The Rays have added to their core of pitching prospects by acquiring RHP Garrett Fulenchek from the Braves, a decent arm from a decent system, and the cost was merely permission to spend money. The Atlanta Braves are interested in boosting their spending on the international market, and because that is not yet subject to a draft, it is controlled by spending limits. Breaking those limits incur strict penalties that can last two years, something the Rays began suffering this month.
After signing an incredible bat in Adrian Rondon for $2.95M, the Rays will incur the same penalty as the Red Sox for signing struggling Cuban wunderkind Yoan Moncada at a cost of $63M, a two year ban on spending more than $300K per player. So why are the Rays limiting themselves further?
It would appear that shrewd negotiating by the front office between two NL East teams has allowed the Rays to maintain their standing for spending internationally, while swapping right handed prospects.
The Rays can't use their money on a big splash, but they can trade it for something more real. On its face the deal of $494K in bonus pool allowances to Atlanta for Fulenchek would have been fine in my book, but the Rays were actually dealing from a surplus in spending limits.
Shortly before news of this deal broke over the holiday, the Rays made a separate deal by sending RHP prospect Enderson Franco to the Marlins for $500K in international bonus slot money. The two deals actually put the Rays in the black by six-thousand in spending limits.
A former minor-league Rule 5 draft choice in 2013, Franco was a respectable arm that was low in walks and strikeouts. You can either call that incredible control or a sign of pitching to contact, and having limited information on Franco I'm not sure which is more true. He pitched to a 3.89 ERA in Class-A, and will be replaced in the system by former 2014 second round draft choice Garrett Fulenchek.
As a former respectable draft choice, Fulenchek comes with a familiar story and I suspect that he will immediately step into top-thirty prospect lists for the Rays, something Franco was absent from, either by accurate evaluation of talent or lack of a spotlight as a former Venezuelan signee.
Fulenchek, the 66th overall pick in the 2014 draft, wasn't exactly known prior to the draft until he started lighting up the guns with a 96 MPH fastball in the outskirts of Texas. Selected out of high school, he is still only a month older than 18 as of this trade.
In my favorite video I've seen of his form, he pitches with enough strength that he has trouble keeping his hat on:
That video is from Kiley McDaniel, and in his write up he notes a 55-grade slider, paired with "enough changeup and command to project as a starter." Stamina and build will come with time, but it's his ability to induce groundballs in the GCL last season that give him high praise.
He has limited miles on his arm, limited experience versus top flight competition and turned 18 after the draft, so he was young for his draft class as well. His velocity dipped into the high-80's at times during the spring, but his arm speed recovered late, impressing in the GCL and in instructs, with lots of sink to his fastball that induced boatloads of grounders.
The overall valuation by McDaniel is 45-grade, which is enough to crack a major league rotation.
By comparison, Franco also touches 96 with his heater but stands much taller on the mound and lacks the fluidity of Fulenchek's delivery. Franco truly pitches with his arm, and consequently only project to the bullpen, should he progress that far. This seems like an upgrade for the system.
Of course it's quite surprising the Braves were willing to deal Fulenchek at all. As R.J. Anderson notes, "The Braves know pitching, and it's possible Fulenchek's defects prove more severe that anticipated. But given the cost, the potential reward outweighs the risk."
MLB.com has already placed Fulenchek in the Rays' top-ten prospects.