The starting pitchers for the Renegades were the stars that lead them to the New York-Penn League championship and have the ability to make a significant impact in the major leagues for the Rays someday. But don’t count out these Renegades relievers. It was awfully tough to crack the Hudson Valley rotation, but several of these relief pitchers are promsing prospects in their own right and players that the Rays really like.
Reinaldo Lopez, 21, has a great Rays name and was signed by the Rays out of Venezuela back in 2007. Lopez had a good season between starting and relieving in 2012, going 3-2 with a 3.49 ERA, a 5.1 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 6 starts, 9 relief appearances, and 49 IP, with 13 of his appearances coming with the Renegades with the other two at Low-A Bowling Green. Lopez, a filled-out 6’2″, 221 right-hander, features a low-90’s fastball with late life that he controls well to go along with a halfway-decent curveball. He throws a lot of strikes and is able to force a good amount of weak contact, but he gets away with a few too many pitches up in the zone and doesn’t force nearly as many groundballs as he should, managing just 40.7% mark compared to the 45.6% NYPL average according to Minor League Central. Lopez needs continued work on his fastball command and his breaking ball, and the Rays will likely teach him a changeup to complete his arsenal. He did do a much better job against righties than lefties in 2012, posting a a 17-4 strikeout to walk ratio to righties versus just 11-11 to lefties, with the lack of a changeup contributing to that. Lopez has a some potential as a middle reliever who can keep hitters off-balance, throw strikes, and force groundballs.
Eduar Quinonez, who turned 23 in August, is another Venezuelan signee who worked in a swingman role with the Renegades this season and also had a solid season, going 7-3 with a 4.04 ERA, a 7.5 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 5 starts, 10 relief appearances, and 62.1 IP. His 7 wins led the team. His groundball rate was a solid 43.8%. Quinonez, a 6’3″, 185 right-hander, throws a fastball in just the high-80’s, touching 90 MPH, but his money-making pitch is an 11-to-5 curveball that shows flashes of tight brake. Lefties did have their way with Quinonez this season, tagging him for a .866 OPS compared to .563 by righties, but encouragingly his strikeout to walk ratio was a decent 20-11 versus lefties, not so far from his 32-11 ratio against righties. Quinonez is on the older side for a prospect who hasn’t yet pitched in full-season ball, but he has a chance to ride his curveball to a big league bullpen role.
Lopez and Quinonez don’t exactly exhilarate you with their middle reliever potential. But we’ll finish with a pair of pitchers that the Rays are much more excited about and that have a real chance of appearing among the Rays’ top prospects in coming seasons.
Brandon Henderson, 20, was the Rays’ 15th round pick in 2010 and was the Renegades’ lefty relief ace in 2012, going 5-2 with a 2.06 ERA, a 7.7 K/9, a 1.3 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 1 start, 17 relief appearances, and 48 innings pitched. His groundball rate was 43.0%. Henderson, a 6’3″, 175 lefty, fell so far back in 2010 because his fastball velocity was non-existent as he threw in just the mid-80’s. Henderson hasn’t filled out yet, but his fastball velocity has gotten to manageable levels as he throws in the 90-91 MPH range, topping out at 93 MPH. Henderson controls his fastball extremely well with good late life and is able to both throw it consistently for strikes and force weak contact on it, a relatively rare combination for a Short Season-A pitcher, although his fastball command does still need work. But the polish on the fastball is just the start with Henderson. Because he never had the great fastball velocity in high school, Henderson was forced to begin developing a battery of secondary pitches: a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. The slider was the pitch that looked the best when I saw him, coming out of the same arm slot as his fastball sharp late break, but Henderson got into trouble when his slider and his slower curveball blended together to form a mostly ineffective slurve, although Henderson was able to force a lot of groundballs with it. The Rays will have to consider having Henderson dropping his curveball entirely from his repertoire as they try to turn the slider into a consistent dynamic pitch. Henderson’s changeup is a solid pitch against right-handed pitchers, although it was too often more of a straight change with solid arm action but unimpressive movement. Henderson rode primarily his fastball and slider to own left-handed batters, allowing just a .417 OPS with a 9-1 strikeout to walk ratio, and he was great against righties as well, allowing a .626 OPS and a 32-6 strikeout to walk ratio. Henderson’s fastball really shined in 2012 and his secondary pitches are still developing but show promise. The Rays will have to consider making Henderson a starter next season after watching him pitch effectively against hitters from both sides of the plate. The Rays hope Henderson will continue to add velocity on his fastball and improve his secondary pitches, and he has a chance to be a number three-type starter or a dependable late inning reliever if everything goes well.
Ian Kendall, who will turn 21 next week, was drafted 10 rounds ahead of Henderson in the 5th round of the 2010 MLB Draft and features even better upside- but was on the exact opposite of Henderson on the performance spectrum for the Renegades in 2012. Kendall went 1-0 with just a 6.21 ERA for Hudson Valley, posting an 8.8 K/9, a 5.8 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 1 start, 16 relief appearances, and 42 IP. His groundball rate was a bit below average at 41.9%. Let’s stop the comparison with Henderson here- other than the difference between their performance in 2012, Kendall is a right-handed pitcher, features no projection at 6’0″, 205, and stands out most for his raw velocity on his fastball. Kendall consistently hits the mid-90’s on his fastball with late downward bite but fails to control his fastball with any consistency. He has another enigmatic pitch in his sharp 11-to-5 curveball that is downright nasty at its best and did generate plenty of swings-and-misses in 2012, but it hangs up in the zone too often, leading to hard contact. And then there’s his changeup, which Kendall throws with nice sink and decent arm action but no control at all. Kendall’s inability to throw his fastball for a strike often enough to sell his secondary pitches certainly didn’t help him at all. Kendall was hit hard by hitters from both sides, allowing a .796 OPS to right-handed batters and a .765 OPS to lefties, but the difference in strikeout to walk ratio was staggering as Kendall was at 28-11 versus righties compared to 13-16 against lefties. Kendall’s ceiling might be right there with Taylor Guerrieri and Jesse Hahn for highest on the team, but the chances that he’ll get there aren’t looking good right now. Kendall has a ton of work to do on all three of his pitches and the Rays are hoping that something can click for Kendall as he has number two starter upside in the dream scenario, but it seems more likely that Kendall ends up as a fireballing reliever and even a closer if he finds any control.
Don’t underestimate these Renegades relievers, with Henderson possibly jumping onto the prospect radar as soon as next season and Kendall being as big of a wild card as there is in the Rays system. We’ll finish off our analysis of the 2012 Renegades over the next few days as we continue talking about their relievers.
For the earlier installments of our breakdown of the Renegades and the Rays’ other minor league affiliates, please check out the Minor League Affiliates Analysis page.