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Tampa Bay Rays Breaking News: Kevin Jepsen Traded To Twins

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We have kept hearing that a trade of Kevin Jepsen was the Tampa Bay Rays’ most likely move, and now it is finally happened. Jepsen, acquired by the Rays this offseason in exchange for Matt Joyce, has been dealt to the Minnesota Twins, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish added that the Rays were getting at least one minor league pitchers from the Twins before Marc Topkin confirmed that the Rays will be getting two arms and then told us who they were: right-handers Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia. Now that the crediting is done, let’s get to the analysis.

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Jepsen’s ERA in 46 appearances and 41.2 innings with the Rays was a shiny 2.81, but that really doesn’t tell the full story. His strikeout to walk ratio was just 1.70-to-1 as his 7.3 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, and 0.9 HR/9 were all his worst since 2011. His stuff remains promising–a mid-90’s fastball and a hard curveball–but his arsenal simply hasn’t been sharp often enough. His curve remains a good pitch, but he has never been great at throwing it for strikes and that especially became a problem as his fastball command withered. FIP, which estimates what a pitcher’s luck-neutral ERA should be based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs, pegs Jepsen as just a 4.13 ERA pitcher.

If the Rays don’t make any other trades, they will still have Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee as two strong late-inning arms. Beyond them, Steve Geltz and Xavier Cedeno have both been effective in middle relief, and former starter Alex Colome has also looked great recently. That leaves two openings–assuming Brandon Gomes‘ spot isn’t safe–but the Rays could move a starter to the bullpen when Drew Smyly returns and have a variety of Triple-A options to fill roles as well. Andrew Bellatti is the most promising name, and other notables include C.J. Riefenhauser, Kirby Yates, and Jose Dominguez. Yates will get the first chance to replace Jepsen.

Chih-Wei Hu is a 21-year-old right-hander who has put up good numbers at High-A this season and also threw a nice spot-start at Triple-A. In the A-ball time, he is 5-3 with a 2.44 ERA, striking out 73 while walking just 19 in 84.2 innings. He hasn’t done quite as well since returning from that emotional high at Triple-A Rochester, but a 3.44 ERA and 37-13 strikeout to walk ratio in a so-called slump are still quite good. Hu, originally signed out of Taiwan, stands out for a fastball reaching the mid-90’s, a solid changeup, and good control. The next step for him will be to improve his breaking ball and command within the strike zone.

Hu has a 6’1″, 209 frame, not exactly a typical starter’s build, and there are some whispers that he could end up in the bullpen, where his fastball could reach the high-90’s. On the other hand, his success in the minor leagues and ability to throw strikes are two points in his favor, and expect the Rays to continue developing him as a starting pitcher.

Alexis Tapia, meanwhile, is a 19 year old with a 33-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 33 innings at Advanced Rookie ball, although his 3.82 ERA, 1.4 HR/9, and 10.1 H/9 demonstrate that he isn’t exactly dominating his opponents yet. Tapia has some more projection than Hu at 6’2″, 195, but he fits a relatively similar profile. He is another guy with a promising changeup and an iffy breaking ball, and if he can add weight and velocity, he could keep starting at higher levels. He has touched as high as 94 MPH, but he can’t stay there consistently at this point.

The Tampa Bay Rays were fooling no one about Jepsen’s value–even for a year and two months of control for him, they couldn’t get a highly-regarded minor leaguer. However, Chih-Wei Hu is an interesting guy thanks to his velocity and changeup while Tapia will be another player to watch in the lower minors. We know how much the Rays like changeups, and they believe that they can develop both of these players well. This isn’t a flashy move to any extent, but getting a good prospect and a halfway-decent one in exchange for a questionable reliever is a solid transaction.

UPDATE: Baseball America adds to the scouting reports. Hu’s “changeup” is actually a palmball that acts as a changeup (that’s pretty interesting) and his breaking ball is a decent slider. Tapia, meanwhile, is still quite raw, but apparently scouts like his chances of adding velocity.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Rumors: Will Nate Karns Be Traded?

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