Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays and their pitching-rich farm system. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Rays Sleeper Pitching Prospects
Like the Kansas City Royals, the Tampa Bay Rays have a strong collection of pitching prospects. The best-known are Jeremy Hellickson (Grade A), Matt Moore (Grade A), Chris Archer (B+), Jake McGee (B+), Alex Torres (B) and Alex Colome (B). But there is another group beyond them that doesn't receive as much attention. Here are some additional arms to be aware of in the Rays system. In other organizations, some of these would be Top Ten prospects and considered anchors for the future, rather than "oh yeah, him too" pitchers.
Nick Barnese, RHP: 22 year old right-hander, posted a 3.02 ERA with a 100/26 K/BB in 122 innings last year in High-A, 114 hits allowed. Barnese works in the low 90s and has a terrific changeup, throws strikes and has always been successful. His main trouble is durability, with persistent issues with shoulder soreness. If healthy he can be a number three or four starter. Grade B-.
Alex Cobb, RHP: 23 years old, Cobb posted a 2.71 ERA with a 128/35 K/BB in 120 innings in Double-A, 120 hits allowed. Like Barnese, he projects as a number three or four starter, throwing strikes with his sinker, splitter, and very strong curveball. Also like Barnese, he would get a lot more attention if he was pitching in a different system. I have him as a Grade B-, which some people have told me is too low, but I'm sticking with it for now.
Joseph Cruz, RHP: 22 years old, Cruz posted a 2.85 ERA with a 131/39 K/BB in 142 innings, 137 hits for High-A Charlotte last year. Cruz has troubles with inconsistent velocity, working anywhere from 88 to 95 MPH, depending on the state of his mechanics. He improved his curveball and changeup last year. He will transition to Double-A in 2011 so I don't expect to see him in the majors before '12, but he is another guy who could fit in the middle or back of a rotation eventually. Grade B-.
Dane De La Rosa, RHP: 28 years old, but protected on the 40-man roster after showing a 90-94 MPH fastball in Double-A to go with a 1.97 ERA and a 75/26 K/BB in 73 innings. Picked up off the independent ball scrapheap and performed well last year. Has a chance to help in middle relief this season, and at his age they don't have to worry about messing up his development by rushing him too fast. Grade C, but interesting.
Shane Dyer, RHP: 22 year old with a funky delivery, a low-90s sinker, a good breaking ball, and a nice A-ball season under his belt last year (2.72 ERA, 109/28 K/BB in 136 innings, 125 hits, 1.80 GO/AO). He could be a fifth starter or more probably a relief type, but is worth tracking. Grade C.
Brandon Gomes, RHP: 26 years old, acquired from Padres in Jason Barlett trade. 1.87 ERA with 93/25 K/BB in 72 innings in Double-A last year. He has a great performance record and has a good arm (low 90s fastball, good breaking ball and splitter) and is murder on right-handed hitters, but is short for a right-hander (listed 5-11) and old for a prospect. Like De La Rosa, he could be a useful relief option. Grade C
Alex Koronis, RHP: 23 years old, posted a 4.24 ERA in Low-A last year but with a 100/40 K/BB in 85 innings with 69 hits allowed, showing strong K/IP and H/IP marks. A good athlete, he works in the 88-92 range but has a good curve and slider, and is effective when he throws strikes. If he can lower the walk rate, he could surprise this year. Another "Grade C but interesting" type.
Braulio Lara, LHP: 22 years old, posted a 2.18 ERA with a 58/25 K/BB in 66 innings in the Appy League last year with 49 hits allowed. Can hit 95 MPH, but needs to sharpen his command, and he wasn't young by Appy League standards. I have him as a Grade C+; he's got upside, but keep in mind that he's a month older than Barnese, who was two levels higher in the system.
Kyle Lobstein, LHP: 21 years old, posted a 4.14 ERA with a 128/54 K/BB in 148 innings in Low-A, 140 hits allowed. A second round pick in 2008 from Flagstaff, Lobstein has a good feel for pitching but has lost velocity since high school, throwing down into the mid-80s at times last year. He is a sleeper in the sense that his stock has dropped and he could get buried in this system, but he still has a pedigree that makes him worth tracking. Grade C.
Zach Quate, RHP: 23 years old, posted a 1.49 ERA with 25 saves and a 90/18 K/BB in 72 innings of High-A last year, 51 hits allowed. Velocity is average, but a wicked slider and low arm slot make him tough on right-handed hitters (just .154 last year). He could slot in as a middle relief type if he transitions well to Double-A. Grade C.
Wilking Rodriguez, RHP: Turns 21 in March. Posted a 4.23 ERA with a 93/28 K/BB in 106 innings in Low-A last year, with 109 hits. I thought he was a breakthrough candidate last year but it didn't really happen. Still, he is young, can hit 95-96 MPH, has a good curveball, and throws strikes. In many farm systems he would be a Top Ten guy. Grade C+.
Enny Romero, LHP: 20 years old, posted a 1.95 ERA with a 72/14 K/BB in 69 innings in the Appy League, 51 hits. Needs to improve his changeup, but already hits 95 and has a good curve. He was one of the best prospects in the Appy League last year and I have him as a strong Grade B prospect, the highest rating on this list. I'm listing him as a "sleeper" in this report just to point him out and remind people of him. There has been so much attention on the pitchers at the higher levels of this system that Romero gets overlooked somewhat, despite excellent performance and strong scouting reports.
Scott Shuman, RHP: 22 years old, posted a 3.01 EA with 14 saves, a 111/38 K/BB in 72 innings, and just 50 hits in Low-A. A 19th round pick out of Auburn in '09, Shuman has been much more effective in pro ball than he was in college. He has some command issues to work out, but his 92-95 MPH heater and solid slider enabled him to post outstanding K/IP and H/IP marks last year. Grade C+ for now, although if the control does sharpen he has a chance to close eventually.
Albert Suarez, RHP: Tommy John survivor protected on 40-man roster. 21 years old, posted a 3.89 ERA with a 30/16 K/BB in 42 innings in Low-A. Performance record isn't great, but he gets to 95 MPH, has a good curve, and impressed Rays officials enough that they felt like they had to protect him. They feel he is a breakout candidate as the injury recedes in the rearview mirror. Grade C for now.
Jake Thompson, RHP:21 years old, drafted in the second round out of Long Beach State last year. Given his draft position he isn't as sleepery as some of these other guys, but he doesn't seem to get talked about much, outside of Rays fandom, due to the attention given to the top levels of the system. He was much more effective in pro ball than he was in college, thanks to mechanical adjustments that enhanced both his velocity and his command. Grade B-, with a chance to be a middle-rotation guy. It will be interesting to see how fast they push him through the system, if they are less conservative with him than with their high school products.