Last week, the Royals traded LHP Tim Hill to the Padres for RHP Ronald Bolanos and OF Franchy Cordero. Bolanos was the Padres 13th ranked prospect and actually made his major league debut last season rising all the way from high-A ball to the majors.
I saw Bolanos make a start in Northwest Arkansas last summer. It wasn’t his best outing and I remember several guys talking about how Bolanos was a better prospect than he was ranked. Apparently, this was the same game that Royals Director of Pitching Performance Paul Gibson attended. Hunter Dozier was making a rehab start and Drew Storen was there to pitch an inning. JC Cloney was making the start opposite Bolanos for the Naturals.
I wanted to get an idea of what the Royals acquired in Bolanos so I decided to go back and watch his MLB debut against the Diamondbacks on September 3, 2019.
Bolanos came out looking confident but quickly got into trouble when NL hits leader Ketel Marte lashed a triple into the right field corner to lead off the game. The pitch was a 2-1 slider that got up and inside. The next two batters reached base on a single and walk. At that point, Austin Hedges and Manny Machado came to the mound to talk to Bolanos. It worked and Bolanos settled down getting a double play ball to end the inning with just one run allowed. However, the second baseman bobbled the ball and the inning continued. The Padres and Bolanos went down 2-0 on the bobbled grounder. Bolanos bounced right back getting Adam Jones to hit a high fly ball to center on a 96 mph fastball.
Bolanos settled in and didn’t allow another run over the next 5.0 innings. There were some issues with lead off batters reaching base, but Bolanos was able to pitch around those runners using mainly his fastball. Bolanos was having issues throwing his off speed pitches for strikes and at one point had only thrown 9 of 24 for strikes. Even though this was the case, the Diamondbacks offense was unable to break through again.
Bolanos worked from 92 up to 99. Typically, he was right around 96 and hit 99 with his 76th pitch of the game. The fastball seems to be quite straight. As his confidence grew, he seemed to get better and retired the last 6 batters he faced. He looked like he had easy velocity out of his hand with a smooth windup from the third base side of the rubber. Bolanos brings his hands over his head while bringing his knee waist high. It is a very traditional style of windup.
Bolanos also threw a slider that the announcers talked about grading higher than any of his other pitches. The slider was not locked in and he struggled to command it and throw it for strikes. The pitch was 82 to 86 mph and had some glove side movement and drop. It was a later break and even though it wasn’t consistent, showed a good difference from his fastball.
Bolanos worked in a 12-6 curve on a few occasions. I would recommend he throw it more often as it became a swing and miss pitch for him. There were a few times he ramped it up and threw it high-70’s. This seemed to mess with the Diamondback hitters more than the slower version of the pitch, and they had a really hard time identifying it swinging and missing. Bolanos only threw it this way three or four times, but it was very effective.
The change up had some promise even though it was inconsistent as well. By my count, Bolanos only threw one really good one. It was also the only one that he managed to get in the lower third of the strike zone. This pitch had good sink and some arm side movement. When he doesn’t get on top of the pitch and pushes it, it is pretty flat and doesn’t have a lot of life. The pitch was between 86 and 88 mph.
Oh, and in his first major league at bat, Bolanos struck out swinging on a curve.
I came away from the outing intrigued. Bolanos did not throw his off speed stuff effectively and was able to beat the Diamondbacks with basically just his fastball at times. He was effectively wild, held his velocity deep into the game, and exhibited confidence and authority on the mound.
I can see why the Royals were excited to have the chance to trade for Bolanos. He has a chance to be a starter in the future. Especially if he dials in his command and gets all his off speed under control. If that doesn’t happen, he will more than likely become a fastball/slider guy finding success working out the pen.
Image from the San Diego Tribune and credited to Jeff Nycz.