Continuing our NFL draft-themed posts, we’ll talk about Jason Standridge, a high school quarterback drafted by the Rays.
Standridge, a 6’3″, 240 quarterback and starting pitcher coming out of Hewitt High School in Alabama, was a player the Rays drafted in the first round in 1997, one year after drafting future Falcons QB Doug Johnson in the second round in 2006, and unlike Johnson, tehy managed to sign Standridge to an exclusive baseball contract as they developed him as a pitcher. Standridge began his pro career with the Rookie-level GCL Devil Rays in 1997, going 0-6 in 13 starts and 57.2 IP but posting an 8.6 K/9, a 2.0 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9, amounting to an outstanding 2.25 FIP. (Nobody talked about FIP in those days, but I’ll mention it as a concise way to talk about Standridge’s strikeout, walk, and homer rates.) Standridge was brought up to the more advanced Rookie-level Princeton Devil Rays in 1998 and went 4-4 in 12 starts and 63 IP but slipped to just a 7.00 ERA and a 4.01 FIP. But the D-Rays decided to nevertheless promote him to the Low-A Charleston Riverdogs in 1999, and they were rewarded with Standridge’s finest pro season thus far. In 18 starts and 116 IP at Charleston, Standridge went 9-1 with a 2.02 ERA, tossing 3 shutouts and posting a 3.29 FIP. He was so good that the D-Rays brought him up to the High-A St. Petersburg Devil Rays for the rest of the season, and he posted a 4-4 record, a 3.91 ERA, and a 3.61 FIP in 8 starts and 48.1 IP, although his strikeout to walk ratio dipped from 2.71 to just 1.3.
The D-Rays returned Standridge to High-A to begin 2000 and he pitched better on the surface, going 2-4 with a 3.38 ERA and another complete game in 10 starts and 56 IP, although his FIP slipped to 4.38 as his strikeout to walk ratio was a bad 1.32. But the D-Rays didn’t see through his ERA and called him up to Double-A Orlando, where he went 6-8 with a 3.62 ERA and 2 complete games in 17 starts and 97 IP, but his strikeout to walk ratio was 1.28 and his FIP was 3.93. The D-Rays started him back at Orlando at the start of 2001, but after posting a 5.52 ERA in 2 starts, they called him up to Triple-A where he had a struggle of a season, going 5-10 with a 5.28 ERA, a 5.34 FIP, and more walks than strikeouts in 20 starts and 102.1 IP. Nevertheless, the D-Rays called their former first rounder up to the big leagues in late July. In his big league debut on July 29th, Standridge allowed a hit and a walk to get into a bases-loaded, 2 outs jam but escaped without a run, and on August 3rd he pitched 2 shutout innings despite 2 hits and 3 walks thanks to a caught-stealing and a double play ball. Six days later, Standridge got the ball for his first major league start, a matchup against the eventual AL champion New York Yankees at Tropicana Field.
The Yankees could not generate anything against Standridge. He looked dominant. Standridge went 6.1 innings of shutout ball, allowing just 4 hits and 1 walk while striking out 5. He looked absolutely electric. The game would not go down as Standrige’s first MLB win as Esteban Yan allowed 3 ninth inning runs as the Rays lost 4-3. But Devil Rays fans had a reason to be excited. Their former first round pick was for real.
Standridge posted an 8.44 ERA in 10.2 innings the rest of the season, including when he was bizarrely and stupidly used in back-to-back games in early October and his major league ERA ended up at 4.66 in 19.1 IP as he walked 14 compared to just 9 strikeouts, but all of that could be attributed to discomfort coming out of the bullpen. Standridge apparently proved that line of thinking right when he returned to Triple-A in 2002 with a vengeance, going 10-9 with a 3.12 ERA, 2 complete games, and a 3.41 FIP in 29 starts and 173 IP. After throwing so many innings, the D-Rays only gave him one MLB appearance in which he allowed 3 runs in 3 innings. Standridge posted a 4.50 ERA and an identical 4.50 FIP in 60 IP at Triple-A in 2003. In the middle of that, the Rays deemed Standridge ready for a big league rotation spot.
