RCG Discussion: Why Don’t the Rays Do a Better Job Developing Relievers?


One of my favorite parts about this site has been the opportunity to interact with great commenters who really know what they’re talking about. Usually I like to take an excellent comment and turn it into its own article, but the discussion commenter David Egbert and I had the other day just deserves to be reprinted here in its entirety with minor edits.

For the future, you can feel free to email us at rayscoloredglasses@gmail.com with any questions related to the Rays or baseball in general. More importantly, though, we all really appreciate your comments on every piece, and when you have something to say, don’t hesitate to contribute to the conversation however big or small. Here’s what David Egbert and I talked about here, and please note that I’ve never met David before- this type of discussion can just happen naturally when you have people passionate about baseball wanting to talk about the issues that are meaningful to them. This is the second straight time that we’re doing this feature based on a discussion between David and I, but this is something that can happen between anyone at the site and we’re looking forward to seeing what else our conversations can lead to.

David Egbert: The Rays do an amazingly good job of developing staring pitching at the minor league level. However, they do a very poor job of developing relief pitching. Name the last relief pitcher that was developed in the Rays system. Had they spotted Jake McGee as a relief pitcher in the minors and honed either his slider or change or both, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Robbie Knopf: Interesting claim that could be worth looking into in a future post. I guess my one second rebuttal is that 1) McGee was a special case because his fastball was just so good, and 2) most relievers are failed starters and the Rays have just been so good developing starters that the electric arms that in other organizations might have gone to relief have stayed in the rotation.

DE: McGee threw 654 innings in the minors and less than 50 in relief. All in his last year at Durham and he was dominant in those 50 innings. They clearly got tired of waiting for him to develop an off speed pitch and decided to make the most of him as a flame throwing middle reliever hoping that he might develop a second pitch at the major league level. At this point, he clearly doesn’t have one that he is confident in throwing.

Jake seems to have a twin brother in Alex Torres. He seems to have righted himself but he has clearly fallen way down on the Rays long list of talented minor league starters. However, after over 650 innings as a starter, they roll him out their every 5th day rather than turning him into, hopefully, a quality reliever. Doesn’t make sense to me. Even with 650 plus minor league innings under his belt, he doesn’t seem to have much of a chance of making the Rays rotation. Are the Rays better served this year by letting him hang around as Durham’s 4th starter and the Rays 3rd or 4th choice as emergency call up or are they better served molding him into a high end relief specialist while still in the minors? I vote for the latter.

RK: You don’t need to mold Torres. He has shown the ability to go from starting to relieving without a problem so far (he excelled in a relief role in September of 2011 after starting all season) so you might as well keep his trade value and versatility at the maximum while a spot in the major leagues remains elusive for him. If Cesar Ramos (and/or McGee) keeps struggling, the Rays will call him up and convert him then. It’s not like Torres is about to be the Rays’ closer–he’ll probably begin as a long relief/low-leverage lefty kind of pitcher and then work his way up in the majors.

DE: I respectfully disagree. However, we still have not addressed the issue of why the Rays don’t seem to have a track for relievers in the minor leagues. They sure have a great model for starters. I know Andrew Friedman does great job of finding gems in the garbage pile but it just seems that they throw roster fillers into the bullpen in the minors. It seems to not match up with “the Rays Way”.

RK: Who are the Rays’ relief prospects? Zach Quate and Lenny Linsky are two of them, but shoulder injuries have set them back at this point. Maybe Jeff Ames and Parker Markel are two more, but you give him a chance to start for as long as possible. Why are there so few of them? Because of the Rays’ approach in the draft, going for high-upside high school players. The Rays have no problem signing relievers on the market so instead that would rather go for players with the potential of being a starter than drafting more conservative and selecting college players with the ability to move into relief. With that in mind, players are much more likely to flame out if they fail as opposed to ending up in the bullpen, with most of them being only being converted into relief when there’s no other option and most of them just continuing to fall apart. The Rays don’t need relief prospects so they don’t have them. Maybe that will change, but the Rays would rather have as many players available to start and decide roles as team need dictates them to do so.

DE: I would add Nick Sawyer and maybe Adam Liberatore to that very short list. You are obviously right about the Ray’s current thinking. I would just seem that with a guy like Parker Markel where you would reach a point at high A or AA where you say this guys got talent but not enough to make our rotation and switch his track. Thanks for another good discussion, Robbie. You are closer to the scene that I am and I appreciate your insight.

RK: You’re definitely right about Sawyer (although he’s a major outlier as a 40th round pick who burst onto the scene), and Liberatore could be a LOOGY. Great discussion once again.