With Jake McGee now with the Rockies, we've taken a look at the void he leaves behind. The Rays have options, whether through trade, free agency, or internally to replace his innings pitched and role in the pen. If they happen to decide to go through the internal route, Steve Geltz could be asked to build on what was a truly impressive 2015.
For those who don't know the whole Geltz story, here's a quick rundown of how he got to where he is today.
Steve Geltz, RHP | 28 years old
Geltz hails from Ransomville, NY, a town of 1400 people. He's been quoted as saying there's only 1 stoplight in Ransomville, which is close to Canada. He was only 5'9" when he graduated. That, and his lack of exposure, led him to attend University at Buffalo rather than turn pro out of high school.
The journey to St. Pete, however, began with this (from Patrick Kinas, DNA of Sports):
"A son of a registered nurse and electrician, Geltz, 25, had to earn everything he received. His parents saw his passion and talent for baseball evolve over the years. By the time Geltz was in his teens, he was good enough to make travel summer teams. With practices and lessons taking place over an hour away in Depew multiple times a week, Geltz would pile into the family truck after school with his parents dutifully driving him back and forth. All for the love of the game. Lessons began with former major leaguer Rick Lancellotti. Money for gas, miles on the family car, hours on the road - it was all worthwhile for the Geltz family as they began to see how good Geltz was becoming."
Greg Morhardt, the same scout that signed Mike Trout, was one of many scouts that apparently saw a lot to like in Geltz when he performed particularly well against Team USA, striking out 3 hitters with only 10 pitches. He stated that every pitch he threw was a fastball and that he was hitting 96 MPH.
When the scout that signed Trout speaks, the Angels listen, and they signed him (for a whopping $4,500) based on Morhardt's assessment of his darting fastball.
It took him four years to work his way through the minors, and only once to he receive top prospect billing, as the 26th best LAA prospect in 2012. He made his first two major league appearances against the Rays, the very team that traded for him in the off season.
Apparently, he made enough of an impression on them to make him a Tampa Bay trade target. The Rays acquired Geltz in return for RP Dane De La Rosa who had some success with the Angels in 2013 but has since retired from baseball at only 32 years old, likely related to his shoulder, forearm, and knee injuries.
Geltz as a Rays Pitcher
Geltz was able to make his name known early on with the Rays. Working 41 games out of the Durham pen, Geltz managed a 2.82 ERA and 0.881 WHIP while striking out 80 batters over his 67 IP. This impressive season put Geltz in the spotlight, but it still wasn't enough to get him to TB at the beginning of the 2014 season. Instead, he struck out 19 over 16.2 innings and then this happened:
Former #Angels prospect and current #Rays AAA P Steve Geltz suspended 50 games after second positive test for unspecified "drug of abuse."— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) May 5, 2014
This was not Geltz's first suspension from baseball (he was suspended from his college team for forging an absence excuse). Geltz served his time and came back looking like he was on a mission. From the end of June through the end of August, he only allowed 4 ER while throwing 25.1 innings, walking just 9 and striking out 41.
That earned Geltz a call up to begin the month of September and while he only threw 8.1 innings that month, he held his own, giving up 3 ER and striking out an impressive 14 batters. When 2015 began, there wasn't much talk of sending him back down to Durham.
At 27-years old, he'd finally reached the majors and made a name for himself as someone to watch.
Steve Geltz in 2015
If there's one way to want to kick off a season, it's exactly the way Geltz was able to manage in 2015. He struck out all four batters he faced, the highlight of a loss to the Baltimore Orioles. After the game, Geltz had this to say:
Geltz went on to have a strong first full major league season. His consistency made it hard to remember that he was not a veteran reliever. Through the season, he managed the following:
To maintain such an outstanding H9 and SO9 in his first full season with the Rays is truly impressive. Through July, Geltz was among some of the best relievers in baseball, maintaining a 9.4 SO9 and keeping hitters to a .216 BAbip. Among his accomplishments last season was a "perfect game."
He may have tired down the stretch, with his performance dipping in August and September. The Rays limited his workload toward the end of the season, as noted by Marc Topkin.
That was evident from his drop in velocity from mid-August as shown below (courtesy Brooks Baseball):
With the full season behind him and experience that should help him maintain stamina throughout the season, Geltz should be able to avoid a similar drop off in 2016. The main takeaway from his 2015 season is how consistently effective he was with all of his pitches, as shown in this scatter graph.
Geltz was 11th among relievers with at least 30 IP in BAbip, only 5 spots behind ex-Rays P Wade Davis, and 22nd in average against at .189, tied with Roberto Osuna. While nobody is appointing him as the probable closer in 2016, it wouldn't be out of the question to see him earn many setup opportunities. His past performance suggests he could thrive in such a role.
The Geltz Repertoire
Geltz has a four-seam fastball that works mostly at 93 MPH, a perfect 10 MPH above the fastball splitter which works at 83 MPH and induces popups instead of the usual groundouts and whiffs. He also works with a splitter, at around 84 PH on average, that he's able to use to get out of jams with as it induces high groundout rates.
In 2015, he threw 6.2% more splitters than he had in 2014, but generally, he throws the fastball 63% to 70% of the time. His pitches all dance and bite well, something that allows him to stay out of trouble and makes it hard for opposing hitters to square up.
Expectations for 2016
With McGee gone, Geltz has to be seen as a top candidate for setup duties. Should he earn the role, the Rays will benefit from having him under control through 2020 and only being arbitration eligible for the first time in 2018.
His road to the majors suggests he is up for the challenge. If anything, he's proven to recognize the fight he's up against and is harder on himself than anyone else. As he stated after allowing 4 ER while facing the Yankees:
Thanks to all my teammates,friends/family & fans for the faithful support. Ill keep working hard & getting better. Sorry for the letdown— Steve Geltz (@sgeltz52214) July 4, 2015
He only allowed more than 2 ER three times the rest of the way.
Of course, as Steve Geltz gets more used to major league hitters, the major league hitters are also getting used to Steve Geltz. For 2016, we can expect that he'll get into 60-70 games, will be aiming to reduce his walk rate, and will get more hold opportunities as his role in the pen grows and he gains the confidence of Kevin Cash.
There's no doubt that Geltz will still have to earn every chance he gets to go on the mound and that he's going to face some extensive competition. The Rays are filled with arms and he's not going to get any preferential treatment.
As we saw in the Tweet above, he takes every ER he allows to heart and knows how important his performance is to the team's success. Still, we definitely look forward to seeing what he can bring to the pen in 2016 and hope it's the kind of stuff the team needs to take a step forward.