Looking Back at the 2012 GCL Rays Part 3
The GCL Rays are the Rays’ lowest minor league team in America. Most of the team is composed of raw players who will never amount to anything. But the talent is undeniably there and you never know which of these players will figure it all out and become impact player in the major leagues. Today we’ll continue our look back at the 2012 GCL Rays with the pitchers. (One problem that happens be the case is that there often is a lack of information about these pitchers. I’ll try to make that apparent with phrases like “looking at the stats…” and putting parentheses around pure speculation.)
The GCL Rays couldn’t hit at all, but their pitching was excellent. Their 2.97 ERA was second in the GCL and what was really interesting was how they posted a 7.6 team K/9, a 2.6 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 compared to the league averages of 8.1, 3.2, and 0.3. They walked the fewest batters in the league and allowed the second-fewest home runs. We’ll have to see whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing that they traded a little pure stuff for control- although considering GCL hitters swing at everything, you never really know.
Lefty Geisel De La Cruz, 19, was signed by the Rays out of the Dominican Republic back in 2009. De La Cruz was the only pitcher on the GCL Rays to make double-digit starts, and he really impressed in 10 starts after coming over from the Dominican Summer League. De La Cruz went 2-5 with a 4.20 ERA, a 7.0 K/9, a 2.2 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 10 starts and 45 IP. De La Cruz is just 6’0″, 139, but looking at the stats, he was able to keep the ball down really well, posting a 56.2% groundball rate per Minor League Central, and miss a good amount of bats as well. (Note that every mention of groundball rate, flyball rate, line drive rate, swinging strikeout rate, etc. is courtesy of Minor League Central.) De La Cruz missed a fair amount of bats, but the interesting thing was that he struck out an above-average amount of batters swinging and a well below average amount looking. De La Cruz’s 2.2 BB/9 seems to have a lot more to do with his command than his control as he kept the ball down and was able to utilize some breaking pitch (my guess is a slider) to get a fair amount of strikeouts. (If you asked me to guess De La Cruz’s arsenal, I would guess a low-90’s sinker, a solid slider that has its moments, and a changeup that he’s just starting to throw, although the Rays usually prefer fastball-curveball to sinker-slider.) De La Cruz’s his ability to keep the ball down and force groundballs makes him a player to watch as we learn more about him.
Jorge Rodriguez, 20, was signed out of the Dominican by the Rays in 2010 and pitched well in his US debut with the GCL Rays in 2012. Rodriguez went 2-3 with a 3.54 ERA, a 4.8 K/9, a 1.3 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 8 starts, 3 relief appearances, and 48.1 IP. Rodriguez was also promoted to the Rays’ more advanced Rookie squad, the Princeton Rays, to start their season finale, and he tossed 4.1 innings allowing 2 runs, striking out 3 while walking 1 and surrendering his first homer of the season. Rodriguez is another small pitcher at just 5’11”, 187, but other than that he’s almost a polar opposite pitcher to Cruz. He’s a right-hander, and the big difference is that he’s an extreme flyball guy, posting just a 37.3% groundball rate. He actually got hit pretty hard, allowing a 21.2% line drive rate. Rodriguez didn’t strike out anybody swinging, striking out batters swinging at a rate barely half the league average. Rodriguez sounds like a pitcher with great control but otherwise unimpressive stuff (my guess would be a high-80’s fastball, a decent changeup, and a fringy curveball). It’s interesting that he has good control at a pretty young age, but Rodriguez doesn’t look like much of a prospect based on what we know.
Luis Cabrera, who turned 22 on August 14th, is old for the level but is an interesting story. Cabrera signed with the Rangers out of Venezuela way back in 2007 as an outfielder, but after struggling for two seasons, the Rangers tried him as a pitcher in 2010 and released him after one disastrous outing. Cabrera caught on with the Rays as a pitcher and has improved every season. Cabrera, who actually features pretty good size at 6’2″, 185, had a nice season for the GCL Rays in 2012, going 3-3 with a 3.30 ERA, a 5.8 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 7 starts, 4 relief appearances, and 46.1 IP. His groundball rate was decent 41.6%, although he didn’t strike out very many batters swinging. Cabrera doesn’t look like anything too special right now, but his good control right out of the gate is a good sign, and we’ll have to see whether his stuff will continue to improve as he pitches more often.
Finally a pitcher with a scouting report! Jordan Harrison, 21, was the Rays’ 25th round pick in 2012 and had himself a great pro debut with the GCL Rays in 2012, going 1-2 with a 1.52 ERA, an 8.8 K/9, a 1.8 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 5 starts, 5 relief appearances, and 29.2 IP. He has since been promoted to the Short Season-A Hudson Valley Renegades, where he has a 5.14 ERA in 3 appearances spanning 7 innings, striking out 5 while walking 3. Harrison, 6’1″ and 180 pounds, shows decent stuff, throwing a fastball around 90 MPH, a solid curveball that occasionally flashes plus, and a developing changeup. College pitchers are supposed to dominate the GCL. The Rays challenged Harrison to do just that and he passed the test, with his curveball being especially effective. Harrison looks like a lefty reliever moving forward, although improvement to his changeup would be a huge help to him.
