The Rays have an excellent record in terms of getting later round steals on starting pitchers. You have James Shields as a 16th round pick in 2000. Matt Moore was a 8th round pick in 2007. Wade Davis was a 3rd round pick in 2004. And those are just in their current rotation. In 2001, they got Chad Gaudin in the 34th round (although they couldn’t sign Dave Bush in the 4th round). In 2002, Jason Hammel was their 10th round pick. In 2004, in addition to Davis, the Rays got Jake McGee (now a reliever) in the 5th round and Andy Sonnanstine in the 13th round. Alex Cobb was a 4th round pick in 2006. Current prospect Parker Markel was a 39th round highway robbery in 2010. In in 2011, the Rays drafted a pitcher named Jake Floethe with their 6th round pick out of Cal State Fullerton. And even in a draft where they had 13 of the first 89 picks, Floethe could end up being an outstanding value and the next pitcher on the list above.
Jake Floethe arrived at Fresno State University as nothing special at all. As a freshman, he was a converted first baseman and posted just an 8.64 ERA in 18 appearances and a lone start, striking out 20 while walking 16. But the next year, in 2009, he broke out. In his first 8 appearances of the year, 6 starts and 2 relief appearances, for the Bulldogs, he went 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA, 29 strikeouts, 12 walks, and 0 home runs allowed in 37.1 IP. His FIP (for what it’s worth) was an outstanding 2.61. But while at the top of his game, Floethe felt something in his elbow. He missed the remainder of the season and all of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. While in recovery, Floethe transfered to Call State Fullerton, hoping for a fresh start. In 2011, Floethe went 6-3 with a 3.82 ERA as a senior for Evan Longoria‘s alma matter, walking 49 while striking out 26 and allowing no home runs in 10 starts, 9 relief appearances (2 saves), and 63.2 IP. The Rays had seen enough to select Floethe in the 6th round of the 2011 as a senior sign. His bonus was $105,000, second-fewest among the Rays’ first 19 picks who signed. And they could not be happier with what they’ve seen.
Floethe dominated in his first exposure to pro ball that same season at Short Season-A Hudson Valley, posting a 1.71 ERA, 15 strikeouts, 7 walks, and once again no homers allowed in 5 starts, 2 relief appearances, and 21 IP. To begin 2012, Floethe has gone 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA for Low-A Bowling Green, striking out 8 and walking not a single batter while yet again allowing 0 home runs in 2 starts and 10 IP.
It tells you something that even while he was recovering from surgery, Flothe was a 29th round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010, not to mention the fact that the Rays drafted even though his stuff in 2011 wasn’t anywhere near what he had shown in the past. But right now, his stuff is coming back, and he’s dominating hitters like he never has before.
Floethe throws a sinker in the low-90′s with, at its best, dynamic late break away from right-handed batters. The fact that Floethe hasn’t allowed a home run in his last 132 IP between college and the pros is no coincidence- his sinker has proved exceedingly difficult for hitters to elevate. But he’s not a one-pitch wonder. Floethe also throws a sharp 11-to-5 curveball in the low-80′s and a changeup in the same range as well. He controls and commands all three of his pitches extremely well. Floethe isn’t young by prospect standards- he’ll be 23 in late May- but with his stuff returning, he’s a player to watch. Jake Floethe has a future in the major leagues. Will he be a Gaudin or a Hammel who are halfway-decent big league starters? Maybe. But with Floethe at the top of his game, don’t underestimate him.
Floethe fits a similar profile to Shields. Shields was drafted out of high school by the Rays, but underwent Tommy John Surgery as a 21 year old after a scintillating start to his pro career in 2001 (2.55 ERA). By the time he truly found his way as a pitcher, he was 23 years old in 2005. The next season, he was in the big leagues. Floethe is clearly a step behind that. But with his overpowering arsenal and superlative control, watch out.