be a lost season, but plenty of prospects have recovered from a lost season(s), and went on to successful careers. Assuming there is no long-term damage to either his physical or mental health there has been nothing this season that really alters my view of the ceiling Albertos possesses as a ballplayer. But it certainly creates doubt as to when, if ever, he will reach it. While I wish we didn't have to wait for an answer it seems unlikely we will get one until we see how Albertos handles the offseason and how he reacts once he returns to the mound next spring.

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  • The Cubs were wise to adhere to their "draft hitters first" philosophy. Albertos is another example of how hard it is to develop young pitching. I hope things click for him, but I'm not very optimistic.

    On another note, I have tickets to the Smokies game in Birmingham tomorrow night, Matt Swarmer starting. Too bad Amaya and Baez are on the 7-day DL, but I'll (as usual) take a ton of photos.

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    Is it also that he might not be working hard enough--not just pitching but staying in shape, eating right, exercising, etc?

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Definitely seems like something that could use some improvement as an outside observer, but I don't have any inside knowledge of a problem in that area.

  • It may make sense to just go ahead and do the TJ surgery now. There have been cases of guys doing it before completely blowing it out.

    I think he is hurt and fighting through it. Unless this is a Steve Blass case.

  • Patrick mooney says that the Cubs aren't that interested in JA happ who we have been linked to with the blue jays close to trading him to an unnamed team. Cubs are weighing whether to put more of their resources into their bullpen or rotation.

    I don't think happ is a great fit for us anyways I don't think he complements Lester and Quintana that well I feel they're too similar with their pitching approaches although that's just my personal viewpoint. He's 35 and just a rental and it's looking like this is going to be a quiet deadline unless we pull off a blockbuster for Jacob Degrom which we can all agree is unlikely

  • Just read B/A has just released new top 100 . Cubs catching prospect Miguel Amaya ( spell check ) has made the list ! He is also rated as the Cubs #1 prospect.
    Is there any word on Javy Baez knee from the Cubs ? He did not look good today.

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