As Scott outlined in his two recaps of right handed relievers, relief prospects are the least impactful prospects, and many of the best relievers in baseball were starters in the minor leagues. Many teams employ a LOOGY, a left handed reliever specializing in getting left handed hitters out (normally with a strange delivery and deception), which provides hope for some of the middling prospects who excel against left handed hitters.
26. Alex Torres (25 Y.O. in Triple-A and MLB)
94.1 IP, 2.38 ERA, 2.48 FIP, 30.23 K%, 9.98 BB%, 45.63 GB%.
After a disastrous 2012 campaign in which Torres was moved to relief early in the season, couldn't find the strike zone in either role, and ended up with the GCL Rays, no one knew exactly what to expect from Torres this year. The Rays optioned him to the minor leagues out of spring training, and he returned to form in Durham's rotation, showing improved command and control with a very high strikeout rate. When the Rays needed some innings out of the bullpen, they gave Torres the call, and he responded better than anyone could have expected. The rest of the story is well remembered; he started off as the long reliever, worked his way to the later innings, and helped provide some of the most important and quality innings out of the bullpen.
The Rays sent Alex Torres to winter leagues, where he is working as a starter, so it is not clear if the Rays are entirely sure where his future is. Next year is an important year in the sense of reassuring the organization that his command problems are behind him. Torres will most likely never be a control artist and is probably in for some regression next year, but with his electric stuff, he profiles either as a late inning reliever or a 3/4 starter (though his small stature reduces the probability of long term success in the rotation).
Oscar Armenta (19 Y.O. in Rookie League)
35.2 IP, 5.80 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 16.7 K%, 4.9 BB%, 40.8 GB%.
Coming off of a phenomenal season with the GCL Rays in 2012 as an 18 year old (0.00 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 0.8 BB/9 in 21.1 innings), Armenta was a sleeper prospect in the system. Unfortunately, he was unable to build upon his 2012 success as his ERA jumped significantly and his strikeout rate dipped. A Mexican native, Armenta still has time on his side, though his reported height of 5'11 will lead to questions about his projectability. He pitched completely in relief this year, though he frequently pitched multiple innings and started in 2013, so this could just be a tactic to slowly build up his innings. I could not find any scouting reports on Armenta, so any evaluation is strictly statistically based.
Jeff Beliveau (26 Y.O. in Double-A, Triple-A, and MLB)
48.2 IP, 2.40 ERA, 1.49 FIP, 38.0 K%, 10.8 BB%, 36.1 GB%.
After a few stints in the big leagues during the 2013 season, Beliveau finally made his major league debut in September for the Rays, recording two outs without surrendering a run. He enjoyed a fine season in the minor leagues, striking out a very high rate of batters and not allowing many runs. His stuff is very fringy, the walk rate is high, and he projects as a loogy at the major league level if he can ever break through.
Kevin Brandt (23 Y.O. in Short Season Class-A, Class-A, and Advanced Class-A)
83.1 IP, 2.38 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 21.6 K%, 6.1 BB%, 45.3 GB%.
An 18th round pick in the 2012 draft, Kevin Brandt split time as a starter and reliever across three levels this past season. Just like last season, Brandt showed the ability to miss bats and limit walks. His stuff is average, so his future is either in the back of the rotation (unlikely) or in relief. But first, he will need to show he can get hitters out in the upper minors, a task many pitchers with similar profiles have failed to accomplish.
Jose Castillo (17 Y.O. in Rookie League)
30.2 IP, 5.87 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 19.1 K%, 6.1 BB%, 50.5 GB%.
Out of all the players on this list, none can match the upside of Jose Castillo. Part of the Rays "big three" international signings in the summer of 2012 (along with top prospects Jose Mujica and David Rodriguez), Castillo first played professional ball this summer in an aggressive state-side assignment alongside Jose Mujica. Though Castillo is on the reliever section, that is definitely not his future role if his development goes along as planned; Mujica and Castillo would pitch in the same games, each going 2-3 innings and piggybacking off of other pitchers in a pitch-conserving strategy.
Though Mujica has generated more press and attention to this date (most likely because Baseball America prefers him, ranking him as the top international pitcher of their class and Castillo #2), Castillo actually signed for a higher bonus and some in the industry think he is the better prospect. Looking at ERA for a 17 year old pitcher in the small sample size in the GCL (where defense is very poor) will not relay much about the pitcher's ability, so his 5.87 ERA should not be a concern. On a more positive note, he had a very solid K/BB rate and allowed only one home run. Castillo rated 19th on Baseball America's stacked top 20 GCL prospects list, noting that his fastball velocity continues to trend up (up to 95 mph) and that he shows the signs of a quality breaking ball and change-up. Many believe that with the projection on his 6'4 frame, Castillo could eventually end up sitting in the mid-90s and touching the upper-90s. It should be fun watching him and Mujica progress through the minor leagues and hopefully capitalize on their potential.