Matthew Ramsey, who turns 23 in September, might be the most interesting pitcher on this team. Ramsey, the Rays’ 19th round pick in 2011, didn’t make his pro debut until 2012 following Tommy John Surgery, but he started off on a good note, going 2-1 with a 1.98 ERA, a 5.9 K/9, a 1.3 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 5 starts, 6 relief appearances, and 13.2 IP. Ramsey is still working his way back but is a very interesting relief prospect. Pre-surgery, Ramsey threw in the mid-90’s with his fastball with dynamic late life and also threw a curveball that flashes plus to go along with a fringy slider. If Ramsey could get that type of stuff back, he could move quickly through the minors as a middle reliever, maybe even a setup man. Ramsey got his rehab off to a good start in the GCL this season, and hopefully he can head to full-season ball in 2013 and get back on the fast-track to the big leagues.
Lefty Oscar Armenta, just 18, joins De La Cruz as the two GCL Rays pitchers we wish we knew more about. Armenta, another little lefty at 5’11”, 170 who was signed by the Rays out of Mexico back in 2010, was dominant in 4 starts and a relief appearance for the GCL Rays, going 0-1 with a perfect 0.00 ERA, an 8.9 K/9, a 0.8 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 21.1 IP. Looking at the stats, Armenta’s groundball rate was only 36.4%, but he forced swings-and-misses at a great rate while showing outstanding control as well. Not much is known about his stuff (he’s definitely fastball-curveball, but that’s all I know), but we’ll have to hear more about Armenta and see how he does at higher levels.
Carlos Cedeno, who turned 22 in mid-July, finally made it to the US after 3 seasons in the Dominican Summer League and made count. Cedeno, signed by the Rays out of the Dominican Republic back in 2008, went 0-2 with a 3.82 ERA, a 7.6 K/9, a 2.5 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 (finally a homer allowed!) in 4 starts, 8 relief appearances, and 33 IP. Cedeno also posted a nice 50.0% groundball rate. Cedeno, who is 6’2″, 180, posted a swinging strikeout rate above average while managing very few strikeouts looking. (It sounds like he throws a relatively unimpressive sinker around 90 MPH but a good slider.) We’ll have to see whether this is just a case of an older pitcher beating up on younger competition or whether Cedeno has really made a breakthrough.
The pitcher with the highest upside on this team could be right-hander Nolan Gannon, 18, who was the Rays’ 4th round pick in 2012. Gannon, an extremely projectable 6’5″, 195, had a nice pro debut with the GCL Rays, going 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA, a 9.7 K/9, a 4.3 BB/9 and a 0.7 HR/9 in 4 starts, 7 relief appearances, and 27 IP. His groundball rate was just 35.7%. Gannon is a long way from being the excellent pitcher the Rays know he has a chance to be, but it was great to see him strike out over a batter per inning in his pro debut, with a good distribution of strikeouts swinging versus looking. Gannon currently throws in the low-90’s with a fastball that features natural late sink. That late action makes Gannon’s fastball an effective swing-and-miss pitch even though its velocity could be several MPH away from where it could be when Gannon fills out his frame, although it also makes it harder for Gannon to control and command it. Gannon’s two secondary pitches are a curveball and a changeup, with a curveball being an interesting pitch while his changeup is in its infancy stages. Gannon’s overhand curveball is enigmatic in that at its best it’s a dynamic 12-to-6 curve but at other times it gets extremely slurvy. Gannon’s curveball got mostly got reviews over the course of his pro debut, showing the good break although he struggled to control it. Gannon’s talent was evident in his pro debut, and the Rays hope that as he continues to develop he blossoms into one of their best pitching prospects.
And we’ll close out this installment with lefty Stepan Havlicek, 19. Havlicek, who is 6’1″, 160, was the Rays’ first ever signing out of Europe, signing as a 16 year old out of the Czech Republic in January of 2010. In his third go-around with the GCL Rays (although he pitched just 19 innings from 2010-2011), Havlicek finally put it together, going 3-2 with a 2.25 ERA, a 7.0 K/9, a 2.0 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 in 3 starts, 8 relief appearances, and 36 IP. The bad news was that his groundball rate was a staggeringly low 27.4%. Still, 2012 was a big step forward for Havlicek. He more than doubled his swinging strikeout rate from 2011 to 2012. Havlicek throws a fastball around 90 MPH with good run but little sink and his best pitch could his big-breaking 1-to-7 curveball. Havlicek still has a ton of work to do moving forward, but he has the ability to be more than just a token signing.
We’ll stop here for today. We’re about halfway through the GCL Rays pitchers that we’re going to cover, but it’s pretty clear what’s going on here: there’s a ton of upside among these pitchers but the risk with almost everybody is about sky-high. The funny thing is to compare the GCL Rays’ hitters (see Part 1 and Part 2) and realize that while everybody is very raw, the hitters did terribly while the pitchers pitched very well. The GCL Rays did have an awful offense, but the Gulf Coast League is a very pitcher-friendly league so looking at the stats is certainly not the ideal (but we have to do it when we don’t know anything else).