With the bullpen struggling recently, the Rays have made two moves to help shore up the 'pen, trading for Jesse Crain and picking Wesley Wright off of waivers. Coming into the year, it seemed as though the Rays would have both a strong bullpen and an abundance of depth in Triple-A, ruling out the need to acquire multiple relievers during the year. But bullpens are volatile, and this year was no exception for the Rays. Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, and Fernando Rodney have all struggled to some degree, Brandon Gomes has been hurt, and depth options such as Josh Lueke and Frank De Los Santos have not panned out. All of this brings us to Dane De La Rosa.
In a rather quiet move, the Rays signed Dane De La Rosa out of the independent leagues for the 2010 season. Originally a Yankee's signee in the 24th round of the 2002 draft, De La Rosa saw his release from their organization in 2005 following a poor season. After taking a year off, he took to the independent leagues, reinventing himself as a pitcher. Though the results were never there besides for the strikeouts, the Rays saw enough potential in his arm to give him a chance.
In his first season in the Rays organization, Dane De La Rosa advanced quickly, needing only 3.0 innings in Port Charlotte to convince the staff to promote him. Overall, in Advanced Class-A and Double-A, he pitched 76.0 innings with a 2.01 ERA and a 80/26 K/BB rate. Off-season reports were very positive, noting a mid-90s fastball and a good breaking ball. At the time, he was viewed as a guy that could help the Rays bullpen sometime in 2011.
Starting the year in Triple-A, De La Rosa pitched 70.1 quality innings with a 3.20 ERA and a 83/26 K/BB rate. Due to his combination of good peripherals and quality stuff, he earned a late season promotion to the Rays. While he generated some ground balls and continued to post strong peripherals in the majors that led to a 3.84 FIP and a 2.76 xFIP, his ERA was a much uglier 9.82.
The 2012 season was spent between both Triple-A and the major leagues. While he continued to perform well in Triple-A (though his walk rate jumped), he once again struggled in his short major league stint. At the end of the year, it began to look like Dane De La Rosa's chance to claim a regular spot in the bullpen had passed by.
In the spring of 2013, the Los Angeles Angels claimed Dane De La Rosa off of waivers; in return, the Rays received Triple-A reliever Steve Geltz. The move wasn't entirely surprising; the Rays needed to clear up space of the 40 man roster, and since his chance with the Rays seemed over, De La Rosa was the easy choice. The move also allowed the Rays to make the Luke Scott signing official.
So far this year, Dane De La Rosa has done his best to ensure the Rays that the move was a mistake. In 53.0 innings with the Angels, he has a 3.74 ERA. His FIP and his xFIP are 3.02 and 3.35 respectively. As he did in the minor leagues, he is striking out a healthy amount of batters (7.98 per 9), walking an average amount (3.06 per 9), and generating ground balls at a solid rate (52.0%). And for once, his ERA has aligned more closely (though there is still room for regression) with his defense-independent stats, something that didn't happen in his short 12.1 innings with the Rays. His fastball has averaged 95.05 mph (per Brooks Baseball) while he also mixes in a curveball, change-up, and slider. His fastball is by far his most effective pitch, though both his change-up and curveball are more than usable. Though he may not be an elite reliever, the 2013 Dane De La Rosa has been a very good middle reliever for the Angels.
The question is this: did the Rays make a mistake in letting Dane De La Rosa go so easily? On one hand, you could say the Rays had no choice as they were short on 40 man roster spots. On the other hand, one could argue that the Rays soured too quickly on a guy with good stuff and a mildly impressive track record in their organization in the minor leagues. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Though the Rays needed 40 man roster spots, they chose to hold onto a guy like Frank De Los Santos (remember, DDLR>FDLS), a left handed reliever, in a move I never really understood (his profile doesn't really fit that of an effective reliever). For what its worth, Frank De Los Santos is having a miserable year. However, when the Rays did give De La Rosa a chance, short as it was, he never ran away with it.
It seems like every year there is a new reliever prospect that catches the eyes of the fans. This year, the man has been Kirby Yates. Before that, it was Matt Bush and Frank De Los Santos. And before that, it was Dane De La Rosa. Perhaps the story of De La Rosa gives the Rays reasons to consider giving these relief prospects an extended shot in the major leagues. Kirby Yates may turn out to be more like Winston Abreu than Dane De La Rosa (or even Dale Thayer). However, there is an argument to be made for preserving one spot in the bullpen for an arm within the organization who has made his rounds in the minor leagues and deserves a shot in the majors. Dane De La Rosa certainly fits that argument.