All it took was four innings of baseball to turn Jose Albertos into a mythical right-handed beast that only a few people had seen. After one start in the Arizona Rookie League in 2016, Albertos almost immediately became a top Cubs pitching prospect. Baseball America and MLB Pipeline had him at No. 10; Fangraphs put him at No. 5 on their list of top would-be Cubs.
Shortly thereafter, the Cubs shut him down for the season after that one start for what they said was a strain or tightness in his forearm. It was only precautionary, but the tantalizing potential and the mystery surrounding his future spawned a minor legend.
I first got wind of Albertos’ exceptional talent when checking MLB.com’s Pipeline Prospect rankings in midsummer 2016. Here is what Jim Callis said a year ago:
Albertos doesn’t have a ton of projection remaining in his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame, but he doesn’t need it because his present stuff already is impressive. He operates with a 93-95 mph fastball and can reach 97, showing the ability to throw it for strikes on both sides of the plate. He’s still refining his secondary pitches but already flashes a well above-average changeup and a solid slider. More advanced than the typical teenaged pitcher, Albertos has good command of his pitches and can add and subtract from them.
After sitting out the remainder of 2016, Albertos was ready to go in spring training. The 18-year-old did not make a full-season roster right out of the gate, nor did I expect him to. He struggled a bit at times in extended spring training, but put up an unofficial 2.93 ERA in 15.1 IP (per Arizona Phil). He gave up five earned runs while striking out six and walking 13. Not earth-shattering by any means. In fact, it’s a bit wild.
When extended camp broke, Albertos stayed behind in Mesa to work on his curveball grip and was assigned to rookie league, where he made two starts. In the first, he did not allow a hit in 4 innings of work. He was sailing along in his second start as well before hitting the 4th inning, in which he allowed a double and hit a batter, then surrendered two triples. Luckily, one of those saw the hitter thrown out at home. Albertos came back out for the 5th before leaving after two straight singles. Both runners would later come around to score.
Albertos was the promoted to short-season Eugene, where he made his first start on Sunday, July 9.
Unlike the Mesa Cubs, the Eugene Emeralds have MiLB.TV. Waiting to actually watch Albertos for the first time was the most anxious I have been to see a pitcher since watching Dylan Cease last year at Eugene. I was not placing any expectations on what Albertos should do or throw, I wanted to kick back and see what the kid had to offer.
When Albertos walked off the mound for the final time Sunday afternoon, he had thrown 80 pitches in 5 full innings. And that’s after needing 44 to get through the first two frames. He survived three errors from the defense, one of which lead to an unearned run in the 1st, and struck out four while walking only one and allowing just one hit. Known for his elite velocity, Albertos sat 96 most of the day, even in the 5th.
I came away extremely impressed with his poise and polish, not to mention the command of his fastball. The ball comes out easily from his hand and he repeats his delivery well. Catcher Miguel Amaya hardly moved his glove for that pitch all day. When Albertos missed with his fastball, it was down below the zone. Not one hitter was able to square up the ball, as only three balls amid all the weak grounders and pop-ups left the infield.
His curve came in about 78-80 mph and is still a work in progress. Sometimes it went came up a foot or so short, other times it found the backstop (two wild pitches). He eventually found the catcher’s mitt with the hook starting in the 3rd inning. If and when he gets command of that pitch, it could really become a deadly weapon.
As for his changeup, which is made even more effective by that fastball, he threw it a few times and got hitters out in front to generate those weak groundouts.
What I liked most about Albertos’ first start for Eugene was that he was not trying to strike everyone out. He moved the ball around the zone, pitched in on the hands, and changed levels. His fastball command is elite and a friend I talked with after he’d finished could not believe how Albertos’ command improved throughout the game. It was all so very impressive.
His next start will likely be next Sunday against Everett and if he continues to dominate like he did on Sunday, he will be in South Bend by early August.