The Rays are an organization built on starting pitching- but the Bowling Green Hot Rods were an exception in the organization, featuring several of the Rays’ most talented position player prospects as part of the most explosive offensive in the Midwest League. Don’t forget about the Hot Rods’ pitchers, though, who included a few of the Rays top pitching prospects along with quite a few sleepers with the ability to vastly outplay their draft slots. Let’s get into it.
Lefty Ryan Carpenter, 22, was the Rays’ 7th round pick in 2011 and the Hot Rods’ workhorse in 2012 and had a nice season, going 11-8 with a 4.09 ERA, a 6.8 K/9, a 1.4 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 28 starts, a relief appearance, and 149.2 inning pitched, 6th-most in the Midwest League. Carpenter has a durable pitcher’s frame at 6’5″, 235 and interesting stuff to match. Carpenter’s stuff has fluctuated a little too much over the past few years, but he features a fastball that he commands superbly that hits the low-90′s and even the mid-90′s when he’s going well but dips into the high-80′s at times. Carpenter is able to get good life on his fastball, but he has to do a better job commanding it down in the zone, especially for a relatively tall pitcher- his groundball rate was just 38.0% in 2012 according to Minor League Central. His slider in the low-80′s features tight 1-to-7 break when he’s able to get on top of it, and he also throws a curveball with big break and a solid changeup. Carpenter shows good polish and flashes of an impressive repertoire but has to find a way to get his arsenal right more often. Carpenter has the potential to be a innings-eating number three or four starter if he can get more consistency on all his pitches and the Rays hope he can make progress at doing that as he moves forward in the minor leagues.
Jake Floethe, 23, was drafted one round ahead of Carpenter in the 6th round of the 2011 MLB Draft and had a nice full-season debut in 2012, although it was marred a bit by injuries. Floethe went 10-3 with a 3.31 ERA, a 6.8 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 24 starts and 122.1 innings pitched, missing time with a back injury. In sharp contrast to Carpenter, Floethe’s groundball rate was an outstanding 55.1% in 2012. Floethe, 6’3″ and 205 pounds, works off a low-90′s sinker with outstanding sink that he is able to both command and control well. It does not miss many bats but it forces a ton of weak contract, especially on the ground. Floethe’s secondary pitches are a little more questionable but show potential. His breaking ball features sharp break at its best and Floethe used it as a weapon against right-handed hitters in 2012, and he also throws a changeup that has solid downward actions but is more of a groundball pitch than something he’s going to use to get a lot of swings and misses. Floethe has gained a reputation for being injury prone between Tommy John Surgery in 2010 and his back injury this year, and between that and concerns over his ability to get left-handers out, he may profile well as a reliever. But if he can prove he can stay healthy and improve his secondary pitches to the point that he can miss enough bats, he’s another pitcher with mid-rotation upside. Considering his age, he’s already a step behind, but he has the ability to compensate as long as he can stay on the mound. The potential of pitchers like Carpenter and Floethe may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but teams always need pitchers like them to fill out their rotations and it’s amazing how many pitchers the Rays are able to find that meet that profile and have a reasonable chance of getting there.
Parker Markel, who turned 22 in September, was an absolute steal by the Rays down in Round 39 of the 2010 MLB Draft. Markel struggled through a shoulder injury in the early part of the year but finished the year in a flourish. All in all, he went 11-5 with a 3.52 ERA, a 7.2 K/9, a 2.6 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 24 starts and 120 innings pitched. His groundball rate was just above league average at 45.0%. Markel, 6’4″ and 220 pounds, touches as high as 98 MPH with his fastball with great sink at times. That isn’t even his best pitch- he throws a dynamic low-80′s changeup with late sink and armside run along with a mid-80′s slider with a chance to be a third plus pitch for him. Markel’s biggest issue is a sharp recoil in his delivery, which gives him deception and helps him reach back for extra velocity, but it also puts pressure on his shoulder, as we saw with his injury this year. He also needs quite a bit of work commanding his pitches- it’s nice that he didn’t walk too many batters, but a pitcher with as electric an arsenal as Markel has should be striking out plenty more. Parkel has the stuff to profile as the number two starter but between all his concerns may fit best as an overpowering late-inning reliever. The Rays will give Markel a while longer as a starter to see if he can put it all together and maybe ease up his delivery a little bit, but it will be awfully tantalizing for them to convert him into a relief role and watch him zoom through the minors. As either a starter or reliever, Markel’s upside is tremendous and the Rays can’t wait to see what he can do as he works his way up the ranks.