Shay Crawford (25 Y.O. in Class-A and Advanced Class-A)
58.1 IP, 1.23 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 20.8 K%, 12.7 BB%, 41.9 GB%.
Drafted in round #41 of the 2011 draft, just staying in the organization for a few years is a noteworthy accomplishment for Shay Crawford. In three seasons, he has progressed all the way to Port Charlotte, where he pitched the majority of his season at. Crawford works with a fastball hovering around 90 mph, a slider, and a change-up. The shiny 1.23 ERA isn't matched by his peripherals, so he will need to improve in that department next year if he wants to have a shot at making the major leagues.
Geisel De La Cruz (20 Y.O. in Rookie League)
22.2 IP, 4.76 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 17.3 K%, 11.5 BB%, 39.2 GB%.
After a positive start to his stateside professional career as a 19 year old in the Gulf Coast League in 2012, Geisel De La Cruz run into a bump in the road in 2013. Only three appearances into the season with Princeton allowing eight earned runs in five innings, he was demoted to the GCL Rays. There, he pitched significantly better, sporting a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 innings. The issue is the lack of innings under his belt; though most of his appearances extended beyond an inning (seemingly indicating the Rays may view him as a starter down the road), his playing time was rather sporadic, possibly a sign of fighting an injury (or trying to prevent one). Listed at 6'0 and weighing only 139 lbs., De La Cruz has room to add weight. Scouting reports, as often is the case in these scenarios, are nonexistent publicly.
Darren Fischer (20 Y.O. in Rookie League)
18.2 IP, 5.30 ERA, 5.61 FIP, 22.4 K%, 9.2 BB%, 48.0 GB%.
After selecting Fischer in the 16th round of this past year's draft, the Rays sent him to the Appalachian League, where he struggled in his debut. A product of Central Florida Community College, Fischer is an athletic pitcher with a fastball up to 91-92 mph.
Eric Fredrick (23 Y.O. in Rookie League)
28.0 IP, 1.93 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 20.5 K%, 10.6 BB%, 48.3 GB%.
Eric Frederick pitched well in his professional debut, posting a 1.93 ERA with three saves for the GCL Rays. However, as a 23 year old in the GCL, he was far older than much of his competition and is not a prospect as an undrafted free agent.
Stepan Havlicek (20 Y.O. in Rookie Ball)
27.2 IP, 5.86 ERA, 6.45 FIP, 11.4 K%, 7.3 BB%, 32.0 GB%.
A few years ago, Stepan Havlicek made headlines as an international signing from Czech Republic, the first European signing by the Rays. However, his four seasons in professional ball so far have been unremarkable, and the few reports on his stuff indicate that he only throws in the 80s.
Brandon Henderson (21 Y.O. in Class-A)
37.0 IP, 3.16 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 19.4 K%, 5.2 BB%, 44.0 GB%.
A 15th round pick in the 2010 draft, Henderson has been used primarily as a reliever through his four seasons. As a 21 year old in the Midwest League, he posted a strong K/BB rate and a low ERA. Henderson made his last appearance on May 29th, so he most likely suffered some type of injury.
Braulio Lara (24 Y.O. in Double-A and Triple-A)
75.0 IP, 4.20 ERA, 4.55 FIP, 16.9 K%, 13.3 BB%, 42.6 GB%.
When reports surfaced a couple years ago that Lara featured a mid-90s fastball with a potentially plus breaking ball, there was optimism that he could develop into another prized hard throwing starting pitcher for the Rays. However, Lara failed to develop as a pitcher, and after being selected by the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft and then returned, he made the anticipated transition to relief with the Rays. While some hoped his plus fastball and good (though inconsistent) breaking ball would allow him to excel in relief, Lara struggled mightily this year. His poor command and pitchability both hinder his ability to make use of his quality pitches. The Rays will be patient with him and see if he can't work things out as a reliever, but for now, Lara is more of a raw arm than a top prospect.
Adam Liberatore (26 Y.O. in Double-A and Triple-A)
62.1 IP, 3.47 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 27.5 K%, 9.5 BB%, 40.9 GB%.
Though he first entered pro ball as a 23 year old drafted in the 21st round of the 2010 draft, Liberatore shot through the minor leagues and spent his second season in Durham this year. With a low arm slot, Liberatore poses problems to left handed hitters, as his .556 career OPS against them attests to (compared to a .691 OPS versus RHH). Liberatore won't overwhelm hitters with his stuff, but he has a shot of eventually making the major leagues in a LOOGY role.
