Much has been made of the Tampa Bay Rays’ recent struggles in the MLB Draft. I am not here to dispute that, at least not at 8:30 PM on this Monday night. All I want to do right now is talk about a player that keeps being forgotten.
Roger Mooney’s recent piece for the Tampa Tribune included the following quote:
"Silverman called the farm system an “important pipeline” for the Rays’ success, yet that pipeline has produced just one major league player since the 2009 draft: outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who was drafted in the 31st round in 2010."
If you read the title to this article, you can predict what I’m about to say. Kiermaier is not the only Tampa Bay Rays draft pick since 2009 to make the major leagues–C.J. Riefenhauser has seen time for the Rays as well.
Maybe Mooney didn’t actually make a mistake. Maybe by “major league player,” he meant that Kiermaier was the only draft pick from 2009 or later set to begin the 2015 season on the Rays’ major league roster. Riefenhauser, meanwhile, will likely start the year back at Triple-A Durham.
This isn’t the first time this has happened–Bill Madden notably forgot both Kiermaier and Riefenhauser. For the most part, though, Kiermaier is starting to become known throughout baseball. His glove is incredible, and he showed flashes of hitting enough to be a starting outfielder for the Rays.
C.J. Riefenhauser is less exciting. He is a lefty reliever, and one coming off a poor season at that. He finished his seven big league appearances with just an 8.44 ERA. His Durham time was markedly better as his ERA was 1.40 in 57.2 innings pitched, but his 53-25 strikeout to walk ratio was quite ordinary.
Riefenhauser was thrown off by an oblique injury and passed in the lefty reliever pecking order by Jeff Beliveau. Beliveau pitched well enough that he is a virtual lock to make the Rays’ Opening Day roster while Riefenhauser is a long-shot at best. Yet while relievers with injuries and inconsistency are never highly regarded, Riefenhauser still has a chance to make an impact for this team.
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The first thing and last thing to know about C.J. Riefenhauser is his slider. It is Chris Archer-esque thanks to the variety of ways Riefenhauser can use it. He excels at adding and subtracting velocity from the offering and utilizing it both for called strikes early in the count and swings-and-misses to end at-bats. It is the type of pitch that can beat batters from both sides and gives Riefenhauser a chance to be not just a lefty reliever but a high-leverage one.
Let’s remember that C.J. Riefenhauser has made the big leagues for the Rays from the 2010 MLB Draft and has a chance to be a “major league player” by any definition before long. Especially given the Rays’ struggles in the draft, that should count for a lot.