It took the Tampa Bay Rays much longer than expected to find their first starting pitcher of the 2015 MLB Draft. However, they found their guy and even in the sixth round, they are excited about him. Benton Moss, a 6’2″, 180 senior sign out of North Carolina, will do more than just save the Rays some money. He flashed excellent stuff earlier this spring and may just turn into a major surprise.
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In his fourth and final season for the Tar Heels, Moss went 7-1 with a 3.44 ERA, striking out 66 while walking just 17 in 68 innings pitched. At the beginning of the year, he suddenly touched 95 MPH to go along with a sharp curveball and a split-changeup with nice movement. Add in a solid fourth-pitch, a slider/cutter, and Moss looked to have a chance to be the first senior sign off the board in this draft. Then his fastball velocity went back down to the high-80’s and low-90’s, his secondary pitches got inconsistent, and he briefly went on the shelf with elbow tightness.
The Tampa Bay Rays saw Benton Moss’ potential. Now they will hope to bring it out more consistently. At his best, Moss has to remind you a little bit like Jake Odorizzi. They are athletic, have similar builds (Odorizzi is 6’2″, 190), and throw the exact same four pitches in their repertoires. Moss’ split-change trails far behind Odorizzi’s at this point, but at his best, he sells it well with his arm action and it has solid late bite. His curveball, meanwhile, is actually better than Odorizzi’s “show-me” first-pitch curveball, and he will hope to make it into a plus pitch.
We will see where Moss’ velocity ends up, but the assumption is that he will mostly be 88 to 92 MPH. He has some command issues with it–he certainly doesn’t locate it up in the zone like Odorizzi does–and if it will be a slower pitch, he better get a handle on where it is going in a hurry. On the other hand, he has a bigger margin for error than his fastball might indicate thanks to multiple promising secondary pitches, including the cutter, which he is able to throw for strikes and use to get groundballs.
There are a lot of moving parts with Benton Moss, including the fact that he is already 22 years old, but there is enough talent present for him to become a major league starting pitcher. If not, moving to the bullpen, where we may see 95 MPH readings more often, is a nice fallback. Moss is not a safe college starter, but the Tampa Bay Rays see a scenario where he finds his early 2015 form again and starts moving quickly through the minors. He is the type of starter that they love working with, and they look forward to seeing what he can become.
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