Next up on our 2014 Top 30 Prospects is a player who the Toronto Blue Jays signed as an International free agent in 2011. LHP Jairo Labourt had an excellent season in 2013 and is quickly moving up Blue Jays prospects rankings everywhere. I’ll be the first to admit that we may have under-ranked this young pitcher at number 21 on our annual list.Name: Jairo Labourt
Position: Left-handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 3/7/1994 (19)
Acquired: Signed as a non-drafted International free agent in January 2011 ($350,000 USD)
Birthplace: Azua, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 6’4″/204 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
- 2013 Appalachian League All-Star
- Ranked 12th Best Prospect in 2013 Appalachian League by Baseball America
- Named to Baseball America’s 2013 Appalachian League Minor League All-Star Team
- Ranked Blue Jays #15 Top Player 25 and under by Baseball America
- Ranked Blue Jays #10 Prospect by Baseball Prospectus
Stats and Analysis:
Labourt was signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2011. After a strong showing in the DSL that same year, he struggled with control in the Gulf Coast League during 2012 and allowed 5.4 BB/9 and 1.605 WHIP.
He moved up to the Advanced Rookie Appalachian League in 2013 and made two significant improvements pitching for Bluefield. The first was that he cleaned up the control – his walk rate was cut by more than half and he allowed only 2.4 BB/9 (6.6% of batters faced) in 2013. The second was his evolution into a ground ball pitcher. After he posted a 38% ground ball rate and 0.70 GO/AO (ground out to air out) ratio in 2012, his improved control presumably helped lead to a much improved ground ball rate of 58% and GO/AO of 1.68, which are both very impressive marks. The strong ground ball rate is extremely promising as it’s indicative that he’s keeping the ball down in the zone and not simply overpowering inexperienced hitters with high fastballs
He was named as an Appy League All-Star and opponents batted only .204/.268/.298 against him for the season. That line was partially aided by his .247 BABIP but the low batting average on balls in play also could speak to the weak contact he was generating. He was solid out of the stretch and had a 77.2% strand rate, which combined with his 1.026 WHIP helped contribute to an impressive 1.92 ERA.
He finished the season pitching in Game 1 of the Northwest League Final for the Vancouver Canadians. He took the loss but in 5.2 IP struck out a ridiculous 10 batters and allowed no walks to go along with four hits and three earned runs.
I searched high and low for video footage of Labourt but I was rather surprisingly unable to find anything online. Jared Macdonald at Jays Prospects watched one of Jairo’s starts this year in Bluefield and says “he has an easy, effortless delivery with a slow leg kick, clean arm action, and a balanced finish”. He’s known to throw out of a 3/4 arm slot but Jared also makes mention that his fastball is more of an overhead action and his slider is more 3/4 and different arm slots tip whether he’s throwing hard or off-speed.
Pitch Arsenal Breakdown
Labourt’s fastball works in the 89-93 MPH range and will touch 94. His long frame does mean he could theoretically add another tick or two to his velocity but Jared mentions that it hasn’t picked up much since he signed so could be close to maxed out. Even if that’s the case, he still throws relatively hard for a lefty.
He throws a three pitch mix but the majority of the time he complements his fastball with a late breaking slider. He throws it around 83-86 MPH with good tilt – Jared says it has a tendency to dive into the dirt as it reaches the plate. Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus said his slider has “wipeout potential”.
Labourt also throws a changeup but from the reports I’ve read he doesn’t use it very often. Jared said he threw it in warm-ups around 77-79 MPH but only used it once or twice in the six innings he watched him pitch. Parks calls it an “underdeveloped” pitch but he appears to be working on the pitch, which would give him a nice three pitch combination if they all develop.
Risk, Outlook and ETA
Labourt took big strides in 2013 and should get his first taste of full-season ball this year with the Single-A Lansing Lugnuts. He’s developing a reputation as a workhorse his big body is expected to be able to handle the durability requirement of being a starting pitcher. His secondary pitches are still a work in progress, especially his changeup, and to realize his ceiling as a mid-level starter he’ll likely need a bit more velocity on his fastball.
The Midwest League should be a good test as he’s yet to face anything other than rookie league hitters to date. Parks says that he’s “more control than command”, which basically means that he can hit the strike zone and limit walks but doesn’t exactly paint the corners. Cooley Law School Stadium is a bit of a bandbox so he’ll be looking to duplicate his high strikeout/ground ball rate success going forward.
As a young pitcher with a short-season resume there’s still a relatively high risk attached to Labourt. He could breakthrough with the Blue Jays in late 2017 or 2018 but will need to continue to develop his secondary offerings, especially his changeup, to become a starting pitcher at the Major League level.