Will the Rays Finally Stock Their Bullpen With Prospects?

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 29: Rays pitcher Ryne Stanek (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 29: Rays pitcher Ryne Stanek (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /

The Rays bullpen is in flux as pitchers and catchers prepare for the start of spring training. Could this finally be the season that the Rays finally stock the bullpen with prospects instead of going into the trenches of the free agent market for replacements?

It’s three weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training and no issue is more up in the air than the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen. At the present time, only Alex Colome and Dan Jennings have a place in the Rays’ pen and that leaves five or six jobs up in the air.

In past years, the Rays have spent the off-season searching through baseball’s junk heap in hopes of finding another Fernando Rodney. So far this year that has not happened.

Instead, the team appears poised to give a number of internal candidates a shot at the job. These players include a group of top prospects and another group of pitchers that spent part of the 2017 season with the Rays in their bullpen. Let’s take a look at both groups and see who has the best chance of being with the team on opening day.

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The top two candidates are #23 prospect Ryne Stanek and #24 prospect Jaime Schultz. Stanek has a monster fastball and an serviceable slider. Command and control are his issues as was demonstrated in a 20 inning stint with the Rays last season.

Schultz has a high 90’s fastball and a power slider. He almost made the team out of spring training last year but was injured and missed most of the 2017 season.

Like Stanek, command and control are his issues. If they get their command in order, they both profile as late inning setup relievers with a chance to close.

The next group includes Chih-Wei Hu, Jose Alvarado and Austin Pruitt. Hu is a #22 prospect who moved to the bullpen last year. He has a variety of pitches and profiles as a middle reliever. He was up briefly with the Rays in 2017.

Alvarado was called up from AA Montgomery last year when the Rays were desperate for left handed relievers. He ended up with a 3.64 era in 29 innings. He has a big time fastball and a nasty curve and should win a job as the Rays second lefty in the bullpen.

Pruitt, another converted starter, had an up and down year in 2017. He’s a soft thrower and will need a strong spring to make the team.

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The last two bullpen candidates are Andrew Kittredge and Chaz Roe. Kittredge came to the Rays from Seattle in the Taylor Motter/Richie Shaffer deal and pitched well in a brief 15 inning stint last season. He could make the team if the Rays decide one of the prospects is not ready.

Roe is journeyman who has been up and down with five organizations over the last seven years. I doubt he’ll be on the forty man roster come April.

Also in the picture are three starters including Matt Andriese, Nathan Eovaldi and #21 prospect Yonny Chirinos. Andreise and Eovaldi are penciled into the Rays rotation but with so many talented young starters on the team, either one or both may be forced into the bullpen.

Chirinos is an interesting pitcher who features a fastball, a slider and a splitter and has excellent command. However, what really makes him interesting is that he is a ground-ball machine in the same mode as Steve Cishek. He’ll probably return to Durham to provide rotation depth but a conversion to the bullpen might happen.

I would add a veteran arm to this mix and Sergio Romo comes to mind. Like Tommy Hunter, he would probably sign an inexpensive one-year major league deal in the hopes of jump starting his career.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: 2017 Year in Review Part 2 Post All-Star

Maybe all of this is a pipe dream and we will still see a Rays’ bullpen filled with relievers from baseball’s scrape pile. However, I am hoping that the Rays’ desire to go young and cheap, will result in a bullpen filled with interesting prospects that might actually stick around for more than year.