The New York Mets will face RHP Luis Atilano tonight, who is making his 4th major league start. Atilano turns 25 years old today and hopefully the Mets make it difficult for him to celebrate. Atilano is linked to the Mets, as he was the compensation pick (#35) for the Atlanta Braves back in 2003, as a result of the Mets signing Tom Glavine. When he was drafted out of Puerto Rico, the Braves saw a skinny pitcher with excellent movement on his fastball and expected that he would continue to progress and increase velocity as he matured. The Braves were hoping he would turn into a 93-94 mph pitcher but that failed to materialize, as he tops out at 88-89 mph. The Braves also loved his mound presence and competitiveness, making him the Braves highest rank Puerto Rican player in the draft that year. However, he suffered an elbow injury in 2006, underwent Tommy John Surgery, and was traded shortly thereafter to the Nationals for Daryle Ward.
Atilano is a strike-thrower, but hardly a strike out pitcher (4.8 K/9 through eight minor league seasons, and six K’s through 17 1/3 major league innings). He attacks the hitter, works fast, and keeps the ball down, resulting in a lot of ground balls. He rarely walked hitters in the minors (< 2 W/9 the last two years), but so far in the majors he’s walking too many (10 in 17 1/3 innings). As I said earlier, he features a 88-89 tailing fastball (ton of movement), an above-average change-up (80 mph), and has switched from a curveball to a slider. The lack of the third pitch was what has prevented him from being a serious prospect in the past. Baseball America has him ranked as the Nationals 20th prospect coming into this year. He took the rotation spot of injured Jason Marquis.
So far this year, he has started three games, pitched 17 1/3 innings, and is 2-0 with a 4.67 ERA and 1.62 WHIP. He needs to cut down on the walks if he wants to be a successful major league pitcher with sustainable success.