Yesterday, 27 year old right-hander Bryce Stowell made his Tampa Bay Rays organizational debut, working around a hit with strikeout in a scoreless inning for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. The way he ended up with the Rays is quite strange, but the Rays still see a player with the ability to contribute in their big league bullpen if everything goes well.
Bryce Stowell was a 22nd round pick by the Cleveland Indians in the 2008 MLB Draft out of UC Irvine, so you would think that he wasn’t a highly-regarded prospect. Instead, the opposite is true. Stowell fell so far in the draft because he was a draft-eligible sophomore with signability questions, and the Indians had to pony up a $725,000 bonus to sign him, more in line with a second round pick. They found themselves with a starting pitcher touching 93 MPH with his fastball to go along with a promising slider and a changeup that had its moments. The following year, however, Stowell dealt with a biceps injury and poor control, so he entered 2010 as a full-time reliever. That ended up working out pretty well. Stowell worked his way from High-A to Triple-A over the course of the season, managing a 2.14 ERA, a 13.6 K/9, a 4.8 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 42 appearances and 67.1 innings pitched. His fastball velocity shot up to 100 MPH at times. But an elbow strain ended his season, and he has been extremely inconsistent since.
Since the 17 appearances Stowell made at Triple-A Columbus in 2010, he has not made a single Triple-A appearance since. Injuries held him to 24 and 25 appearances respectively in 2011 and 2012 before he appeared in 36 games with a 2.58 ERA in 2013. Everywhere he has gone, Stowell has struck out quite a few batters, striking out at least 12.0 batters per 9 innings at every stop since the start of the 2010 season. His fastball still hits the mid-to-high 90′s in velocity, and he continues to overwhelm hitters with it. But the Indians gave up on Stowell eventually thanks to his injury issues, his inconsistent command of his fastball, and a lack of development from his secondary pitches. Stowell is no longer young, and the odds are decreasing each season that he ever puts it together like the Indians thought he would. But with that velocity as a starting point, Stowell is exactly the type of reclamation project the Rays love to take on.
Although they were veterans, Fernando Rodney and Kyle Farnsworth immediately come to mind as veterans with good velocity that the Rays were able to refine. In terms of secondary pitches, recent success stories have been Jake McGee and Brandon Gomes, who learned a curveball and a cutter respectively. If the Rays can break through on either front, that may be enough for Bryce Stowell to be a big league option–and should he pan out, the Rays would have him for six full years of team control. At this point, the odds may be relatively low that the Rays can fix Stowell, but they have nothing to lose signing him to a minor league contract and seeing what happens. The Rays have already built up an impressive reserve of young relief pitchers. With a little luck, Bryce Stowell could soon number among them.