No Rays affiliate is closer to Tropicana Field than the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs. All their players know that if everything clicks, an appearance at that stadium two and a half hours away could soon fall into place. Today we’ll wrap up our discussion of the 2012 Stone Crabs with their relief pitchers, several of whom could reach the major leagues next season.
Eliazer Suero, 23, was signed out of the Rays out of the Dominican Republic and had a rough 2012 but finished strong. On the year, Suero went 5-7 with a 5.81 ERA, a 6.0 K/9, a 6.2 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9 in 9 starts, 21 relief appearances, and 91.1 IP. He did, though, pitch much better his last 10 games, going 3-1 with a 2.56 ERA in 38.2 innings pitched. Suero features a projectable 6’4″, 170 frame, but his current arsenal simply isn’t there right now. Suero’s fastball hits just the high-80′s right now, and Suero is able to get a good downward angle on it when he’s right but that doesn’t happen often enough, and his delivery gets out of whack making him struggle to hit the zone. He also throws a halfway-decent breaking ball and a semi-usable changeup. Suero features some deception in his delivery to right-handed batters but has been exposed versus lefties, managing just a 23-34 strikeout to walk ratio against them. Suero’s improvement at the end of the season was fastball command, but he still walked more than he struck out. Suero has a big offseason ahead of him as he looks to begin the process of filling out his lean frame, and the Rays hope that with added strength he can begin making strides as a pitcher.
Wilking Rodriguez, who will turn 23 in March, was signed by the Rays out of Venezuela and added to their 40-man roster before last season, but he was designated for assignment and passed through waivers to remain in an organization after shoulder problems have derailed him the last two years. In 7 starts for the Stone Crabs in 2012, Rodriguez went 0-4 with a 5.56 ERA, a 7.7 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 34 innings pitched. Rodriguez, 6’1″ and 190 pounds, is a very interesting pitcher when healthy. Rodriguez’s fastball hits the 92-93 MPH range with late life, and he’s able to ratchet it up to the 95-96 MPH range when he has to, albeit at the loss of control and command. Rodriguez pairs his fastball with a big high-70′s breaking ball from the same arm slot that he’ll throw to both righties and lefties, and he shows flashes of a changeup that looks to be at least average. Rodriguez’s arsenal remains impressive, but he has to find a way to stay on the mound. In an attempt to make that happen, the Rays might move him to the bullpen, and Rodriguez’s electric stuff gives him a chance to move fast in such a role. Even after lost seasons the last two years, the Rays still can’t get enough of Rodriguez’s repertoire, and if he can find a way to stay healthy a breakthrough could be in the wings in 2013.
Amazingly, the Stone Crabs’ staff leader in wins started just 1 game on the season. Lefty Jim Patterson, who was an 18th round pick by the Rays back in 2010, had himself quite a season, going 8-4 with a 2.70 ERA, a 5.8 K/9, a 2.0 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 1 start, 38 relief appearances, and 80 innings pitched. 37 of his appearances came at Charlotte to go along with one each at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Patterson, 6’0″ and 190 pounds, has done nothing but pitch well since signing, managing a 2.78 ERA in over 200 innings. Patterson’s fastball stays in the high-80′s, touching 90 MPH, but he throws it for strikes and gets great late life on it, leading to plenty of weak contact in 2012 but not enough of it on the ground for evaluators’ liking. To complement his fastball, Patterson throws a little mid-80′s slider with late break that helped generate some whiffs against lefties as they had trouble picking it up and was another pitch hitters could not square up, and he also throws a halfway-decent changeup. Patterson actually had a slight reverse split in 2012, allowing a .595 OPS to lefties compared to .553 to righties, but the difference in strikeout to walk ratio was staggering going the other way, coming in at 20-3 compared to 32-15. Patterson’s upside is a middle reliever whose specialty is getting lefties out but doesn’t have to be taken out versus righties either, and after his success in recent years, it would not be the biggest surprise if he zoomed through both Double-A and Triple-A in 2013 after cups of coffee at those levels this season and finished the year in the big leagues.
Drafted 2 rounds ahead of Patterson in the 2010 MLB Draft, Nate Garcia, who will turn 25 in May, was having a nice season before injuries ended his season prematurely in late June. In 17 relief appearances and 32.2 innings pitched, Garcia went 0-3 with a 3.58 ERA, a 7.7 K/9, a 3.9 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9. Garcia, who is 6’1″ and 190 pounds, works with a fastball around 90 MPH with some movement away from right-handed batters along with a mid-70′s curveball with good depth. His pitches worked well against same-side batters as righties managed just a .239/.333/.324 line against him, but his lack of usable changeup led to lefties berating him to .353/.400/.627 line (think Josh Hamilton‘s AL MVP season of 2010). Garcia is another middle relief type, but he’s has to find a way to stay healthy, improve his fastball command, and develop something to use against lefties for him to be a realistic big league option.
Lenny Linsky, who will turn 23 in March, was the Rays’ 2nd round pick in 2011 and could have started off his professional career off any better, overpowering hitters at Short Season-A and Low-A to the tune of a 1.23 ERA and a 30-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 29.1 innings pitched. The Rays thought Linsky could continue pitching well in 2012, starting out the season in High-A before finishing the season in Double-A or maybe even Triple-A as he raced towards the big leagues, but instead a shoulder injury threw Linsky completely off, sidelining him until June and messing up his feel for his pitches even after he came back. In 18 games, Linsky went a decent 1-2 with a 3.07 ERA but managed just a 3.7 K/9, a 5.8 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 18 appearances, and ironically, the same 29.1 IP that he threw in 2011. He then went to the Arizona Fall League but continued to struggle, managing just a 5.56 ERA and a 7-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 9 appearances and 11.1 IP. Linsky, who has a good pitcher’s frame at 6’2″, 220, shows excellent stuff when he’s fully healthy, throwing a heavy sinker in the 92-94 MPH range that’s a nightmare for hitters to square up to go along with a sharp mid-80′s slider from the arm slot with devastating break. Linsky’s pitches were not nearly up to that caliber in 2012 as his sinker lost velocity and flattened out and his slider hanged up in the zone too often at times and even when it had its good movement, it looked nothing like a strike. 2012 was undoubtedly a lost season for Linsky and now the question is whether it will derail his career or be just a blip on the radar. The Rays will send Linsky back to Charlotte to begin 2012 and hope that he’ll be healthy and overpowering to begin the season and back on the fast-track to the big leagues before long.
Hard to sell A-ball relievers as all that exciting, but within a couple of years the Rays have a trio of pitchers who could be making big league hitters miserable in Rodriguez, Linsky, and Patterson, and Rodriguez and Linsky have the stuff to profile in the late innings if they can stay healthy. There’s always going to be risk involved, but the potential reward is evident and considering these pitchers are at High-A, their big league reliever could not be so far away.
Overall, the Stone Crabs were a horrific team in 2012, going just 55-79, but that was not a reflection of the caliber of players they had on their roster. Players like Enny Romero, Mikie Mahtook, the since-traded Derek Dietrich, Lucas Bailey, and Linsky are all talented but had their share of troubles this season between injuries and inconsistency. The Rays know that 2012 could have gotten better for the players who spent time with the Stone Crabs, but the ability remains in those players and they could be on the verge of figuring everything out and reaching their potential.
That’s it for our discussion of the Stone Crabs and we’ll continue next time with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. For more of our scouting reports on the Stone Crabs and the rest of the Rays organization, check out our Minor League Affiliates Analysis page here at RCG.