Making sense of Rookie ball prospects is an inexact process to begin with. Especially now, we’re getting to a particularly interesting group of Wild Cards: the relievers. Their upside may not be nearly as high as the rest of the team in most cases, but if someone suddenly just figures it out, even if he’s an older player, he could go from Rookie ball to the big leagues in just a couple of years. Let’s look at the Princeton Rays’ relievers and see if we can pinpoint the candidates to do just that.
Alex Keudell, 22, is the first pitcher we’ll discuss today, but he may have some chance to remain a starter. Keudell, the Rays’ 27th round draft pick in 2012, split time between starting and relieving for the P-Rays, starting primarily in the latter part of the season, and pitched well, going 3-4 with a 2.28 ERA, an 8.7 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 6 starts, 10 relief appearances, and 43.2 IP. Per Minor League Central, his groundball rate was a solid 46.2%. Keudell, the University of Oregon’s this past season, stands out most because of a devastating 11-to-5 curveball that is his one true plus pitch. His other pitches are still in question. His fastball usually sits in the high-80’s, touching 90 MPH, and featuring late sink when Keudell is at his best. Considering Keudell is 6’3″, 205, the Rays hope that Keudell has a little projection remaining and can get his fastball consistently to the 90-91 MPH range and get the late action more often. His third pitch is a solid changeup. Keudell’s curveball is a weapon, but will he be able to establish his fastball enough to use it effectively? As a reliever, it seems strange to have a guy coming out of the bullpen starting off with breaking balls. That’s why it’s almost easier to see Keudell as a 4th or 5th starter type if he can improve his fastball to the point where it’s a second above-average pitch for him and maybe add a cutter. Keudell is an interesting case in the Rays system as he features the fastball-curveball-changeup combination that the Rays love, but he’s one of the few pitchers in the Rays’ system whose best pitch of those three is his curveball. Keudell’s ceiling doesn’t blow you away and he still has plenty of work still to do. But he has as good of a chance as any of these P-Rays players to make it to the big leagues someday in some capacity.
Jacob Faria, 19, is still a developing story in the Rays system. The Rays’ 10th round pick in 2011, Faria signed for $150,000, an above-slot bonus, but not nearly as much as you would expect for a high schooler with any prospect hype to sign for. Nevertheless, Faria has potential. A projectable 6’3″, 175, Faria went 3-4 with a 5.14 ERA in 2012 with a 7.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, and a 1.3 HR/9 in 5 starts, 8 relief appearances, and 42 IP. In terms of his stuff, Faria has absolutely nothing going on at this point other than solid control. His fastball is just in the high-80’s with solid movement, but he fails to get a downward plane on it and allows way too much hard contact, especially in the air. He also throws a curveball and a changeup, both of which he can throw for strikes and show flashes of good movement, but more advanced hitters won’t be fooled by simply the difference in velocity. Faria has to fill out before we can even start talking about him as a prospect. You hope that once he adds 25 or more pounds of muscle, hopefully his fastball velocity will get to the low-90’s at least, and then you can worry about his other pitches.
Kevin Brandt, 22, is a 6’1″, 195 lefty who was drafted in the 18th round of the draft by the Rays this year. Brandt was great in his pro debut, going 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA, a 10.8 K/9, a 1.9 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 4 starts, 8 relief appearances, and 36 IP for Princeton. Brandt dominated as a college pitcher should at Rookie ball. Brandt overpowered the younger hitters with a low-90’s fastball with good life, a sharp slider, and a solid changeup. He was completely unhittable against lefties, who went just 0 for 20 against him with 1 walk and 12 strikeouts, and although right-handers managed a .760 OPS, he did strike out 31 versus just 5 walks. Brandt won’t be nearly as dominant moving forward as he struggles with fastball command and his breaking stuff gets inconsistent, but he has a chance to move forward with a chance to be a big league lefty reliever, possibly one that can get both lefties and righties out if he can improve his changeup, but otherwise an effective situational lety. Brandt isn’t nearly exciting as his numbers this year, but he’s a player with a real chance to be a big league contributor someday.
