The concept of talent waves is nothing new. We've talked about the Rays dedication to adding not just to the current roster but potentially adding to the roster four or five years from now. Years ago prospect lists illuminated names like Jake McGee and Wade Davis before they became part of mass conscious. Last year Nick Barnese and Matt Moore were highlighted as the new names to talk about amongst Rays pitching prospects. Prospecting involves a certain degree of shiny toy syndrome and 12 months later the hype has moved on to the next ones. It just so happens the receivers of said helium are products of the Rays international efforts.
Wilking Rodriguez is a 6'1" righty from Puerto Cabello, Venezuela who turns 21 in early March. Last season represented his first stateside and he pitched in 13 games for Princeton. A member of the organization since 2007, Rodriguez had thrown 59 innings in the Venezuelan Leagues, striking out 57 batters and walking 20. American Rookie Ball would hold expectations of a higher competition level and more struggles for arms like Rodriguez, yet he pitched unlike a novice. In 56 innings he struck out 52 and walked only 12.
He impressed enough to fetch a ranking of tenth from Kevin Goldstein. He throws a low-90s fastball that Goldstein notes routinely peaked over 95 MPH with fine control. With any pitcher this raw the concern is polish and secondary offerings and those resonate with Rodriguez. Nevertheless, the early returns are positive.
The real gem shares a bloodline with one of the more disappointing arms in Devil Rays history. Alexander Colome is the nephew of Jesus who stands at 6'2" and is age 21. Last season was his first stateside and he struck out more than one batter per nine in Princeton. This year he was promoted to Hudson Valley and did even better; fanning 94 in 76 innings while walking only six more batters than he had in 30 additional Princeton innings.
Baseball America ranked Colome as the seventh best Rays prospect while Goldstein pegged him as the fourth best. Colome is a synonym for upside and was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007. His frame allows for solid velocity - as high as 98 MPH - while he sits in the mid-90s and supposedly has a strong curve with strong bite. He also throws a change-up, the chief complaint being that he throws it too hard. Assumptions about potential include the words front-line starter.
It's too early to start writing these names in your 2012 Rays rotation though. Look no further than Alexander's uncle to see why these are no guarantees. BA once wrote this about Jesus:
Strengths: Colome is a dominating pitcher whose fastball has been clocked as high as 100 mph. When he's in a groove, that pitch can be unhittable. He also throws a hard slider that can be particularly difficult for righthanders to hit.
As well as this:
The Future: The Devil Rays see Colome moving rapidly. He should be a starter at Durham in 2001, though many scouts see him becoming a potential Mariano Rivera should he shift to the bullpen.
Comparisons to Rivera are (and should be) rare air, which gives you an idea of what at least one scout thought of 22-year-old Colome. Being excited is fine, being strapped to expectations of Alex Colome becoming the next Felix Hernandez are not. Temper your expectations and keep the flameouts in mind.
The other point here to make is how the international efforts are paying dividends at a frightfully brisk rate. Commitment to winning is only uttered when a team spends money on free agents. It is true that Major League payroll is the most apparent and aesthetically pleasing usage of cash, however having the wherewithal to keep the minor cabinets stacked with high-ceiling prospects is more vital than spending substantial cash in free agency.
Don't be shocked if 12 months from now the Rays have a new arm or two inflaming the imagination of prospectors. Or, if Colome and Rodriguez pitch so exceptionally to keep the buzz on them, that would be just fine too.