We have finally arrived at the part of the Hudson Valley Renegades that everyone is buzzing about: their starting rotation. From one to five, the members of the Renegades’ 2012 rotation feature great stuff, excellent upside, and a significant chance of making an impact for the Rays someday. Let’s get started.
Jesse Hahn, 23, was the Rays’ 6th round back in 2010 out of Virginia Tech but did not make his professional debut until 2012 after signing late for $525,000 (second round money) and then undergoing Tommy John Surgery. He proved to be well worth the wait. Hahn went 2-2 for the Renegades with a 2.77 ERA, a 9.5 K/9, a 2.6 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 14 starts and 52 IP. But the most impressive statistic of all, courtesy of Minor League Central, is that Hahn’s groundball rate was an outstanding 60%, third in the New York-Penn League minimum 50 innings pitched. Hahn, a 6’5″, 182 right-hander throws a fastball in the low-90’s that touches 95 MPH with heavy late sink, generating all those groundballs. His control of his fastball is good and he commands it especially well down in the zone. His secondary pitches are a couple of different breaking balls and a changeup. Hahn throws two curveballs, a big-breaking one in the mid-70’s and a harder one with sharp 11-to-5 break that stays in the low-80’s. He throws both out of the same arm slot as his fastball and both, especially the harder one, flash plus. He controls the slow breaking ball better right now while occasionally struggling making the harder one look like a strike to force swings-and-misses. Hahn’s changeup has its moments with good arm action and nice late sink, but he has been unable to locate it with any consistency. Hahn is off to a late start to his career as he’ll turn 24 in July of next year, but between his outstanding fastball and the promise of his secondary pitches, his upside remains considerable. The Rays will send him to full season ball in 2013 and hope he can start making up for the lost time in a hurry.
Matthew Spann, 21, was the Rays’ 25th round pick in 2010 and the lefty had an interesting 2012 with the Renegades, going 5-5 with a 3.48 ERA, a 4.8 K/9, a 3.5 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 14 starts, 2 relief appearances, and 72.2 innings. His groundball rate was 45.5%, a tick below the league average. Spann’s season was not all that great, but his potential is right up there with anyone we’ll talk about today. The reason: Spann is 6’7″ but just 185 pounds with plenty of projection remaining. Currently, Spann’s stuff isn’t all that impressive, but he shows intriguing flashes of ability. Spann’s fastball sits in the high-80’s, topping out at 90 MPH, and Spann doesn’t get as great a downward angle as he should right now, but it features great late bite in towards right-handed batters leading to plenty of weak contact, although a lot of it was in the air. Spann does have problems with command, leaving his fastball up in the zone too often as well. Spann also throws three different secondary pitches, a changeup, a curveball, and a cutter. His changeup shows nice sink out of the arm slot of his fastball, and that’s a swing-and-miss pitch for him when he can make it look like a strike, which is not often enough at this point. His curveball features nasty 1-to-7 action at its best but no consistency either. And his cutter in the mid-80’s shows sharp late break, but same story, he can’t dream of getting it called for a called strike on a regular basis. Spann shows flashes and it’s nice how he can survive even knowing that his fastball is the only offering he can always rely on, and the Rays hope that he can add velocity on his fastball and continue to improve his secondary pitches as he moves up through the minor leagues. Spann will be a project, but the potential reward is definitely be worth it.
