Six years to the day since he was drafted out of Gahr High School in Cerritos, CA in the 10th round, Jacob Faria got his first big league start last night. Never recognized as a truly elite prospect, Faria showed real starter potential in his MLB debut.
One start doesn’t change a player’s profile too much, but Faria has built up value within the Rays system by pitching well (1.33 and 2.53 FIP ERA in Advanced-A, 3.40 ERA and 10.7 K/9 in AA, 3.07 ERA and 12.89 K/9 in AAA this season). His mechanics have stayed simple while he’s grown into a physically mature pitcher. With a filled out frame and revamped use of his lower body, Faria sits around 91-94 on the fastball. His best offspeed pitch, his changeup, shined in his debut. You can see in his first MLB strikeout, to hot slugger Avisail Garcia.
He did well in locating his fastball at the bottom of the strike zone. Simple mechanics and a good downhill plane allowed Faria to get six ground ball outs and end the night with half of the balls put in play against him being on the ground. In the first inning, these ground balls didn’t work in his favor. After Leury Garcia got on base through an infield single and stole second base, he tried to go up and in to strike out Jose Abreu. He missed out over the plate but still got a poorly hit ground ball. It got through and scored a run, but it was hardly poor pitching or sequencing.
His fastball seemed to deceive hitters. He’s very deliberate in his wind up, but the ball explodes on hitters, and when he throws 63% (38 of 60) of his fastballs for strikes, it’s a very effective pitch, shown by the 16.7% swinging strike rate. His sequence to Kevan Smith the first time around (challenged him with three straight fastballs) showed how good of a pitch it can be.
His cutter (which MLBAM calls a slider) played a smaller role than his fastball and changeup, but he’ll need that third pitch to be a good major league starting pitcher. He only threw two curveballs, so it’s likely only a change of pace pitch to try and give hitters a different look.
Near the end of his start, there were some hard hit line drives and a seventh inning walk. It’s not surprising that major leaguers started squaring up a Faria the third time through the order, however, and that shouldn’t cause much concern.
As a whole, Faria did a good job getting ahead of hitters and keeping the ball down in the zone. He mixed in different pitch types when he needed to show hitters a new look, and his fastball/changeup combination flashed plus. He won’t be able to throw as many middle cut fastballs when he faces better offenses and becomes more familiar to major league hitters, of course. Getting his fastball at the top of the strike zone, like Jake Odorizzi, would help him fulfill his potential as a good middle-of-the-rotation starter.