This afternoon the Rays traded former All-Star closer Brad Boxberger to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Class-A RHP Curtis Taylor, a high octane reliever from the 2016 draft that converted to starting in 2017.
Taylor was selected 119th overall, directly before the Rays took Easton McGee, in the 2016 MLB Draft. Prior to the draft, Taylor had the following report from Baseball America’s Draft Database:
... the 6-foot-6, 225-pounder has a chance to go in the first three rounds. He's imposing physically and has room to add some size and maintain his top-end velocity more. He has a loose arm with a low slot, releasing the ball a bit lower than low three-quarters, and has run his fastball up to 96 mph. When he doesn't fly open too soon, he's able to stay on top of his hard slider and get ground balls and weak contact with that and his 92-94 mph sinking, running fastball. He's worked more in relief over the course of his career, and his changeup remains behind his other two offerings, but he transitioned to starting this spring and finished well, striking out 22 in 12.2 innings of his final two starts.
Signed for $496,700, he began his career as a reliever but converted to starting without a dramatic spike in his stats, as you might expect:
2016 - 16.1 IP - 34.9% K, 7.6% BB
2017 - 62.1 IP - 26.1% K, 8.8% BB
If anything the strikeout rate looks like a big drop but some drop should be expected when throwing 5 IP/GS compared to 1 IP/G in the pen.
At the moment, Curtis Taylor is a two-pitch guy, but as a starter in Class-A he has the time to develop a third plus pitch and find a major league projection as a starter, a projection agreed to by Baseball America’s Bill Mitchell:
Bill Mitchell: I started thinking seriously about ranking Taylor in the top ten after talking to a veteran scout for whom I have considerable respect, and the first words out of his mouth about Taylor were “Oh, man!” He’s got a really good feel for pitching, a plus slider, and velocity that touched into the high 90s at times. There’s enough deception in the delivery that makes him tough to hit. Taylor could be a starter or pitch in relief, so I think the big guy from British Columbia will be an interesting one to watch as he advances through the system. [BA chat]
Scouting grades and the write up from MLB Pipeline available from mlb.com’s 2017 rankings agree:
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 40 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
For now, the plan is to let the 6-foot-6 Taylor work out of a rotation so he can work on all of his pitches, particularly the development of his below-average changeup. His other two offerings could end up as plus pitches, especially in shorter relief stints. He'll throw his fastball in the 94-95 mph range and can reach back to touch the upper 90s with heavy sink. He combines it with an upper-80s slider that can be nasty at times. He threw a lot of strikes, missed bats and generated groundball outs during his pro debut.
Some feel with his arm action, he's better suited for the bullpen, and his sinker-slider combination would certainly play up. That might be his long-term future, but for now he'll work on developing as a complete pitcher in a starting role.
Here’s what Taylor had to say recently about his own developing arsenal:
"Our pitching coach, Rich Sauveur, has been all over me to just pound the strike zone with my fastball early, which is my best pitch,” said Taylor [milb.com]
"I used to throw a splitter, then I switched to a circle change and honestly I've gotten a lot of swings and misses with it when I do throw it," Taylor said. "When I was a starter in college I really only needed two pitches because in an NAIA school throwing as hard as I do, I could usually just overpower guys. Hopefully over the second half of the year I'll throw it more and more and hopefully it turns into a tangible third pitch for me." [Chicago Tribune]
The success of that circle-change will only be revealed with time, but to already have a developing change in Class-A is promising. Eric Longenhagen believes Taylor ultimately functions as a high-leverage reliever in the majors:
New Rays RHP prospect Curtis Taylor: 91-96, potential plus slider, better strike-thrower than you'd expect for a 6-6 guy with a cold-weather background. Most have him projected to relief because of his delivery. Potential late-inning reliever.— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) November 30, 2017
However, Rich Sauveur also spoke to the Chicago Tribune about Taylor’s development as a starter in 2017, and had a positive outlook:
"He's starting to get a feel for what he's supposed to do. He's a good sight to see on the mound for you. I think he's learned a little bit more about pitching, more than the first few outings. I think he was just throwing (then)...
"Curtis is coming into his own right now, and I hope it continues," Sauveur said. "I like his stuff, the way he competes. You can see he's able to get through six innings now, where he wasn't doing that early." [Chicago Tribune]
Taylor finished the year with an injury in 2017, missing the last month and a half with a shoulder impingement, but the extent of the injury and whether he will miss time in 2018 is not known.
All in all, Taylor adds to what is quickly becoming a strength for the Rays: pitching in the low minors. He will compete with Brendan McKay, Austin Franklin, Resly Linares, Mikey York, Tobias Myers, Jhonleider Salinas, and Drew Strotman for a promotion to High-A Port Charlotte by the end of 2018.