Back in 2010, when the Astros sucked in almost every way possible, many of us fans were looking for signs of hope. The minor league system was pretty barren, and most of the teams were deep into losing seasons. But there was one way ray of hope, and it was the Tri-City Valley Cats, who won their league title. At the heart of the celebration for each clinching win was a young heartthrob with dance moves by the name of Kike Hernandez.
First came a rejuvenated farm system with tons of elite prospects at the full season clubs. Then came five straight winning seasons, and it’s almost like the exploits of the Valley Cats have been forgotten. In 2019, the college draftees at Tri-Cities have been meh, and the hoped-for breakouts of Jason Schroeder and Joe Perez have mostly been aspirational. But one guy who never had shown up on any lists turned some heads in the NY Penn League, and he sports a name that could work in a Puzo novel: Valente Bellozo. But just who is he?
First, he’s not Italian, he’s Mexican, signed in July 2017. Born in January 2000, Bellozo spent most of 2018 in the DSL, with some nice numbers over 51 IP. He debuted this year on June 14, in the NY Penn League, mostly going against recent college grads and international players older than him. He dominated immediately, and over 11 outings he really never let up. In each outing, he tossed between 3 and 5 IP, with a max of 77 pitches. His ERA/FIP and xFIP at Tri-Cities looked like this: 1.39/1.65/2.25. That’s elite. His xFIP is always going to be higher because he never gives up home runs. Literally. He’s never given up a long ball in 100 IP over two seasons. He does so without generating extreme GB rates. His K/BB in Tri-Cities was 58/10. Again, that’s elite. After his 8/11 line (4 1 0 0 0 8) I awaited his next appearance. But his next appearance came at QC on 8/17 (4 2 0 0 0 5).
There’s not much in terms of scouting reports available. But the key factor here, besides the clear statistical dominance, is age. He was born in the year 2000. The Tri-Cities squad had two other pitchers born in this century. The only other guy on Quad Cities with a 2000 birthday is Freudis Nova, and we all know about him.
From the stat line, Bellozo seems to be a polished 19 year-old with an advanced repertoire/approach. He’s not walking guys, and while his K rate is strong (35%), it’s not a vulgar, Josh Hader/Stan Javier-type of K rate above 40%. He’s got a couple more weeks, plus the postseason, for which QC has already qualified. It’s worth tracking closely how he does, and maybe a few scouting reports will pop up.
For a comp, think Franklin Perez, the crown jewel of the Verlander trade. His international signing was under the radar, like Bellozo. He moved very quickly through the lower levels on the basis of statistical dominance and control of the strike zone. His stuff was never elite, but he commanded his pitches and had a mature approach for his age. Like Bellozo, Perez almost never had a bad outing, Perez lacked the kind of helium of other young arms who had 70 grade fastballs, but ended up in the top 50 range by the time of the JV trade. It’s not inconceivable that Bellozo would find his way into top 100 lists if he keeps this up in 2020 at Fayetteville, and if he stays healthy next year he should crack the 100 IP mark.
Bellozo has been so good the past 10 weeks that he’s demanded our attention. He has it. Let’s see how he closes the season.