Three months ago the Tampa Bay Rays planned for heralded right-hander Brent Honeywell to take a spot in the starting rotation. Elbows blow and plans change; Honeywell went down for Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2018 season. Instead, the Rays turned to right-hander Yonny Chirinos to fill a gap in the pitching staff. As I write this he’s about to take the mound in the afternoon game against the Boston Red Sox.
This is technically a “bullpen day” in the Rays pitching schema and Chirinos isn’t expected to carry the full burden, but his background is as a starting pitcher and I think he has a chance to surprise us this year. He’s not the same kind of prospect as Honeywell, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be quite useful.
Chirinos was signed by the Rays out of Venezuela in 2012, earning a minuscule $10,000 bonus. At the time he was not a hard thrower and relied on polish and moxie, but this was enough for him to succeed at each level, even if he didn’t rank highly on Rays prospect lists.
He got hit around a bit on reaching Double-A in 2016, with a 4.46 ERA and 74 hits in 67 innings, fanning just 43. He maintained his control however with 12 walks. He kicked into a higher gear on reaching Triple-A in 2017, posting a 2.74 ERA in 141 innings, 120/22 K/BB. Brent Honeywell garnered all the prospect accolades for the Durham Bulls, but it was Chirinos who earned organization Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors.
He made his major league debut on April 1st with four innings of relief work against the Red Sox, giving up one hit and a walk with no runs allowed, three strikeouts. And now he’s back on the mound today.
Chirinos is listed at 6-2, 235, born December 26th, 1993. Ian Malinowski at DRaysBay posted a review of Chirinos’ first major league game, noting that his command wasn’t as good as the boxscore may imply, but also noting a fastball averaging 94 MPH and topping out at 97 with some sinking action. He also showed a promising splitter and a slider which kept the Sox off-balance and unable to “really handle” as Malinowski puts it.
Earlier in his career, the knock on Chirinos was that his fastball wasn’t especially fast and that his secondary pitches lacked bite. That’s different now. His velocity has picked up, enough to give him a larger margin of error to work with. If he can pound the strike zone the same way he did in Triple-A, he’ll be a viable asset for the pitching staff.
This video is from last year in Triple-A but shows Chirinos maintaining mid-90s velocity in the ninth inning of a complete game.