Just days before the start of the minor league season, the Rays have announced the signing of 30 year old right-handed pitcher Jason Neighborgalll to a minor league contract. The 6'5, 205 pound Durham, North Carolina native hasn't pitched since 2007.
"He's a guy we've liked in the past," said executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "He's going to come in and work with our coaching staff, and I'm anxious to see how it will transpire."
Neighborgall's career statistics indicate a lot of work is needed. In three seasons across three different minor league levels, he owned a walk rate of 41.2% in 42.1 innings. He also hit 13 batters and threw 59 wild pitches. His strikeout rate was just 15.5%.
Neighborgall was first drafted in 2002 when the Boston Red Sox selected him in the seventh round. After reportedly demanding a signing bonus in excess of $4 million, Neighborgall decided to honor his commitment to Georgia Tech.
In three years with the Yellow Jackets, Neighborgall continued to baffle scouts. Although he struck out 115 batters in 101 innings in three seasons at Georgia Tech, he also walked 113, including 24 in just 6.2 innings as a sophomore. Despite his struggles, the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Neighborgall in the third round of the 2005 draft, signing him for $500,000.
The Rays, like everyone else, like Neighborgall's stuff though. His fastball and breaking ball have both been scouted as 80 grade potential pitches, making him potentially one of the most dangerous weapons in baseball. In short bursts, his fastball can hit triple digits, and his curveball is a true swing-and-miss offering. At one time, his changeup flashed average too, but who needs an average pitch with that elite pair?
Neighborgall's lack of control was first attributed to poor mechanics which is not unusual for a tall pitcher. After countless appearances with these struggles, it was then attributed to a loss of confidence. He retired after the 2007 season, but maybe six seasons off allowed him to clear his head to harness his incredible arsenal again.
With the organization's track record of handling and improving struggling pitchers, this is an interesting reclamation project. The Diamondbacks at one time had Neighborgall scrap his curveball until he could throw strikes with his fastball, and maybe the Rays could take this opportunity to reintroduce his changeup or make some small changes to his delivery.
Neighborgall will report to extended spring training to get used to facing live hitters again. After that, he's expected to report to Class A Bowling Green in a week to replace the next Ray suspended for a positive drug test.