Suddenly Braulio Lara was getting his opportunity. The 6’1″, 180 left-hander was coming off a rough season at the Tampa Bay Rays’ High-A Charlotte affiliate, managing just a 5.71 ERA, but then the Miami Marlins selected him with the 32nd selection in the Rule 5 Draft in December of 2012. Under three months later he was pitching in big league camp for the first time with the Marlins, and in his first game on February 24th, he tossed a perfect inning, striking out 1. Following the game, he drew the praise of Marlins manager Mike Redmond for “going up there and throwing strikes.” Unfortunately for Lara, that would be the high point of his spring experience. In 4 appearances, Lara allowed 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 2 and walking 2 as well. But while his 4.50 ERA wasn’t so sparkly, the .333 average against left quite a bit to be desired and he couldn’t like much about his 1-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, Lara found a way to hold his own. Lara entered the spring never having played even at Double-A and wound up facing primarily Triple-A hitters, and despite that he didn’t get hit too hard, and he certainly didn’t get embarrassed. Since he was a Rule 5 draft pick, the Marlins had to keep him on their major league roster or offer him back to the Rays, and it was evident that he wasn’t big league ready so they did return him. But Lara didn’t come back to the Rays the same pitcher. With the confidence his stint in big league camp gave him, maybe 2012 could finally be the season that Lara starts to get his career together.
Lara had an awful season in 2012, going just 6-10 with a 5.71 ERA, a 6.6 K/9, a 4.7 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 21 starts, 4 relief appearances, and 112 innings pitched for the Rays’ High-A Charlotte affiliate. But the numbers don’t tell nearly the full story with Lara. The numbers don’t tell you that Lara’s fastball usually ranges from the 92-96 MPH range, and this past winter in the Dominican Winter League, he hit 100 MPH. He also throws a curveball and a changeup, and the curveball especially has shown flashes. Lara’s major issue has been controlling and commanding all his pitches- it doesn’t matter if he can rear back to hit the upper 90’s if he doesn’t know where it’s going, and no pitcher can survive against opposing batters if he doesn’t have secondary pitches he can trust. But while Lara has a long way to go, he has begun to make progress. He finished the season strongly, managing a 38-19 strikeout to walk ratio in 50.2 innings pitched from July to the end of the season, and then he gained more confidence pitching in the Marlins’ big league camp. For Lara to even scratch the surface of his potential, this has to be the start of substantial progress. But the Rays are excited to have Lara back and see what he can do.
It had to be a little nerve-wracking for the Rays to watch a pitcher with as much upside as Lara head to the Marlins in the Rule 5 Draft. Now that Lara is returning, though, the Rays can look at the entire experience as nothing but a positive in his development. Lara’s confidence has been restored and his motivation is as high as ever. Maybe all he needed to get his development to get back on track was a brief realization of just how good he can be pitching in big league camp.