When Alex Colome toed the rubber for the Tampa Bay Rays on May 30, 2013, he was far from the Rays’ most talented prospect to make his debut. He had been regarded highly for years, but he never had the luster of David Price or Matt Moore. He was just the latest minor leaguer to get his chance. But once Colome took the ball, he did something extraordinary.
Colome shut down the Miami Marlins for 5.2 innings, allowing just an unearned run on 5 hits as he struck out 7 while walking just 2. As crazy as it sounds, Colome became the first pitcher in Rays history to go more than 5 innings in his major league debut without allowing an earned run. And while we knew Colome’s career ERA was not going to be 0.00, we saw a repertoire bursting with potential. His fastball touched 97 MPH, and that was only the start. His changeup and slider both hit the high-80′s, with devastating late movement, giving him a chance for three plus offerings. We did not even see his curveball, which was supposedly another promising pitch. Colome was sent down following the game, but after just how good he looked, we had to see more. But as it turned out, it was just a flickering glimmer of greatness. Colome did make two more mediocre major league starts in June, but his season ended soon thereafter with a shoulder strain. It marked the second straight year that an arm injury terminated his season prematurely. That is not something we can just gloss over. 2013 may have marked Alex Colome’s major league debut, but suddenly he is one injury away from his career as a starting pitcher coming to an end.
It is extremely difficult to be a starting pitcher in the Rays organization to begin with. The depth seemingly never ends, with major league-ready pitchers often stuck at Triple-A for a year before they can finally secure a rotation spot. Alex Colome had that going against him from the start. But just as worrisome for Colome’s prospects as a starter are his injury history and command. Colome has shown few signs that he can be a workhorse pitcher, throwing even 95 innings just twice in his career, the last back in 2011. He threw just 86.1 innings between the minors and majors this season–how many innings could he possibly throw next season? Of course the Rays could place him on some sort of innings limit, but he is running out of time as he is about to turn 25 and they have plenty of pitchers who can take his place. Even if Colome was healthy, though, his command is a serious concern. He works too much up in the zone with his fastball, a dangerous strategy in the major leagues, and his ability to locate his secondary pitches comes and goes. Alex Colome may have the ability to be a major league starting pitcher, but the chances he turns his potential into reality are getting slimmer by the day.
Jake McGee was one of the Rays’ top starting pitching prospects, but they converted him to relief the year after his Tommy John Surgery even though he was pitching well as a starter. He has since become one of the Rays’ most talented relievers. Alex Torres dealt not with injury but simple control issues, but the Rays did not hesitate to call him up in a bullpen role when the need arose in 2013. He proceeded to deliver an excellent rookie year in that capacity, emerging as the Rays’ potential closer of the future. In previous cases where an issue with injuries or command hindered a promising pitching prospect, the Rays converted them to relief and received outstanding results. Alex Colome is next in line. We know how talented he could be as a starting pitcher, and the Rays will likely return him to Triple-A to keep starting games. At this point, however, the odds of him becoming a dependable starting option are long, and the Rays have nothing to gain risking further injury or poor performance any longer. It is now only a matter of time until the Rays ticket Colome for the bullpen and see just how good his dynamic arsenal could be in shorter stints.