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What to expect from Tampa Bay Rays rookie Blake Snell

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Blake Snell
Blake Snell
Ronald C. Modra, Getty Images

The Tampa Ray Rays are expected to promote top pitching prospect Blake Snell to the major league roster tomorrow, sending him to the mound for his first big league start against the New York Yankees. Snell is one of the elite pitching prospects in the game. Here's what to expect.

Snell was drafted in the compensation round of the 2011 draft from high school in Shoreline, Washington. He had significant command issues in the Midwest League in 2013, walking 73 in just 99 innings on his way to a 4.27 ERA in a league that is good for pitching. He also fanned 106, indicating his potential, but his delivery needed to get more consistent and his secondary pitches needed more polish. He took a good step forward in 2014, then an even larger step in 2015.

Basic descriptive information from the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:

Blake Snell, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Bats: L Throws: L HT: 6-4 WT: 180 DOB: December 4, 1992

2012: Grade C; 2013: Grade B-; 2014: Grade C+; 2015: Grade B-

A solid prospect entering 2015, Blake Snell had a genuine breakthrough campaign and enters ’16 as one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. He has a sinking fastball at 92-96 MPH and his decent slider took a step forward, becoming a plus pitch. His change-up improved as well, he added a softer curve to his arsenal, and his general sense of command was sharper. He certainly dominated minor league hitters without much trouble, throwing 46 consecutive scoreless innings to open the season. Snell is not a finished product just yet. His walk rate could be reduced further and his softer offerings aren’t as refined as the harder stuff. He could use another half-season in Triple-A to finish the maturation process, but overall his progress last year was wonderful. Grade A-.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:

Snell has made three starts for Triple-A Durham this month, posting a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 innings, allowing 15 hits and seven walks but with 21 strikeouts and a 2.71 GO/AO ratio. He's had some workload restrictions this early in the season, throwing five innings in his first start but just 4.2 each in his second and third outings.

There's certainly no trouble with his stuff: he's been up to 96 MPH for Durham. Also of note are reported improvements in his curveball and change-up, giving Snell (as Bradley Neveu points out for DRaysBay) a great deal of potential velocity separation to work with.

I still think he could use some command tightening, but the overall results are strong enough for him to move up.

Some Baseball America video from earlier this month:

His delivery is a lot more consistent than it was the first time I saw him pitch way back in the Midwest League. Not surprisingly, his command is much better, if still not perfect.

Snell's walk rate at Durham was still higher than ideal but the Rays need a starter so his time is now. There may be some ups and downs and more trips back to the minors, and like all young pitchers he has to stay healthy, but the total package adds up to possible number two starter in the long run.

Overall, the key things to watch for in Snell's debut are command consistency, off-speed pitch quality, and his strong ground ball tendency.