Among all the Rays’ draft picks from the 2011 MLB Draft who signed, just one has yet to make his professional debut. That player was the first of the Rays’ 60 picks, right-hander Taylor Guerrieri, and the wait is finally coming to an end as the Short Season-A season begins and Guerrieri is scheduled to start the Hudson Valley Renegades’ third game of the season. Guerrieri could have been a freshman on the two-time defending College World Series champion University of South Carolina baseball team that is back in the College World Series again right now. But Guerrieri chose to sign with the Rays and his eagerly-anticipated debut is rapidly approaching.
The Rays love drafting upside starting pitchers. They could not have been any happier seeing Guerrieri slip to them at 24th overall. Guerrieri features the type of stuff that the Rays dream about. Guerrieri rangess from 93-96 MPH with his fastball and touches as high as 98. At 6’3″, 195, Guerrieri might be able to push his velocity into the 97-98 MPH range as he fills out. Possibly most amazing is that Guerrieri gets that much velocity in a smooth, easy delivery (a little bit like Matt Moore, but from the right side). But Guerrieri’s fastball is more than just velocity, featuring natural sink and nice run away from right-handed batters at times as well.
Guerrieri’s second pitch is an 11-to-5 curveball, a pitch that made him a perfect fit in the Rays organization with their fastball-curveball philosophy as opposed to sinker-slider. (Note that every current Rays starter throws a curveball.) Guerrieri’s curveball features low-80’s velocity with sharp break and he already throws it out of the same arm slot as his fastball, making things a little easier for the Rays’ minor league pitching coordinators. Guerrieri’s curve looks consistently like a second plus pitch for him and it has the potential to be a great strikeout pitch for him.
South Carolina high school hitters had enough trouble dealing with Guerrieri’s fastball-curveball combination during his time at Spring Valley High School, but he came into the draft having some experience throwing a changeup, and interestingly a cutter. Guerrieri has continued to work on both pitches since he signed with the Rays but both pitches are still raw. However, he has definitely shown flashes with both pitches. At its best Guerrieri’s changeup looks like his fastball out of his hand with nice arm action before featuring additional sink in addition to the velocity differential and Guerrieri’s cutter could someday be a great pitch for him with its late downward action that will help him force groundball double plays. Guerrieri is still more upside than polish at this point, but it made it easier to visualize Guerrieri as a frontline starter coming out of high school with him throwing at least occasional changeups and cutters.
Guerrieri’s big overall problem at this point is command and control. Guerrieri’s pitches feature great movement. But his fastball sometimes sinks or rides straight out of the zone and his curveball’s acute break does the same. His change and cutter are pitches that he not only has to figure out how to consistently get the right grip and arm slot to get the proper movement, but he also has to learn to throw them for strikes. Guerrieri’s command is a long way from where it needs to be. And that’s why we have the minor leagues. Few pitchers come out of college with their entire arsenal perfect, let alone high school. But Guerrieri has shown the pure ability with his pitches to be an upper-echelon starter in the major leagues, and with the right fine-tuning, he has a chance to get there. Now is the start of that process.