Lancaster, California —— This, of course, is the first full season in which the San Diego Padres have had hard-throwing righty Zech Lemond throw out of the bullpen. And with that come the growing pains, even in spite of his mid- to upper-90s fastball, hard slider, and newfound split-fingered fastball that you’d think would give hitters fits. Through his first 28 appearances for the Lake Elsinore Storm in 2017, entering play on Thursday, Lemond is 2-2 with a 4.70 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 46.0 innings pitched. He’s only walked 11 batters—ideal for his late-inning profile—but he’s also allowed 53 hits and a .282 opponents’ batting average.
Some of that may be the hitter-friendly confines of the California League, but Lemond is now 24 years old with a big arm and only modest success to speak of after his third round selection out of Rice University in 2014. Take this June 12 outing that Baseball Census captured on video, for example — Zech Lemond sat 91-95 mph through his two innings of work, while showing off an 85 mph splitter and an 84-88 mph slider:
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That natural arm strength alone with three pitches out of the pen should make Zech Lemond imposing to hitters, especially considering his size (listed at 6’1″ but undoubtedly at least an inch or two taller) and his incredible downward plane on pitches from his max effort, fully overhand release point. Lemond’s proven to be far too hittable, though, because while his control is very good, his command is imprecise and it has him consistently missing high in the zone where hitters can square him up. Add inconstant mechanics and release points to that—no doubt on account of his incredibly long, max effort delivery—and location outcomes are uncertain because there are so many moving parts to sync into rhythm with every pitch.
Beyond needed mechanical corrections, Lemond needs to pick up a bit more before he’s a truly lights out-type reliever. I had hypothesized a couple months ago that his newfound splitter was going to help him in the bullpen, and while he doesn’t yet have a good feel for it from a command perspective it has proven to be a wrinkle that he needs, especially against lefties. Next up: velocity. Working at 92 or 93 mph is average or slightly below coming out of modern baseball’s bullpen. If Lemond can add a couple ticks to that with mechanical refinements and improved strength over the next year or two, he’ll find he has a bigger margin for error when he misses up in the strike zone with that straight four-seam fastball.
Now adding a few miles per hour, even to a frame like Lemond’s, is far easier said than done. But I’ve observed him throwing long toss a few times this year, and his arm strength and arm speed are both undoubtedly above average. He’s a decent athlete on the mound, too, and even though his mechanics can get long and out of whack he does well to maximize that delivery and use his adrenaline junkie personality well in game action. The bullpen is an ideal fit for him, and I still really like him there in the future. All that said, though, the clock is ticking for the 24-year-old, and raw arm strength needs to translate into tough-to-hit stuff sooner rather than later if the late innings are to be a viable option for Zech Lemond and the San Diego Padres.
Here’s more Zech Lemond video from earlier this year: