Santa Clara University isn’t exactly the most well-known school. Yet the Tampa Bay Rays not only selected a pitcher from there, but also picked one from their bullpen. But no, it isn’t as though there is no real talent left to be had by the 238th overall pick, and it also isn’t true that the Rays have lost their minds. Reece Karalus overcame a lot to become an eighth round pick despite pitching in the Santa Clara bullpen. That is truly the more interesting storyline here.
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Karalus, a 6’3″, 235 right-hander, is coming off an excellent junior year at Santa Clara that saw him pitch to a 2.82 ERA, a 68-10 strikeout to walk ratio, and 9 saves in 5 starts, 21 relief appearances, and 60.2 innings pitched. He got there thanks to a polished arsenal which stands out most for his ability to throw strikes and keep the ball down. Karalus works in the low-90’s with his sinking fastball and pairs it with a solid high-70’s slider and a floater curveball in the low-70’s. That certainly isn’t a late-inning arsenal at the next level, but Karalus could fit in several other roles.
Given Karalus’ ability to throw strikes, it will be tempting for the Tampa Bay Rays to send him out as a starting pitcher. He needs to add a changeup, and it would be nice if he could throw that slider several miles per hour harder, but the sinker could be enough for him to get through the low minors while the other pitches come around. There is no guarantee that it works out, but Karalus doesn’t have much value in a relief role. Better to be patient and see if he can turn into a No. 4 starter than to move him quickly towards the minors as a Burke Badenhop type.
Karalus is a relatively safe pick as a reliever, and it’s generally a success when you get a middle reliever in the eighth round. If you get results after running him out as a starting pitcher, then you’ve basically hit the jackpot. Dylan Floro was another sinker/control guy who was drafted even later but has done nothing but pitch well on his way to Triple-A. Karalus will hope to exceed expectations in a similar way.
Even among their college pitchers in the draft, the Tampa Bay Rays have been getting a little bit of everything. Benton Moss is the high-upside guy who could start, Brandon Koch is the fireballing late-inning type of arm, and Reece Karalus is the hybrid, a prospective middle relief prospect who just might become a back-of-the-rotation starter. The Rays are expecting Karalus to be an impact guy in the big leagues in some fashion, and we will have to what fashion that is.
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