Jeff Ames, 21, was one of the Rays’ many supplemental first round picks in the 2011 MLB Draft and had an outstanding season in 2012 his first extended minor league time, going 6-1 with a 1.96 ERA, a 9.8 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 0.1 HR/9 in 13 starts, 1 relief appearance, and 64.1 IP. An alarming thing is that his groundball rate was just 30.4%. Ames, a filled-out 6’4″, 225, features a tantalizing three-pitch arsenal but a lot of reasons for serious concern. Ames can ratchet his fastball up to 96 MPH from a deceptive delivery, but he can’t control his fastball with any consistency at that velocity and usually sits in the low-90’s. Ames’ fastball features good sink and armside run when he’s able to get on top of it, but he has trouble finding a stable arm slot and leaves his fastball up in the zone too often. His changeup shows great arm action and simply disappears at the end with great downward movement, but it also flattens out when he loses his arm slot and he has trouble commanding it as well. Same story with his slider, which features devastating break at his best but gets slurvy at times. My favorite thing from when I saw Ames was when his slider got slurvy and the hitter let it go by for a called strike with this look on his face saying “what the heck was that?” Ames features a significant crossfire in his delivery, putting a little too much stress on his arm, but, more pertinently for right now, causes his arm slot to fluctuate, completely throwing off his control and command. Ames flashes three plus pitches but the inconsistency to drive you insane. A future in the bullpen seems most likely for Ames, especially given the stress his delivery puts on his arm, but if he can continue working on getting a uniform arm slot and locating his pitches, he has number two starter upside.
Right-hander Taylor Guerrieri was the youngest player on the 2012 Renegades at just 19 years old, but he was also the very best they had to offer. The Rays’ first pick in the 2011 MLB Draft at 24th overall, Guerrieri dominated as expected in his pro debut for the Renegades, going just 1-2 as he got criminally low run support, but posting a ridiculous 1.04 ERA, a 7.8 K/9, a microscopic 0.9 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 12 starts and 52 innings pitched. His groundball rate was an impressive 59.7%, right behind Hahn at 4th in the New York-Penn League minimum 50 IP. Guerrieri, who is 6’3″ and 195 pounds, overpowered hitters with a mid-90’s fastball with outstanding sink that he commands and controls exquisitely, especially for a pitcher so young. The rest of his arsenal still needs work. He throws a tight 11-5 curveball with sharp break, and he controls it pretty well but needs work at burying it down in the zone for swings-and-misses. He also throws a changeup and a cutter, both of which show flashes but are still pretty raw. When your biggest problem is that you’re throwing too many strikes, you’re doing pretty well. Guerrieri shows two plus pitches, including a plus-plus offering in his fastball, with two more still developing, and he has clear ace potential. The Rays are ecstatic about Guerrieri’s potential, and he very well may be the best prospect in their organization.
We’ll close with left-hander Sean Bierman, who breaks the mold of all these upside pitchers but may have the best chance of anyone as making the major leagues. Bierman, the only 2012 pick on the Renegades’ starting staff after the Rays selected him in the 10th round, was the rotation’s elder statesman, turning 24 years old a couple weeks ago. He pitched well for the Renegades, going 4-2 with a 2.75 ERA, a 6.2 K/9, a 0.9 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 in 11 starts and 52.2 IP before getting called up to Low-A Bowling Green for a pair of starts, one a strong performance and the other a disaster. His groundball rate was a great 59.3% between the two levels. Bierman, just 6’0″ and 195 pounds, doesn’t feature nearly the stuff of these other four guys but has easily the most polish. Bierman’s fastball hits just the high-80’s after he underwent Tommy John Surgery a couple years ago, but it features great sink and he locates it very well down in the zone to force groundballs albeit while not missing many bats. His secondary pitches are a changeup and a 1-to-7 breaking ball, with the changeup being his best swing-and-miss pitch thanks to great arm action and good late sink and his curveball being a pitch he controls well but uses more for groundballs than whiffs. Bierman’s upside is a number four starter, especially considering his advanced age for a prospect with only two games at full-season ball, but he has a chance to move quickly in that role and make a big league impact before long.
The Hudson Valley Renegades featured arguably the most exciting five-man rotation in the Rays’ minor league system and the Rays can’t wait to see what these five guys can do as they move forward in their minor league careers. We’ll continue breaking down the Renegades’ pitching staff next time.
For the rest of our analysis on the Renegades and the Rays’ minor league system, check out our Minor League Affiliates Analysis page here at RCG.