Is Ryne Stanek the Highest-Upside Pitching Prospect in the Rays’ System?
On May 8th, more than eleven months after he was drafted, Tampa Bay Rays pitching prospect Ryne Stanek finally made his professional debut. The wait was long, but the results were about as impressive as everyone expected. Stanek went 5 innings allowing just 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 6 while walking none. The Rays are looking forward to plenty more dominance as he continues to work his way towards the major leagues.
The circumstances in which the Rays drafted Ryne Stanek were quite interesting. He became the first college pitcher selected by the Rays in the first round proper of the MLB Draft since David Price in 2007 and just the second in the last eight years. When the Rays draft a college pitcher so early on, that player must have blown them away in some fashion. Stanek is not a Price-caliber talent, but it is easy to see why the Rays were captivated by him. He may be 22 years old compared to the 18 year olds the Rays are so great at developing, but he features an electric arsenal with room to improve. His fastball hits the mid-90’s, touching as high as 98 MPH, and that is only the start with him. He has shown flashes with two different breaking pitches, a blistering mid-80’s slider and a sharp 11-to-5 curveball, and it will be interesting to see which one the Rays choose to have him focus on. Finally, there is his changeup, which he did not need much of in college but has shown the ability to throw with solid arm speed and some sink. Stanek comes with his concerns, most notably command issues, his slider flattening out, and the hip problem from before the draft that eventually led to surgery. But if everything goes well, the Rays see a potential ace that fell to them at the end of the first round, and they can’t wait to see how he turns out.
Stanek is an interesting pitcher in a Rays organization that is not quite what it used it to be. Of course, though, it is never enough to say just that. Every prospect watcher faces the inclination to compare prospects to each other and make rankings. Where does Stanek’s potential fit in among the Rays’ other pitching prospects?
Part of the allure of a pitcher like Stanek is that he is just getting started. He is bristling with promise and has not had any time to start lowering expectations. That being said, it is difficult to find another pitcher the Rays have that can match the potential of his offerings. Nate Karns has excellent stuff, but he is already 26 years old and he is still working on his command and changeup. Enny Romero also features a mid-90’s fastball, but his pitches go all over the place and his secondary pitches are inconsistent. The first real competitor for Stanek is Taylor Guerrieri, but even he can’t stack up. Even before his Tommy John Surgery, his fastball was more low-90’s than mid-90’s and his curveball had potential but was not dominant like Stanek’s slider could be. Age is certainly a factor here–Romero is younger than Stanek and has already made the major leagues while Guerrieri is two years his junior–but none of these pitchers can match Stanek’s offerings. The teenagers like German Marquez and Jose Mujica could be another story, but they are early enough in their development that we still don’t know what their repertoires will turn into. As of right now, there is no pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays system with as overbearing of an arsenal as Ryne Stanek. The question now is going to be what he does with it.
Stanek begun his career at Low-A Bowling Green, but the plan is going to be to get him just a few starts there before bringing him up to High-A Charlotte. In the Rays’ dreams, he emulates Price’s pro debut and works his way to the big league bullpen by the stretch run, but they would be more than satisfied if Stanek simply makes his way to Double-A for their playoffs instead. Though his age means that he will have to move faster than the Rays’ usual top pitching prospects, they believe that he is advanced enough to accomplish that without a problem. Ryne Stanek’s combination of upside and polish are unlike anything the Rays system has possessed in years, and he will be the player to watch in the organization as the season progresses.