Jon Weaver, 22, is a 6’3″, 215 right-hander who is another 2012 draftee, having been selected in the 21st round of this year’s draft. Weaver really struggled in his pro debut for Princeton, but there are some encouraging signs for him. Weaver went 0-6 with a 5.85 ERA, an 8.4 K/9, a 4.5 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 3 starts, 16 relief appearances, and 32.1 IP. His groundball rate was a decent 45.1%. Weaver features an interesting repertoire. His fastball ranges in the low-90’s with late movement down and away from right-handed batters, and that was the offering he really relied on in his pro debut. He throws two other pitches worth a look, an 11-to-5 curveball that has flashed plus with tight break and a changeup that shows good sink, but he was unable to get a feel for them. With his fastball being his only consistently reliable offering, Weaver was in trouble when he couldn’t command it, especially against left-handed batters, since its movement took it right into the usual lefty power zone down-and-in if he missed too badly. Weaver was OK against right-handed batters in terms of peripheral stats, posting a 25-11 strikeout to walk ratio and a 48.7% groundball rate although they posted .303/.383/.485 line against him. Weaver doesn’t have the most electric arm, but if can get a handle on his secondary pitches, he has a chance to be a middle reliever in the big leagues. Weaver’s pro career got off to a tough start this season, but with refinement he has some potential.
Hugo Duarte was an unknown prospect entering this season and given his age, 22, and ERA this season, he probably still deserves to be. But the 6’1″, 169 right-hander who the Rays signed out of Venezuela back in 2006 managed some interesting underlying stats that are worth a glance. On the season, Duarte went 1-3 for the P-Rays with just an 8.53 ERA but an 8.2 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 2 starts, 12 relief appearances, and 31.2 IP. His groundball rate was a horrific 32.3%. Duarte throws a fastball in the low-90’s with good life up in the zone- but when he loses command, he gets destroyed- while his secondary pitches, a curveball and a changeup, are a work in progress. Duarte is a long way from making an impact at A-ball, let alone the majors, but his strikeout, walk, and homer rates this year were a good sign, and we’ll have to see if he can continue to develop.
Joan Guerrero is left-handed and is a 6’2″, 170 lefty signed by the Rays out of the Dominican Republic back in 2007. Beyond that, I have absolutely no idea. He also was horrific this year for the P-Rays, going 1-0 with a 5.47 ERA, a 6.9 K/9, a 5.8 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 1 starts, 13 relief appearances, and 24.2 IP. His groundball rate was just 30%. He was terrible against both lefties and righties. Guessing based on the numbers, he throws a halfway-decent fastball in the low-90’s and a bunch of secondary pitches he can’t control. Guerrero is a lefty. But let’s see some results or something before we seriously talk about him.
Willie Gabay was also absolutely horrendous in his pro debut in 2012. But the Rays feel that he has the ability to be a lot better and fast. Gabay, a 6’0″, 180 right-hander, was the Rays’ 15th round pick in 2012 and put up ugly numbers in his pro debut, going 2-1 with a 7.77 ERA, a 9.4 K/9, a 6.1 BB/9, and a 2.0 HR/9 in 1 starts, 14 relief appearances, and 22 IP. His groundball rate was a nice 46.9%, but he struggled against batters from both sides. Gabay throws a fastball that touches 94 MPH with natural late cutting action. The problem is that he has a ton of trouble controlling it and commanding it at this point, and that led to a ton of hard contact, but primarily he was beating himself. His secondary pitches, a late-breaking low-80’s slider and a changeup with some sink, flash plus when he make them look like strikes, and he was able to get a good amount of swing-and-misses against the inexperienced hitters he was facing, but they need a lot of improvement to look plus often enough to be consistently effective. Gabay’s stuff is awfully impressive and when something clicks, he could move quickly through the minor leagues. That certainly didn’t happen this year, but the Rays hope it will happen soon.
That’s where we’ll stop for right now. We see that these relievers may not have so much upside, but they have the ability to make an impact in the major leagues in less time than you would expect- if everything ever clicks for them. Their stuff is excellent and you just have to hope the control and everything else comes with time.
For the first 4 Parts of this series and our analysis on the GCL Rays as well, please check out our new Minor League Affiliates Analysis page here at RCG.