To this point Rafael Medina is perhaps best known as part of the Yankees’ payment for Hideki Irabu. The two pitchers have a lot in common. Both are stocky righthanders who throw very hard. Both have trouble staying in shape. Neither speaks much, if any, English.
But happily there are differences. Medina is 5 years younger than Irabu, isn’t locked into a multimillion dollar contract, doesn’t humiliate his interpreter in front of teammates, and doesn’t cause George Steinbrenner to cringe every time he throws a pitch. Not yet, anyway.
When I saw Medina pitch at Rancho Cucamonga in his Padres’ organization debut, he looked overpowering. Of course, this came as no surprise, as he was there on rehab assignment before heading to Las Vegas, where he was hit pretty hard. But against the Lancaster Pilots, Medina worked 7 innings, throwing about 110 pitches. Roughly 80 percent of his pitches were fastballs, in the 91-96 MPH range. His last pitch was clocked at 95 MPH, so he wasn’t losing velocity over the course of the game. And this was in 90 degree heat. I didn’t keep score at the game, but if memory serves me, he held the Pilots to three hits and a warning-track flyball out, striking out 9 or 10 and walking none.
That’s the good news. Now for the not-so-good news: For as good as his fastball is, Medina has no second pitch. In the game I saw, he threw a handful of changeups and as many breaking balls, but most of them bounced on the way to the plate. He can get by with just a 96 MPH fastball in the California League, but in the big leagues it’s a whole different story. Hitters will sit on the heater and turn it around in a hurry. In fact, this is exactly what happened to Medina in the PCL toward the end of the season. He grooved fastballs, and hitters played pinball in the friendly confines of Cashman Field and the other bandbox parks of the PCL.
I tend to be somewhat leery of pitching prospects (and pitchers in general, for that matter), and Padres GM Kevin Towers was probably a bit overly optimistic when he projected Medina as a possible number one or two starter. He’s more likely to be an end-of-the-rotation guy if he can learn to throw a couple more pitches with consistency. Or, if he can only learn one more pitch, he could make an excellent setup man. Right now, he’s pitching very well in the Arizona Fall League. If he continues to make progress, and if he isn’t plucked up in the expansion draft, Medina could make his presence felt in San Diego by June 1998.
Next time in the Farm Report we’ll look at an even more promising pitcher, Matt Clement.
W- L ERA BA G GS CG GF SH SV IP H R ER HR BB SO 0- 1 9.15 .349 4 4 0 0 0 0 19.2 29 21 20 2 15 11
Well, Medina was not taken in the Expansion Draft. He was, however, traded along with first baseman Derrek Lee and left-hander Steve Hoff to the Florida Marlins in exchange for right-hander Kevin Brown. After a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League and a solid showing in spring training, Medina carved a spot for himself in Jim Leyland’s revamped rotation. Unfortunately, after a disastrous four starts, Medina was placed on the DL April 18 with a sore shoulder. The injury may be related to one suffered while a member of the New York Yankees organization, and which he spent most of last season rehabilitating. Apparently Medina’s velocity suffered and he could no longer throw his slider. Medina is eligible to come off the DL, but is out for that ominous period of time known as “indefinitely.”