Alex Colome has been a name to watch in the Tampa Bay Rays system for a long time. Signed in 2006 at the age of 17, Colome first emerged a Rays prospect two years later as Baseball America ranked him 24th on the Rays’ top 30 list, saying that “no one…is more of a project than Colome” but praising him for his mid-90’s fastball and promise with his slider. After a breakout season in 2009 with Short Season-A Hudson Valley, Colome jumped up to 7th. The past five years, he has been among the Rays’ top 7 prospects each season, and those of us who have followed the Rays’ prospects in that timeframe watched him develop from a raw 20 year old to a big league pitcher. But along the way, we say the different things that can prevent a pitching prospect from living up to his potential or even being an impact player at all.
Through it all, Alex Colome’s has possessed an arsenal with the ability to dominate. His fastball has ranged from 93-97 MPH with great sink, his slider and curveball both flashed sharp break, and his changeup slowly but surely improved. There was some thought that Colome’s changeup might be the reason he moved to the bullpen, but Colome honed the pitch over time and got it up to par. His fastball command was another big concern, but while Colome could never perfect it, he made enough progress with it to be effectively wild. Colome dealt with the usual questions about his stuff, and while he did not ace the tests, he got through. The next challenge was going to be injuries.
After Colome went 157.2 innings in 2011 between High-A and Double-A, the culmination of an incremental innings increase in his last four seasons, it looked like he was becoming a workhorse starter. Even if he did not quite reach his topflight starter potential, the Rays were going to be more than happy to settle for a number three starter who could give them 180 innings a season if not more. But after a relatively clean bill of health earlier in his career, Colome’s problems started when he suffered an oblique strain in April of 2012, and shoulder soreness in August would prevent him from making his major league debut. The Rays had imagined him coming up in the style of David Price and Matt Moore for their postseason run, but it did not come together. Then in 2013, he was pitching well at Triple-A before dazzling in his big league debut, allowing just an unearned run in 5.2 innings versus the Miami Marlins, striking out 7 while walking 2. He was so good that the Rays kept him around for two more starts, albeit with mixed results. Then Colome returned to the minor leagues, but Rays fans liked his early returns and excited to see what he could do in his second chance at a September relief role. Instead, Colome did not pitch another game the rest of the season after an elbow strain. He entered 2013 desperate for a healthy season to build up his workload. Now, after his 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs, he will not get it.
We can’t know why Colome used Boldenone, a performance-enhancing drug. Was it frustration over his injury problems? Did he think he had to be better to win a spot in the Rays’ rotation? Whatever it was, the suspension fills the last space Colome was missing on his prospect resume. Colome has gone through every type of problem a prospect could have, from issues with his arsenal to command to injuries, and now to character. He overcame so much, but after his critical error, he will finish the season as a 25 year old destined to pitch in relief pending a drastic turnaround. That is not so bad of an outcome, all things considered, but the Rays knew that he could be so much more. This is not the nail in Alex Colome’s coffin, but simply the moment that takes the luster off a prospect that had been so enjoyable to follow for so many years.