Out of all the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2011 draft picks, second rounder Lenny Linsky looked like the clear favorite to arrive first in the major leagues. Armed with a heavy sinker touching the mid-90’s and a sharp mid-80’s slider, Linsky was expected to overwhelm minor league hitters and see how good he could get in a big league bullpen. His pro debut did nothing to steer him off that track as he managed a 1.23 ERA, a 30-7 strikeout to walk ratio, and a 55.6% groundball rate in 29.1 innings pitched between Short Season-A Hudson Valley and Low-A Bowling Green. Little did we know that Linsky would never be that effective again.
A shoulder injury sidelined Lenny Linsky until June of 2012 and Tommy John Surgery ended his 2013 season. He missed all of 2014 after the surgery as well. When he was on the mound, his ERA was fine (3.08), but his command and the quality of his stuff had disappeared entirely as his strikeout to walk ratio was just 65-46 in 105 innings pitched. Instead of zooming through the minors, he never made it past High-A. And now, there is yet another obstacle in his way as he has been suspended 50 games for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. The Rays remember Linsky’s promise, but how many chances can they give him at this point? He simply is not the same pitcher, and his career is going nowhere because of that.
The Rays’ 2011 draft class is not hopeless. Taylor Guerrieri and Blake Snell are top prospects, and players like Mikie Mahtook, Grayson Garvin, and Jake Hager also have a chance to make a big league impact. However, the story of Lenny Linsky seems to be the overarching narrative regarding all the players the Rays selected that year. The promise was there, but in seemingly every case, something horrible went wrong. Guerrieri and Garvin needed Tommy John Surgery. Mahtook looked like a Quad-A player before finally having a breakout year. Tyler Goeddel has been inconsistent and Granden Goetzman never developed enough plate discipline. Plus we have all the relatively high draft picks that have already been released just three years later like Johnny Eierman (third round), Ricco Torrez (fourth), Jake Floethe (sixth), and Ryan Carpenter (seventh). It would not be surprising to see Linsky join them soon. Even Snell, who has been on the easiest path of everyone so far, has battled through severe control issues. Could the Rays’ haul from that draft be looking any worse right now?
The news regarding Lenny Linsky’s continued fall from grace–and truly for all of the struggling players from the 2011 Rays Draft–is the sheer number of talented players that remain in the system. Even it most of them fail, inevitably there will have to be at least a couple that live up to expectations and become pieces of the Rays’ future. Lenny Linsky does not make as much of a difference when you have Taylor Guerrieri, Blake Snell, and Grayson Garvin. Especially as the Rays’ bullpen falters, though, it is the players like Lenny Linsky that we have to ask ourselves about. Wasn’t Linsky supposed to have arrived by now and prevented the Rays’ relief corps from getting this bad? Our expectations have been lowered drastically–instead of waiting for a franchise-changing 2011 Rays draft class, we are simply hoping for a couple of good players that can prevent the class from faltering entirely.