I’ll admit it: I am obsessed with velocity. It is the first piece of information that I want to know about a pitcher. There is more to pitching than throwing hard, of course, but you also can’t teach 99 as they say. It is a false equivalency but I too tend to equate velocity with ceiling; pitchers that can throw harder have a wider margin of error, as it cuts down reaction time for hitters. That is why this tweet was hard to get out of my mind.
#Cubs Concepcion worked around a BB. 92-94; Touched 95 and 96 last inning. Encouraging signs. Shows MLB LHRP profile.
— CJ Wittmann (@CJWittJr) April 30, 2015
Like many Cubs fans, I had written off Gerardo Concepcion a long time ago. His stint in the Arizona Fall League did little to change my perception that the only positive from signing Concepcion was helping grease the wheels for the Jorge Soler signing, possibly. And I don’t think that was entirely unfair to think at the time. This was the report on Concepcion by Ben Badler when he first signed with the Cubs.
Concepcion is a slender 6-foot-2 with long arms, sloped shoulders and an athletic, wiry build that could have some projection remaining. He has advanced feel for pitching for his age and has shown the ability to pitch with his fastball to both sides of the plate, though he doesn’t have the stuff to miss many bats. At times his fastball ranges from 88-92 mph, though some scouts have said they’ve seen him dip to 86-90 mph at times.
Concepcion has had success in Cuba by being able to change speeds to keep hitters off balance. Some scouts like Concepcion’s mid-70s curveball, which shows good depth at times, but others say it gets loopy. He throws slightly across his body, which provides him with a little deception, but it’s a concern for some scouts who think his mechanics hamper his ability to get to the front side of his delivery and show consistency with his breaking ball. Concepcion also throws a changeup (some scouts have called it a splitter), though like many young pitchers it’s still a work in progress.
While some scouts view Concepcion’s upside as a No. 5 starter, others see a bit more, though with his present stuff it’s hard to project more than a back-end starter for now.
These match most of the reports on Concepcion when he was a free agent or about to sign with the Cubs. He was a finesse lefty with advanced feel for his pitches. Then he started pitching for the Cubs and the results were ugly. He was hit hard and showed none of that advanced feel that was advertised. A no-stuff lefty without command does not tend to last long in baseball. However, the story for Concepcion takes a bit of a turn right away with his first season being cut short.
#Cubs prospect Gerardo Concepcion has been out of action because of mono, Theo says
— Bruce Miles (@BruceMiles2112) August 1, 2012
Concepcion suffered a back injury the following summer and that seemed to be the end, as he was removed from the 40 man roster. It appeared that he would likely just hang around as long as he was being paid seven figures to pitch poorly in the minors.
Concepcion returned in 2014 as a reliever exclusively and, to everyone’s surprise, he began to pitch well. He also improved as he moved up through the Cubs system, starting in rookie ball and ending in advanced-A ball. The Cubs sent him to Arizona Fall League, and the results were less than impressive against more advanced competition.
There were no reports of increased velocity that I could find during this timeframe. But digging into his radar readings from AFL saved at Brooks Baseball show that the velocity uptick had already started to happen.
Now, as the earlier tweet showed, the velocity has ticked up even further. The profile has changed for Concepcion; he has moved from a finesse lefty back-end-of-the-rotation to a wild, power middle reliever. Since his promotion to AA, the results have been poor with a 14.09 ERA and 2.87 WHIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 9 to 11, but a lefty who can throw hard always has a chance. And with his salary, the Cubs will probably afford him the chance to see if he can develop some control despite Concepcion being rule 5 eligible this offseason.
Concepcion is interesting because of the questions he raises. Is the uptick in velocity the result of him filling out, regaining strength from injury and illness, a move to the bullpen or a combination of all three? What happened to his advanced feel for pitching? Was it the time off and then adapting to baseball stateside combined with illness and injury that left him wild? Or were those scouting reports wrong based on Concepcion being able to perform against weaker competition?
I am not certain of the answers to any of those questions, but it seems like the story of Gerardo Concepcion is going to be at least moderately more interesting than it was a few years ago.