After 3 parts of this series, we finally get to the Princeton Rays’ pitchers. We’ll start today with the P-Rays’ four primary starters, including one pitcher that has already entrenched himself as one of the Rays’ top prospects.
The Rays have been taking it slowly with Bruedlin Suero, a left-handed pitcher who will turn 23 in February, but he was an interesting player for Princeton this season. Suero, a projectable 6’4″, 170, went 4-3 with a 4.20 ERA, a 6.2 K/9, a 1.7 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 13 starts, a relief appearance, and 64.1 IP for the P-Rays. According to Minor League Central, his groundball rate was a solid 47.4%. Suero was excellent after a tough start, posting a 2.68 ERA and a 30-6 strikeout to walk ratio (7.8 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9) in his final 8 appearances. One interesting this was that he was better against righties (.738 OPS) than lefties (.893 OPS) although his strikeout to walk ratio versus lefties (9-1) was much more impressive than against righties (33-11). Not much is known about Suero’s stuff at this point, but he’s interesting for a young pitcher in that he throws a lot of strikes, and he can miss some bats as we saw in that nice run he had to end the season. Suero sounds like a sinker-slider-changeup type of pitcher (warning: speculation) and if I had to guess, his sinker is only in the high-80′s at this point as he has yet to fill out. As a lefty who can throw strikes and force some whiffs and weak contact, you have to think that Suero has some potential as a lefty reliever if nothing else. Suero performed well enough in his first full season in the US to catch the Rays’ eye and we’ll have to see whether he can continue to succeed at higher levels.
The Rays have been waiting to see what Kevin James can do for a while, and in 2012 they finally saw glimpses of the pitcher they signed to a well above-slot $625,000 bonus after drafting him in the 9th round back in 2009. James missed most of the past three seasons with various arm injuries, but he flashed some great stuff in 2012. James, who will turn 22 in October, is a projectable 6’4″, 190 lefty who went 1-1 with a 3.03 ERA in 2012 for the P-Rays, posting a 7.0 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 1.2 HR/9 in 11 starts and 38.2 IP. His groundball rate was a nice 47.1%, although the flyballs he did allow were hit hard. James’ stuff remains impressive even after all the injuries. He throws a fastball in the low-90′s that he gets a nice downward plane on to go along with a good changeup and a solid curveball that has its moments. His problem has always been command, but he did make some progress in that regard in 2012. James, given his somewhat advanced age and injury history, could be heading to the bullpen sooner rather than later, where his fastball velocity could play up and his changeup could go from a good pitch to a great one, giving him a chance to profile well for the late innings. His curveball may have been better than his changeup around the time he was drafted, and developing that pitch further- along with simply staying healthy- will be key if the Rays decide to keep James a starter at least for now. James’ future is precarious after all the injuries, but his repertoire is still great and he still has a chance to be an impact big league player someday.
Blake Snell got lost in the shuffle a little bit as one of the Rays’ 10 first and supplemental round picks in 2011, but this season he proved himself to be a very impressive prospect in his own right. Snell was the P-Rays’ undisputed ace, going 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA, a 10.1 K/9, a 3.2 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 11 starts, including a shutout, 1 of just 2 in the entire Appalachian League all season, and 47.1 IP. His groundball rate was a great 51.3%. Snell is another projectable lefty at 6’4″, 180, and his stuff looked nasty this season. He gets a great downward plane on his fastball with nasty late bite, a changeup from the same arm slot that also features dynamic late action to force more swings-and-misses, and a solid curveball that he continues to improve. Snell struggles to locate his secondary pitches at times and sometimes his fastball’s acute late movement hindered Snell’s control of the pitch, but his fastball was nevertheless overbearing this season and his changeup routinely flashed plus. Snell could add velocity as he fills out, a scary thought considering how good his fastball is already, and he has a chance to be a very good major league starting pitcher someday if he can continue to develop his secondary pitches and work on his fastball control and command. He’s a long way from the big leagues, as is every pitcher who spent 2012 at Rookie ball, but his talent is evident and the Rays are excited to see what he can do as he begins to move up the minor league ranks.
We finally get a right-hander to close out Part 4 of this series, but he also had the toughest season of these four. Eli Echarry, a 6’1″, 150 right-hander, went just 1-3 in 2012 with a 6.05 ERA, a 5.9 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 1.5 HR/9 in 10 starts, 3 relief appearances, and 55 IP. His groundball rate was a below-average 42.3%. Not much is known at this point about Echarry’s stuff, but it’s hard to survive as a smaller right-hander without good command and it’s clear that he doesn’t have that at this point. He throws his fastball for strikes but can’t command it down in the zone, and he can’t consistently locate his secondary pitches (whatever they are) for strikes to help mitigate his struggles with his fastball. Echarry just turned 20 in July, but he has an uphill battle moving forward. But the Rays saw enough in Echarry to let him start even after he struggled immensely in 2011 for the GCL Rays, and we’ll have to see as we learn about him what prompted that show of belief from the Rays.
This is a pretty enigmatic group. We see one legitimate prospect, another possible one if he stays healthy, an intriguing pitcher we know little about, and a fourth pitcher in Echarry who we know the Rays like at least a little bit for some reason, but we don’t know why. Snell is the obvious headliner here and we could see him jump from Princeton to Low-A Bowling Green next season, but all four of these pitchers have some upside and could go far. We’ll continue looking at the Princeton Rays’ pitchers over the next few days.