Concepcion finds form after rocky start

Cubs prospect finishes pro debut with four scoreless innings

By David Heck / Special to | April 25, 2012 8:51 PM ET

Making his professional debut, Cuban defector Gerardo Concepcion got a rude welcome to the world of American baseball. In the end, however, he showed why he was such a sought-after player this offseason.

The Cubs prospect allowed five runs in his first inning as a pro Wednesday, then settled down to toss four scoreless frames. Overall, he yielded eight hits and a walk while striking out two as the Class A Peoria Chiefs fell to the Lake County Captains, 6-3.

Concepcion gave up hits to the first three batters he faced, producing one run, then yielded a sacrifice fly to Indians No. 12 prospect Alex Lavisky. Jordan Casas followed with a single and Robel Garcia launched a three-run homer to make it 5-0.

"I think if you leave the ball up in the zone and hitters are aggressive, they're going to get good swings and put the barrel on the ball," Chiefs pitching coach Ron Villone said. "And that's what they did in the first."

The 20-year-old left-hander got out of the inning without further damage, retiring Jerrud Sabourin on a popup and Zach MacPhee on a grounder to third base. He then scattered three hits and a walk over the next four innings while keeping the Captains off the scoreboard.

In the third, Lavisky led off with a single and Garcia worked a one-out walk, but Concepcion got consecutive pop flies from Sabourin and MacPhee to escape trouble. The southpaw saved his only perfect frame for last, setting down Lake County in order in the fifth.

"He started to get the ball down in the zone," Villone said. "I don't want to say he settled in, but he knew he had to pitch down and pitch ahead. He pitched inside also -- I think that's a nice little factor that's going to happen for him.

"Guys got some good swings on him. He's going to have to learn to pitch inside to keep them honest and he did that tonight after the first couple innings."

Born in Havana, Concepcion defected last June during the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands -- the same event at which Aroldis Chapman defected in 2009. The Yankees, Rangers and White Sox expressed strong interest in the left-hander, according to Concepcion's agent, but the Cubs agreed to terms with him on March 11. He received $6 million over five years -- $3 million as a signing bonus and $3 million to be spread over the life of the contract.

Concepcion had enjoyed success during his brief experience in one of Cuba's most competitive leagues, the Cuban National Series, earning Rookie of the Year honors last year. In 21 games for Industriales de la Habana, he went 10-3 with a 3.36 ERA.

"He's got a fastball, curveball and changeup in his repertoire," Villone said. "I think he's just got to understand he's got to pitch off his fastball and that'll make his curveball and changeup that much better. He already has an average curveball, it's just a matter of pulling it in and getting an understanding of it. I think left-handed hitters will have a tough time. Righties will, too. It's just a matter of time, maturity and experience."

Concepcion does not speak much English, but Villone said it would not affect his ability to tutor the youngster.

"I've been around enough for 20 years, so I understand a little bit of the baseball lingo," Villone said. "He understands some words, especially baseball terminology. ... He's not the only one -- he won't be the first and won't be the last. Plenty of guys come here who can't speak a lick of English.

"I'm talking to our guys, saying you have to communicate as best you can. Speak a little Spanish, make him feel comfortable. We're all in this together. We're going to do some hard work, but we get to play baseball and have some fun."

As a left-hander who pitched in the Major Leagues for 15 seasons, Villone said he is looking forward to working with Concepcion. That's partially because he has plenty of wisdom to impart but also because Concepcion already has proven to be a very willing student.

"One of the most valuable tools is my experience," Villone said. "It's not so much what I'm going to bring to him but how he's going to receive it. From day one when he got here in Spring Training, he's been a hard worker with a good ethic. He's a great nucleus of a baseball player. And being 20 years old with a gifted arm and talent does help, but with the other items, it's the work ethic and the willingness to learn. He's an eager young man who wants to work hard."

David Heck is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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