RHP, Binghamton Mets (AA)
2014 Prospect Ranking: N/A
2013 Prospect Ranking: #35
Age (2014 season age): 23
Acquired: International Free Agent, 2009
Date(s) seen: 4/11/14 @ New Hampshire Fisher Cats: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 HR
2014 so far: 2 G, 12.1 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR
The short of it: He's still getting outs, and somehow his elbow is still intact, but Lara may be nearing the end of the line as a starter.
The long of it: Rainy Lara first leapt onto Mets prospect radars as part of the vaunted 2012 Brooklyn Cyclones rotation. Although he showed up further down prospect lists than names like Gabriel Ynoa, Luis Mateo, and Luis Cessa, he has progressed further in the system than any of them. And if you enjoy defensive independent pitching statistics, Lara was the equal or better to the other three in that 2012 campaign. I saw Lara once in 2012, in a start where he racked up double-digit strikeouts, but I had concerns about the arm action, his ability to hold stuff deep into starts, and whether he would be able to induce swings and misses with the slider at higher levels. The New Hampshire lineup took Penn-League-level cuts at the slider Friday night, but the other two questions remain unanswered for me.
First off, Lara's arm action is violent. His delivery does not make good use of his lower half, and due to a shallow stride, the arm is playing catch up at the end of his delivery. He generates a ton of arm speed, and the weird timing in his mechanics lends some deception, but it also appears to put a ton of stress on the elbow, as he turns the ball over very late. He hasn't had any injury issues yet, but the delivery is tough to repeat across an entire start, and he still gets fatigued after about 50 pitches.
Lara was mostly fastball/slider on Friday night. New Hampshire does have a very right-handed-heavy lineup, but Lara's change-up was a non-factor. The few that he did throw were very firm, and it's still a well-below-average pitch. The fastball was 89-91 early in his start and he could run it into right-handed hitters. Due to his arm speed and deception, he got a lot of late swings on the fastball early, and it does seem to explode on hitters. This was especially true when he worked up in the zone. He had issues spotting down in the zone in general, and the Fisher Cats were able to barrel the low fastball, where the pitch was oddly flatter. Usually you would expect the reverse to be true. Lara's velocity dropped to 87-89, touching 90 in the later innings.
Lara's slider is his bread and butter offering, and he throws it in bunches-- ahead in counts, behind in counts, early in counts, doesn't matter. He can manipulate the velocity and shape of the offering, but it generally came in around 78-80. New Hampshire didn't fare all that well against it and definitely offered up some Penn-League-quality swings. Lara can use the slider as a chase pitch or spot it for a strike, but he tends to fall in love with it at times. This was especially true as he tired, and New Hampshire fouled off his fastball more. Like the fastball, the slider bled off velocity and sharpness later in the start and located more barrels, though the deep left-center field in Manchester kept him out of any real trouble. Another issue with the pitch is Lara slows down his arm action, and the scouts in front of me noted that it is very easy to pick up on. I always wonder if that is a function of our vantage point, sitting up and back from the plate, but I could call the slider before it left his hand most of the time.
Lara is a rather easy scout, as they say. The lack of a third pitch, coupled with his rough mechanics and issues maintaining his stuff deep into games, makes a reliever projection the easy call. If you want to break Keith Law's cardinal rule and scout the stat line, you can see the erosion of his peripherals at each level as well. Lara went from striking out 28.8% of the batters he faced in Brooklyn to 16.1% in St. Lucie (major league average is around 18% for starters). I expect Lara to spend the rest of 2014 starting for Binghamton, but I would not be surprised to see a future trip to the Arizona Fall League to work out of the pen, and then a full-time transition to reliever as soon as next Spring.
The optimistic projection: The slider misses enough bats to stick in a major league pen for a while.
The pessimistic projection: Lara's luck runs out in Las Vegas, as better hitters more consistently barrel his arsenal.
What to look for during the rest of the 2014 season: I expect Lara to have his ups and downs in the B-Mets rotation. Keep an eye on that dwindling K-rate and his performance in the middle and later innings of games, but it's hard to see him sticking as a starter long term regardless.