Roberto Gomez, who turned 23 in August, was signed by the Rays back in 2010 and had a good season for Bowling Green this past year, going 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA, a 5.9 K/9, a 3.2 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 22 starts, 6 relief appearances, and 120 innings pitched. His groundball rate was a tick below average at 44.2%. Gomez is a 6’5″, 178 right-hander who stands out most for the amount of projection he has remaining but also shows flashes with his current arsenal. Against right-handed batters, Gomez throws a fastball that currently stays around 90 MPH with some late movement along with a slurvy breaking ball. He can throw both pitches for strikes but struggles to command them and miss any bats. Against lefties, though, Gomez shows a high-80′s two-seamer with a ton of life that he can use to freeze lefty batters but also struggles to locate for strikes, and he also throws a changeup that flashes plus, although Gomez struggles to make it look like a strike. Gomez needs a maturing to do in terms of filling out his 6’5″ frame and developing his arsenal, and at 23 years old he has a lot of time to make up for, but he has interesting potential if everything can come together.
We’ll finish for today with lefty Felipe Rivero, 21, who the Rays signed out of Venezuela in 2008 and added to their 40-man roster a little over a week ago after a great season for the Hot Rods. Rivero went 8-8 with a 3.41 ERA, a 7.8 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 21 starts, 6 relief appearances, and 113.1 innings pitched. His groundball rate was a good 48.4%. Rivero’s performance was great, and he actually had a 2.41 ERA on August 1st before struggling as he more than doubled his previous career high in innings. Rivero is a slim 6’0″, 151 left-hander who already features an impressive repertoire. His fastball hits the mid-90′s with solid sink and Rivero is able to throw it for strikes a nice percentage of the time. His secondary pitches, a curveball and a changeup, are less polished, but his breaking ball flashes plus with a good arm slot and sharp late break while his changeup has its moments as well. Rivero is actually better against right-handed batters than lefties at this point, posting a 71-18 strikeout to walk ratio against righties compared to 27-11 against lefties, something you would not expect given that Rivero’s curveball is better than his changeup, but Rivero has been able to use his curve effectively to batters of both sides and his issues against lefties stem from the fact that he’s most comfortable working on the outer part of the plate to righties, which is inside to lefties, and although he was able to jam lefties a good amount of the time when he pitched inside in 2012, actually holding them to a .629 OPS compared to .771 by righties, his command to lefties on the outer side of the plate was sub-par, limiting his ability to miss bats. That is something that Rivero will have to continue working on moving forward. More pressing issues for Rivero are building up his durability, getting more consistency on his secondary pitches, and improving his overall command. Rivero features an electric arsenal with solid polish on his fastball, and although it may take a while for everything to fall into place for him as a pitcher, his upside is considerable and the fact that the Rays added him to their 40-man roster tells you how much they think of him.
The Hot Rods featured a starting rotation with five real prospects in 2012, and the group combined outstanding upside in Markel and Rivero with more polished pitchers in Carpenter and Floethe and a complete wild card in Gomez. The Rays could get a couple big league starters from among these pitchers and maybe even a nice bullpen piece or two in the worst-case scenario. Low-A is a ways from the big leagues, but the Rays are excited to see what these five can do as their professional careers progress.
For more of our analysis on the Hot Rods and the Rays’ other minor league affiliates, check out our Minor League Affiliates Analysis page here at RCG.