30. Victor Juarez (70 points, 12 ballots)
When considering Juarez, it’s important to remember that he has already played two years of full-season ball and only just turned 20 this past June. The 6’0” right-handed starter didn’t have too much fanfare entering 2022 despite a $500k signing bonus in January 2021 out of Mexico, but he turned some heads as one of the youngest pitchers in Low-A in 2022 (2.8 years younger than league average). With Fresno, Juarez threw 103 innings in 21 starts with a 4.98 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 rate, and 2.9 BB/9 rate.
In 2023, Juarez was again one of the youngest pitchers in his league, this time the Northwest League for High-A Spokane — 3.1 years younger than league average. It was a bumpy ride for Juarez, who mixed gems with stinkers all year. In all, Juarez posted a 6.38 ERA, but also a 4.68 xFIP that indicates poor fortune, in 91 2⁄3 innings across 20 starts. Juarez had a 9.2 K/9 rate and 3.4 BB/9 rate, but the WHIP was elevated at 1.65 largely because hitters had a .314 batting average against him.
In Jack Etkin’s June 2022 piece in Rockies Magazine on Juarez (worth reading in its entirety), which took place just as Juarez was entering his struggles that season, pitching coordinator Doug Linton was effusive in his praise for the pitcher, comparing him to a young Zack Greinke with his pre-natural feel for pitching.
Big Country’s Wheelhouse has a colorful look at some of Juarez’s work in 2021 below:
Juarez is currently ranked 16th in the system by FanGraphs (as of June 2023) as a 40 FV pitcher with a plus (60) future grade on both his command and change-up:
[Juarez is] now barely 20 years old and dealing with the unforgiving offensive environment at High-A Spokane. Juarez can really pitch. He has a well-balanced and consistent delivery, and commands all three of his pitches, but he’s a short strider, which creates downhill angle on his fastball and causes it to play down. He had a velo spike early in 2022 but that has not held. He ended up sitting 91-93 mph across all of last year and has been in that range again in 2023. His upper-70s curveball and mid-80s changeup are both promising offerings that should at least mature to average, and Juarez’s ability to kill spin and create action on his changeup might make that pitch even better over time. Now that it appears as though his 2022 velo uptick was short-lived, the not-very-projectable Juarez’s ceiling is likely capped at the back of a rotation due to his fastball’s vulnerability.
Juarez was 14th on Keith Law’s pre-season 2023 Rockies list at the Athletic:
Juarez has excellent feel to pitch and works with an above-average to plus changeup and fringy breaking ball, projecting as a fourth starter with a little more growth in his velocity and further development to his command. He’s worked on a slider, although his arm slot and delivery might be more conducive to a harder curveball. He was solid as a 19-year-old in the hitter-friendly Cal League last year, becoming more homer-prone as the season went on. He should get a little stronger for more fastball and more power to whatever breaking ball he settles on.
The question here is if Juarez’s polish and advanced arsenal/command will allow him to overcome lower-end raw stuff and velocity? Or will that take a step forward as well (so far, no)? Those are relevant queries when valuing a player with Juarez’s skillset, but we should also enjoy what he is now: a precocious pitching talent who somewhat held his own as a teenager in High-A.
Juarez could begin 2024 with Double-A Hartford as a 20-year-old, ideally with some more velocity on his fastball. With Juarez, the path to the big leagues and a spot in the starting rotation once he gets there are easier to envision for me than a player with better stuff but worse command. I ranked Juarez as a 40 FV player, 26th on my list because I’m still a sucker for ceiling and Juarez just doesn’t have that. Still, I’m excited by the plus command of a three-pitch arsenal.