Velocity is always going to be the first thing that teams look for in pitchers–you can teach secondary offerings, but it’s much more difficult to teach 95 MPH. Later in the draft, however, it is not as though all pitchers with fastballs in the 88-90 MPH range are the same. As teams scour the amateur ranks, they find players with exceptional command or a dominant offspeed pitch. You want to see one special thing–then, if you make everything else with the pitcher just passable, maybe that is enough for you to get a big league bullpen arm.
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Reign Letkeman was drafted in the 23rd round by the Tampa Bay Rays, and there isn’t much of an argument that he should have been a top-10 rounds pick. His fastball tops out at 89 or 90 MPH, and though it features run and sink at times, he too often misses with it up in the zone. His changeup is a solid third pitch that can keep hitters off-balance, but it isn’t anything special. However, Letkeman’s curveball is the offering that gives him a chance to go somewhere as a professional pitcher.
Letkeman’s curveball is mostly in the low-to-mid 70’s, and at his best, it looks like his fastball out of his hand before featuring late and big 11-to-5 break. It looks like a hittable pitch before suddenly dropping down and away against right-handed hitters and making them look foolish. The issue for Letkeman, though, is that he doesn’t always get on top of it well enough and fails to get good depth. The hanging breaking balls that were taken for called strikes against Letkeman at Big Bend Community College will end up in the seats as soon as A-ball.
Most of Letkeman’s issues stem from difficulties repeating his delivery. He is 6’3″, but he doesn’t always do a good job driving the ball into the bottom part of the zone. Luckily for him, he is also 20 years old and is listed at just 165 pounds. Adding weight will help him find a more consistent release point, especially given that he was athletic enough to be Big Bend’s starting shortstop in addition to pitching as a freshman. The Rays also have to hope that once he weighs 185 or 190 pounds, his fastball will hit the low-90’s more often.
Reign Letkeman also deserves credit for playing very well at Big Bend. As a freshman, he delivered a 2.61 ERA and a 50-10 strikeout to walk ratio in 51.2 innings, and he also hit .400 with limited power but 16 stolen bases and 19 walks against 11 strikeouts. Then, as a sophomore, he pitched to a 1.58 ERA and a 41-9 K-BB ratio in 34 frames, although he did miss time because of an injury of some kind, only hurting his draft stock a little bit more.
Letkeman isn’t a sure bet to sign–he is committed to Old Dominion for next season–but expect the Tampa Bay Rays to give him a few thousands of dollars and get a deal done. They like his curveball, and there is at least a chance that his fastball could turn into a fine pitch as well. Middle relievers can come from all points in the draft, and Letkeman gives the Rays a chance to get one down in the 23rd round.
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Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Justin Marsden (Rd 22) A Little Crazy But Also Dominant