Guerra Settling In

Deolis Guerra has a 1.78 ERA in his last 6 starts

Deolis Guerra, a 16-year old at the time, was just signing his professional contract with the New York Mets a year ago. While the majority of International signings get indoctrinated to professional baseball in the Dominican Summer League, the 17-year old Guerra has been making his mark in the South Atlantic League in 2006 - a feat not lost on his coaching staff.

"Definitely for a 17-year old kid, he's very mature," said Hagerstown Suns' Manager Frank Cacciatore. "Just the fact how he handles himself around these guys, the whole bit, he's a very level-headed kid for his age."

"Kids his age are usually just signing, and in his case, still down in the Dominican playing. They are not even over here. Here's a guy who has already had a season of A-ball and it's really, really going to help his development, him spending the summer here and having a little bit of success."

Success didn't come immediately however. A combination of a strict pitch count and struggles on the mound limited Guerra to just two innings in each of his first three professional starts, going 0-2 with an even 6.00 ERA.

However, Guerra, who didn't turn 17-years old until mid-April this season, was obviously trying to find his way in his first taste of professional baseball.

"The first couple of starts I got a little nervous," Guerra said through the help of Suns' teammate Jesus Gamero translating. "Those were my first two games pitching in professional baseball. But now I've made a couple of changes."

Baseball is a game of adjustments and when it comes to prospects and supposed prodigies, the better ones are the players who make the adjustments the quickest.

"Now I'm starting to get focused," Guerra continued. "I've talked with the pitching coach about the low pitches and now I'm seeing the results, pitching better."

Pitching better might be an understatement. Guerra went 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his following six starts for the Suns. While those kind of numbers might not be earth-shattering for a top pitching prospect, they are quite impressive for a kid barely old enough to legally drive.

"He just needs experience at the professional level," Suns' pitching coach Shawn Barton said of what Guerra needs the most. "Realistically he should still be in high school. To be competing out here with these older guys, and showing that he can hang and hold his own, it's pretty impressive."

While most passive followers of Guerra's progression are pleased with his improving numbers, the Mets' coaching staff have been impressed with his ability to learn and make quick adjustments.

"I think Deolis has opened a lot of eyes from the start of the season," said Cacciatore. "I think he was a little overwhelmed, maybe didn't have the confidence that he has now. I know he struggled a little bit earlier in the season, but he's in a lot better shape now, and he's going out and I get a big difference in his demeanor on the mound."

"He pitches with a confidence that he knows he can compete at this level. He goes right at guys, works ahead, and when he gets all three of his pitches over, he competes."

"Obviously Bart's got him working on his delivery, his pitches, and all that kind of stuff," continued Cacciatore. "But the big thing is, he's getting a feel for the professional game. He's a 17-year old kid that, quite frankly, didn't know what to expect. And now he's sort of settling in."

Part of the increased confidence in Guerra's game comes from the adjustments made to his three-pitch repertoire.

"Now I'm better because I'm throwing the changeup a little bit in front and focus on the low part of the strikezone, and there's better results because before, I threw right to the zone," revealed Guerra. "It didn't matter if it was high or not. My focus is now on the low part of the zone."

"In particular, the changeup is helping me a lot. Now I've got the combination of changeup and fastball."

At 6-foot-5 and still growing, Barton and the Mets are trying to get Guerra to use his height to his advantage, teaching him to throw downhill and give opposing batters a tougher look.

"I'm throwing the ball now from the high part, so the hitters are seeing the ball from up top to down, and it's better like that," Guerra told us.

"The angle he creates on his pitches are real tough on the hitters," Barton admitted. "His changeup is a plus pitch, is what we call it. He's got a pretty good fastball for his age as well. He's 88-89 MPH, has some life on it, and what helps is his height, he takes advantage of it."

While making better use of his height has been one of the first keys to his turnaround, a better focus on the development of his pitches has been equally effective.

"His changeup is very good," said Barton. "He has a lot of deception there. His curveball shows flashes of being a very good pitch. He's in the development stage right now, so he's a little inconsistent, but when he gets all three pitches working, he's real tough to beat."

While coaches and players alike are raving about his advanced changeup for a player his age and lack of professional experience, Deolis Guerra realizes that he'll need more than two pitches to reach the big leagues.

"I'm now working on my curveball," said Guerra. "I've got a curveball, but I don't have the consistency with it, so that's what I'm working on the most right now."

Guerra's improvement in his mechanics and his stuff has been quite obvious to his coaches. But it's his bulldog mentality on the mound that has helped propel him from a wide-eyed teenager to a seemingly seasoned veteran overnight.

"I try to be aggressive like Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, that's the kind of pitcher I want to be like," said the Venezuelan native.

With all aspects of his game coming together quicker than most had expected, the difficult task for Mets' management is to not push Guerra too hard so early in his development.

"We're going to take care of him," said Cacciatore. "You know, I'm not going to expect him to throw no-hit innings every time out, but if he throws strikes, he's got a pretty good arm and I've been very pleased with him."

Guerra's recent run of success has boosted his confidence, and confidence goes a long way towards a player's development.

"You can see it's a lot of fun," Cacciatore said of Guerra's better outings. He wasn't sure. Now he can say, 'hey, I can pitch'. I think he's just more comfortable now."

"A little success always helps, so he knows he can compete, and he's very much the competitor. You know when you're 17-years old and you come into a league with much older guys, you always wonder 'can I play here', stuff like that. Now he's starting to settle in."

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