Standridge made his season debut on June 10th, striking out 4 Cincinnati Reds in an Interleague game while walking none, but allowing 3 home runs in 6 innings in a 4-2 D-Rays loss. He struck out five while walking two in 5.2 innings against the Pirates, but he allowed 3 doubles and got a no-decision in a 9-5 D-Rays loss. In his third start, Standridge threw a complete game, allowing just 2 runs, but the game was rain-shortened to 5 innings and the D-Rays lost 2-0. Standridge was not getting any favors from luck nor his offense. Standridge’s next two starts came against the Yankees and Red Sox. Against the Yankees, he went 7 innings, but he allowed 4 runs, striking out and walking 3 while allowing 2 home runs in a 4-3 D-Rays loss. Then against the Red Sox he came up with his best start of the season, allowing 6 hits and 2 walks in 5.2 inning while striking out just 2, but he worked out of jams to allow just 1 run. The D-Rays would win the game 4-3 but Standridge would not get credit for the win. That appeared to frustrate Standridge, and that may have led to his meldowns in his next two starts as he went a combined 2.2 innings, posting a ghastly 40.50 ERA. 11 days after his final start, Standridge appeared in relief for the D-Rays, going 3.1 innings allowing 2 hits and 2 walks but no runs while striking out 2. He was sent down for the remainder of the season.
Standridge rebounded to an extent at Triple-A in 2004, going 9-4 with a 3.83 ERA, a 3.89 FIP, and 2 complete games in 22 starts and 129.1 IP (2 of the starts were at Double-A Montgomery). He also made 3 major league appearances, 1 start, posting a 9.00 ERA. Following the season, the D-Rays outrighted Standridge from the 40-man roster but he elected free agency instead. Standridge never won a game in a Rays uniform.
Standridge signed with the Texas Rangers in 2005 and worked primarily out of the bullpen at Triple-A Oklahoma and posted a 4.50 ERA and 3.98 FIP in 76.2 IP before getting called up to the big leagues and getting slammed to the tune of an 11.57 ERA in 2 relief appearances before getting released. Standridge signed with the Reds and spent just about the rest of the season in the Reds bullpen, posting a 4.06 ERA in 32 relief appearances and 31 IP with a 4.35 FIP. Standridge split 2006 between the majors and minors for the Reds, posting a 2.93 ERA and a 2.94 FIP in 46 innings in the minors but a 4.82 ERA and a 5.07 FIP in 18.2 major league innings. In 2007, Standridge signed with the Kansas City Royals and posted a 3.86 ERA in 4.2 minor league innings and a 8.22 ERA in 8.2 IP in the majors. The Royals released Standridge, ending his time in the major leagues. Standridge was still just 28 years old.
Standridge spent the rest of 2007 in Japan with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, going 7-1 with a 3.00 ERA and a 3.13 FIP in 8 starts and 9 relief appearances. But he posted a 7.62 ERA in 3 appearances for the Hawks in 2008 before apparently suffering an injury that sidelined him the remainder of the year. Standridge resurfaced in the US in 2009, getting shelled in 112.2 IP to the tune of a 5.43 ERA between the independent Somerset Patriots and the Marlins’ Triple-A franchise in New Orleans, although his FIP was 3.98. Standridge has spent the last 2 seasons in Japan, going a combined 20-12 for the Hanshin Tigers with a 3.18 ERA and a 3.47 FIP in 46 starts and 2 relief appearances. Standridge, despite seemingly being around for so long, is still just 33 years old.
Standridge’s fastball could hit the low to mid-90′s consistently and he also threw a sharp 11-to-5 curveball. But his third pitch, his changeup, never got up to par and he continually struggled controlling and commanding his two pitches. He showed flashes of his tantalizing upside and had an arm to dream on. But he could never put it all together. Standridge was a raw product having been so committed to football in high school, and that rawness never completely left him, partially because the D-Rays rushed him through the minors and didn’t give him enough time to figure things out as a starter at the big league level. Jason Standridge was a vintage Rays draft pick, a pitcher with outstanding athleticism and an exemplary right arm. But like so many draft picks with so much potential, he never could it all together.