I snuck up to Everett last night, where eighteen-year-old Luiz Gohara put on quite a show. In six shutout innings, he struck out nine, allowing three walks, and only one or two hard hit balls. The left-hander's fastball has a natural tail to it, and he sat 93-95, touching higher. Hitters up and down the Eugene lineup had trouble making contact on fastballs in the zone, which is remarkable for anyone, let alone the youngest hurler in the league. His off-speed pitches aren't as good as his fastball, but his best changeup dropped a foot at the last second, and hitters gearing up for the gas had no chance to hit anything else. Blessed with a lightning bolt in his left shoulder and the frame to eat innings for years to come, Gohara could turn into a top-of-the-rotation starter someday, and he clearly has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Mariners organization.
When you watch Gohara, in some ways it's hard to believe that he's only a teenager. Twenty-four year old me is still trying to battle through the peach fuzz phase, but Gohara sports the business half of a full goatee and while he's listed at 210 pounds, he looks a lot closer to 250. At six-foot-three he has the frame of a grown man and there's nothing about his tailing 97-mile-per-hour fastball that suggests otherwise.
Elsewhere though, his game is immature. His changeup was mostly a slower, straighter version of his fastball and most of his curves were spinners that barely broke. Each pitch flashed better, and there's plenty of time for him to hone both of them, but his off-speed was only successful because opponents were sitting on the fastball.
Command is another weakness he'll have to improve. Gohara's delivery can get out of sync in a few different ways: sometimes his upper half will fall too far forwards and he'll release the ball late and spike it into the ground. He also has some spinal tilt, which means that his upper body leans toward the third base dugout as he's releasing the ball, dragging his arm with it and limiting his ability to spot a pitch where he wants it. These problems are exacerbated out of the stretch, where he completely lost feel for the strike zone.
Finally, weight will be a big issue for him going forward. I didn't spend hours poring over 200 minor league rosters, but I feel comfortable saying he's one of the heaviest pitchers in professional baseball, and that's amazing at his age. It's possible to have lasting success as an overweight pitcher, but excess weight isn't a good thing. Further weight gain could put undue pressure on his knees, and might prevent him from synchronizing his upper and lower half in his delivery, which is important for throwing quality strikes regularly.
None of that is meant to dampen an excellent evening. He's eighteen years old, he didn't grow up in a country that plays a ton of baseball, and he dominated anyway. He has a long way to go to reach the majors, and there are kinks to be ironed out, but this is a potential top of the rotation arm, and those don't grow on trees.
Gohara was tremendous last night and for me, he's the most exciting minor leaguer in the system. If you get the chance, head up to Everett to watch him pitch this summer while you still can.
A few bullets for the other big names in Everett last night:
- Alex Jackson went 0-4 in his Everett debut. He struck out twice and was doubled off of first base when he lost track of how many outs there were and headed back to the dugout after the second out. It looked like he was pressing at the plate: he tried to mash everything he swung at, and he missed badly on a few off-speed pitches when he geared up for a fastball. The good news is that the shoulder looks fine, and the physical tools are intact: he's very big for his age, but unlike Gohara, he's athletic and moves gracefully. He has tremendous bat speed and a swing designed for power. The results weren't there last night, but if he tones down his approach and learns to recognize spin, he'll do damage in this league.
- Local product Braden Bishop started his season off on the right foot. He reached on a bunt single and a walk, and his lineout to deep center field was the hardest hit ball of the night. He also made a fine running catch on a liner in the gap. The first position player off the board for the Mariners, Bishop has a legitimate chance to crack the M's lineup one day. He's a 70 runner, a plus defender in center field, and while most players with those skills don't offer much at the plate, he already has gap power and could develop more as he matures physically. The jury's out on whether he'll hit or not; his bunting ability and feel for the strike zone can only help.
- Luis Liberato will see plenty of action in Everett's outfield and he's another fun name to watch. Just seven days older than Jackson, the Dominican native is a plus runner with above average bat speed and he uses a short stroke to shoot line drives all over the field. Liberato is the perfect short season prospect: he's a bit of a hacker -- he swung at a pitch that nearly hit him in the shoulder -- and he's rough around the edges -- he pulls his head considerably and will strike out a ton -- but he has the tools to develop into a big league player. I'll be monitoring the adjustments he makes over the course of the year.
- Fifth rounder Drew Jackson is a plus runner and he showed off a cannon arm at short. At the plate, he looked uncomfortable and off-balance, and his default approach is to push everything. There's work to be done on that side of the ball, but every team has room for defense-first profiles and it looks like the Mariners have a good glove in Jackson.