With just one year left under team control, Sean Rodriguez was not going to be a part of the Tampa Bay Rays’ future. That caused a trade to make sense, but it also made acquiring a valuable piece in return for him more difficult. After all, how much are teams really willing to give up for one season of a utility player?
Since getting a talented player close to the major leagues for Rodriguez was going to be impossible, the Rays decided to emphasize talent over big league-readiness and get a player with the ability to help them years down the line. Buddy Borden comes with more risk than other players the Rays could have received for Rodriguez, but the Rays believe that getting his electric arm for Rodriguez was quite the coup.
Marc Topkin reported that Borden would be the return for the Rays in the Sean Rodriguez deal. Borden, who was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 7th round pick in 2013, is a 6’3″, 210 right-hander out of UNLV who delivered a strong first full season in professional baseball. In 128 innings for the Pirates’ Low-A West Virginia affiliate, he went 7-9 with a 3.16 ERA, managing an 8.6 K/9, a 3.4 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9.
Borden was not particularly young for the South Atlantic League, actually ranking two-tenths of a year above the league-average age. Also, between the walks, 6 hit batsmen, and a low 33.9% groundball rate, Borden’s command wasn’t as good as we would hope for from an advanced college pitcher. Making up for his deficiencies, though, was his stuff.
Borden usually sits in the 90-93 MPH range with fastball, but he can touch as high as 96 MPH out of a smooth, repeatable delivery. Borden has the right body type to be a durable starting pitcher, and the Rays will hope to get him the breaking ball and changeup to get there.
Borden threw a curveball to right-handed batters in 2014 while rarely throwing a changeup at all, and his use of the curveball actually caused him to have a reverse split. As a righty pitcher, he did better against left-handed batters simply because he was attacking them with fastballs and Low-A hitters didn’t quite know how to hit them.
Borden’s curveball led to a few too many walks and a few too many home runs, but it also allows us to appreciate Borden’s fastball a little more. Borden’s location issues were mostly on his secondary pitches–he had enough velocity, movement, and command on his fastball to dominate Low-A hitters without a reliable second pitch.
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Now, as the Rays add Borden to their system, their goal will be to refine those last two pitches in Borden’s arsenal. We always talk about the Rays’ track record at helping young pitchers develop changeups, and that will certainly help Buddy Borden. They also are not too shabby at developing curveballs either, with the breaking pitches that James Shields and Alex Cobb developed coming to mind. Heading to the Rays organization might be exactly what Borden needed to find a put-away secondary pitch and break out as a prospect.
Borden will settle for being a reliever who hits the mid-90’s consistently if his secondary pitches don’t develop enough. The Rays seemed likely to get a relief prospect instead of a starting pitching one in return for Rodriguez, and maybe that is where Borden’s future will lie. However, don’t put it past the Rays to improve his arsenal to the point where he can be an effective big league starting pitcher.
While Borden isn’t particularly young, more important than his age is the fact that he won’t need to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2016 season. Given the Rays’ starting depth, they will have the opportunity to let him take his time to develop and become the best pitcher he can possibly be. The Rays’ hope is that in a few years, Buddy Borden will have a strong rookie season in the big leagues and everyone will be asking the same question: “Was this really the guy the Rays received in exchange for one year of Sean Rodriguez?”