Jose Molina (22 Y.O. in Class-A)
84.0 IP, 4.07 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 23.6 K%, 7.9 BB%, 57.3 GB%.
Let me get this out of the way: Yes, the Rays do have another Jose Molina in their organization. Aside from sharing the same name, the two have little else in common. The pitcher Molina, after a strong season with Hudson Valley in 2012, posted very strong peripherals with Bowling Green, though his ERA lagged behind. Bullpen Banter had the following notes on him at the NYPL All-Star Game from 2012:
Jake Partridge (22 Y.O. in Advanced Class-A)
93.2 IP, 3.75 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 20.4 K%, 14.0 BB%, 39.6 GB%.
A highschool draftee from the 2009 draft, Partridge has moved very slowly through the minor leagues, spending most of his time in relief since the 2011 season. After a very strong 2012, he regressed this year, posting a very mediocre strikeout to walk rate. Through his career, Partridge shows a fairly decent split, though not as extreme as several others on this list.
Jim Patterson (24 Y.O. in Advanced Class-A and Double-A)
47.0 IP, 4.21 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 17.9 K%, 4.6 BB%, 43.3 GB%.
Another late round pick who found success in the low minors when converting to relief, Patterson fits the mold of the prototypical left handed minor league reliever. He is death on lefties (.518 OPS), while much less effective against righties (.699 OPS). His fringe stuff likely limits his upside to a situational lefty.
C.J. Riefenhauser (23 Y.O. in Double-A and Triple-A)
73.2 IP, 1.22 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 25.1 K%, 6.6 BB%, 41.3 GB%.
With their top picks failing to produce many results over the past several drafts, the Rays need their late round picks to step up. So far, Riefenhauser has done just that, going from a fringe prospect to the Rays best true relief prospect. After a 2012 that was split between the rotation and the bullpen, Riefenhauser moved fully to relief work in 2013, and he excelled in his new full-time role. While his stuff was average as a starter, it plays up in relief, and he should be able to become more than just a left handed specialist. In a Rays-specific chat from last Wednesday, Bill Ballew of Baseball America said the following of Riefenhauser:
Dan (Miami FL): While it's hard for RP's to rank high, did C.J. Riefenhauser get any glowing reviews?
Bill Ballew: Without a doubt he did. He even got a few pushes for the top 10 from yours truly. He has a chance to contribute as soon as 2014, particularly with the way he shuts down left-handed hitters. He has a plus fastball and slider with above-average movement, and he is not afraid to challenge hitters. He also has made strides with his changeup that shows good fade and depth. Riefenhauser works down in the strike zone and repeats his simple mechanics well, and the Rays rave about his work ethic and competitiveness. I expect him to receive a long look in spring training.
Neil Schenk (27 Y.O. in Double-A)
39.2 IP, 7.03 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 14.1 K%, 10.3 BB%, 41.0 GB%.
For the last three seasons, Schenk, a 23rd round 2008 draft pick, has pitched for the Montgomery Biscuits, and his lack of improvement this year could signal the end of his career with the Rays. After a fairly encouraging 2012, Schenk regressed in most every category, especially his strikeout to walk rate and ERA.
Stone Speer (22 Y.O. in Rookie League and Class-A)
38.2 IP, 3.49 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 17.1 K%, 12.4 BB%, 43.2 GB%.
After selecting him in the 25th round in this year's draft, the Rays sent Speer to the Appalachian League. However, when Bowling Green needed a reliever, Speer joined their bullpen and performed reasonable well considering the tough assignment (not so much from an age perspective as from an experience perspective). His strikeout and walk rates could both use improvement.
Bruedlin Suero (23 Y.O. in Rookie League, Class-A, and Advanced Class-A)
31.0 IP, 4.06 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 20.7 K%, 3.6 BB%, 41.0 GB%.
For most of his career, Suero has pitched as a starter, but the Rays moved him primarily to relief in 2013. After starting with Port Charlotte, he suffered an undisclosed injury and missed a month. Following two recovery outings with the GCL Rays, he moved back to Port Charlotte. Late in the season, the Rays demoted him to Bowling Green, where he pitched three extended relief outings. From a statistical standpoint, it was a fine year for Suero if one looks beyond his mediocre ERA. However, the Rays willingness to move him down a level to fill a roster spot suggests they may view him more as an organizational arm.
Rick Teasley (22 Y.O. in Rookie League and Short Season Class-A)
41.1 IP, 2.61 ERA, 20.6 K%, 5.1 BB%.
A college senior out of the local St. Leo College, Rick Teasley pitched valuable, quality innings for the Hudson Valley squad, picking up two saves along the way. As a college senior late round pick, the odds of even making the major leagues are low, but it was a nice start on his part.
This concludes our prospects in review segment. I hope you enjoyed it and found it informative!