Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bonilla Opening Eyes with Lakewood

With better known names like Jesse Biddle, Garett Claypool and David Buchanan getting most of the recognition on the Class A Lakewood pitching staff, Lisalberto Bonilla has been staying off the radar, despite soaring high for much of the season.

Despite being a guy that many have yet to hear of, the 21-year-old righty hurler continues to develop and mow down South Atlantic League hitters. Since his promotion to the BlueClaws from extended spring training on May 3rd, Bonilla has posted a 2-3 record with 4 saves, a 2.06 ERA and a .205 batting average against while striking out 73 batters in 70 innings pitched.

After beginning his time with Lakewood in the bullpen, Bonilla joined the starting rotation in mid-June. By his fifth start, Bonilla was officially a prospect to watch. In his July 6th outing against the Hagerstown Suns, Bonilla threw 9 scoreless innings, while striking out 12 and allowing no walks. Not only did the effort impress the fans in attendance and those listening to the game broadcast and reading box scores elsewhere, his manager, Chris Truby, found it quite remarkable as well.

"It was as good of an outing as I've seen at this level," Truby said. "And he didn't seem to work that hard. It was just a well pitched game by him, using all his pitches."

After signing with the Phillies in December, 2008, Bonilla looked sharp in 11 starts with their Dominican Summer League team, posting a 6-2 record with a 1.41 and 2 shut outs. However, last year, following a good stint with the Gulf Coast League Phillies, Bonilla joined the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters, where he struggled a bit, going 1-3 with a 6.49 ERA in 11 outings.

The key for Bonilla's turnaround this year has been the ability to locate his fastball (which registers regularly at 93-94 MPH), according to Truby, who managed Bonilla last year with Williamsport.

"The use of his fastball, the command of his fastball are the biggest differences," Truby said. "He's always had a good change up to fall back on and, last year, he didn't really command his fastball the way that he has from the start of this year. When you can command your fastball, it opens the door for the rest of your pitches and you can find yourself getting some quick outs as well."

After Bonilla seemed to dominate as a reliever, posting a 1.07 ERA in 11 games and earning a nod as a South Atlantic League All-star, the decision to move the Dominican Republic native into the starting rotation was an easy one, according to Lakewood pitching coach Steve Schrenk. As BlueClaws opening day starter Mario Hollands had a tough go of things early on, the Phillies decided to move him into a relief role, which opened a vacancy for Bonilla.

"He had already built up some innings in extended spring training and we wanted to get him up here to get him pitching, so (using him in relief) was an easy fit for him at first. We knew eventually, he was going to start. It was just a matter of time," Schrenk said.

His physical abilities and his three quality pitches are what could set Bonilla out and have potential Phillies trade partners inquiring about his services. Multiple scouts have been on hand for his recent starts and have seen Bonilla sport a 2-1 record and hold opponents to a .229 batting average while striking out 37 batters over 30 2/3 innings in 5 July starts. However, the Phillies hope his future is in their own organization.

Aside from the effectiveness of his mid-90's fastball, his steadily improving slider and his other pitch that Schrenk describes as "a big league change up", his mental make up is something that folks within the Phillies organization seem to be most excited about.

"His strengths are that he loves to compete and he wants to win. He wants to give his team a chance and he does that," Schrenk stated.

Bonilla, who stands 6-feet-1-inch tall and weighs around 165 pounds, certainly possesses the tools to pitch at higher levels, but, with a history of both starting and relieving, his role as he moves forward and ascends upward in the minor leagues, is unclear.

"Being in the rotation at this level allows him the opportunity to work on all three of his pitches and that, right now, is our main focus and his main focus," Truby said. "Whatever happens (going forward) happens."

As one of 2011's breakout prospects, Bonilla has had a lot happening and has become one to watch, in the Phillies' developmental system.
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