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Scouting Notebook: Vinnie Pestano, a sidewinder for success

May 9, 2011 | 11:58 am

Vinnie_250 One secret behind the surprising success of the Cleveland Indians this season can be found in the bullpen, where rookie right-hander Vinnie Pestano, a product of Cal State Fullerton and Anaheim Canyon High, has become a key contributor.

Pestano, 26, was a lowly 20th round draft choice out of Cal State Fullerton in 2006. He made it to the big leagues with a funky delivery that was easily classified as sidearm but was a little more complicated than that. Pestano is finding success not only because his arm angle is deceptive and unorthodox, but also because his arm works well enough for him to be able to generate above-average stuff.

In his one-inning look at Anaheim on Saturday night, his fastball was 90-94, which is typical, but for Pestano, it’s not the looks but the moves. His fastball at different times flashes late and jumps high in the strike zone and also has defined tail and sink against right-handed hitters. His secondary pitch, a change-up he throws at 80, has late sink to it, making Pestano, in effect, a power sinkerballer. Classifying him as “power” might be a matter of semantics for some, but it’s enough for him to be an eighth-inning set-up arm in the American League with 15 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.

The arm is what kept Pestano buried in amateur baseball. When you’re a 20th-round pick, it means nobody thinks you’re going to pitch in the big leagues except for you. He had Tommy John surgery shortly after the draft and didn’t make his pro debut until the 2007 short season. Comparisons for Pestano might go as far back as Royals closer Dan Quisenberry, but that might be a reach. One thing I’ve learned about sidewinders over the years is that no two are the same. You can argue that Pestano is similar in stuff to former Angel Darren O’Day, but I’d also argue that the arm actions are slightly different. At least I’m not going to go all turn of the last  century and break out the Joe "Iron Man" McGinnity comparisons, the former New York Giant who ought to be the patron saint of sidewinders. The reason Pestano’s arm works is that he has arm speed, which was better than 20th-round arm speed, and is something a lot of people missed when he was an amateur. You can’t give a guy a loose arm. He has it, or he doesn’t.

The second reason is that he gets his elbow above his shoulder for a split second –- his arm is fast enough you have to freeze the video from the third base in order to see this -- before it swoops down to create the fastball power and life.

The final factor that Pestano has is the kind of aggressiveness and chip-on-his-shoulder mentality I wish I saw more in bullpen arms. He was a college closer and a closer in the minor leagues, and maybe he’ll get that shot down the road in the big leagues. 

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Angels' Torii Hunter reflects on Mike Scioscia's 1,000th career victory

-- John Klima

John Klima is a product of the Major League Baseball Scout Development Program and the founder of BaseballBeginnings.com. Catch his scouting take every Monday at latimes.com.

Photo: Vinnie Pestano. Credit: Kirby Lee / Image of Sport / US Presswire

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