The MLB restrictions on rosters sometimes forced deals that on the surface look to be lop-sided or unnecessary. In this case, the Rays sent a proven pen commodity in RHP Enny Romero to the Nationals in return for a very raw unproven product in Jeffrey Rosa. Romero will likely help deepen a pen that needs it in Washington, but what Rosa will be capable of in the future is uncertain to say the least.
Still, there’s something to be curious about in this Rays transaction. Not only does it open up a pen spot for someone that may be able to outperform Romero - something which makes the team better now - but they also invested in an arm that could help it in the future.
Before we go on, we need to remember that it’s still a small investment since a spot had to be opened for Logan Morrison, and also because it only cost the Nationals $10,000 to sign him. Still though, the tools are interesting. In fact, as soon as I read up on this prospect, my mind went to his winding up in the pen at some point in the near future.
When making up his 2015 Top 20 DSL/VSL list, Ben Badler of Baseball America ranked Rosa alongside Rays prospects like Resly Linares and Jesus Sanchez. The reason?
Velocity that “jumped into the mid-to-upper 90s and reached 100 MPH”
He also noted the possibility that it could increase as he gains strength.
With the number and quality of starters the Rays have within their system, the velocity Rosa’s shown, and his age while pitching and struggling in the GCL last season (21), it makes some sense to wonder about the possibility of being employed as a RP.
Marc Topkin doesn’t seem to think it’s the Rays plan, for now.
They're seeing him as a 21-year-old who hasn't made it past the GCL. But, since you asked, as a starter https://t.co/XVYtWnm8iy— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 7, 2017
You have to love that kind of enthusiasm.....right?
Moving on, I wanted to take a closer look at how he performed to get a feel for why the Nationals would give up on a 100 MPH (or better?) arm so easily. After all, he’d only cost them $10,000 and Enny Romero is not exactly setup material.
Here’s what he accomplished in the GCL at 21 years old:
- 11 GS | 40 IP | 38 H | 20 BB | 34 SO | 1.438 Whip
- 18.3% SO% | 10.8% BB%
- vs LHB: allowed .245/.322/.283 | 1.14 Whip
- vs RHB: allowed .245/.381/.333 | 1.59 Whip
- His best two starts: 5 IP with 2 hits, 2 BB, 3 SO and 5 IP with 1 hit, 2 BB, 5 SO
- His worst three starts: never made it passed 3 innings
- July stats were best: 21 IP | 13 H | 7 BB | 13 SO | .173 AA and 0.95 Whip
- Only allowed 4 doubles and 2 triples - 1 HR - after facing 186 batters
- Induced 74 ground balls compared to 49 fly balls, 8 pop ups and 23 line drives
So what does this all add up to?
A small sample size that shows a lot of raw pitching ability. While he’s able to avoid disaster the majority of the time, he’s no able to pitch his way through innings yet. He’s shown glimpses of being able to make it as a starter, but he’d be facing a long road ahead to get to TB.
Jeffrey Rosa as a Starter
Sure, the Rays could continue to develop him as a SP, and that’s likely the plan for now. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and it fits the franchise’s history in keeping pitchers in the starting role as long as possible.
With many tweaks and a better feel for pitching, he certainly has the potential to develop into a SP. Assuming he would be heading to HV at age 22 in this case, he’d be looking at an arrival in TB in 2022 at approximately 27 years old if he stays on track (2018 in BG, 2019 in Charlotte, 2020 in Montgomery, 2021 in Durham).
Should he remain a starter, and begin the year in the GCL, he would benefit from the same instruction that helped Austin Franklin improve in 2016. As Franklin noted:
My pitching coach for the GCL Rays was Marty DeMerritt. We call him Dog. He's a fun character. He really cares about his players. He's more of an old-school guy and I think that was something that I needed. The main thing that he really taught me was how to be a pitcher instead of a thrower. He really increased the way I think about going out and attacking hitters, what to throw in certain counts. As far as the mechanical side, they really taught me how to utilize my body without over-exerting energy, just really letting the ball come out smoothly and staying in line toward the plate. Toward the end of the season, Marty DeMerritt and one of the pitching coordinators for the whole organization, Jorge Moncada, they started working on my changeup. They really helped with my ability to throw it in the instructional league after the GCL season.
But my intuition (within a year or two) tells me otherwise. With his ability to avoid the long-ball (small sample size), induce ground balls, and reach 100 MPH or more, you can’t help but wonder about his potential as a reliever....
Jeffrey Rosa as a Reliever
As a RP, with his stuff and more experience, he could skyrocket through the system. Potentially moving through 2 levels a season as a RP and getting closing experience in the process, Rosa could find his way to TB as early as 2019 and become an intriguing piece of the pen.
Some could argue that he would be, by then, a more intriguing piece than Enny Romero who has been a serviceable league average RP.
When we look at the top 20 RP FB velocities from 2015 (most recent stats available from Fangraphs), we get the following names:
Aroldis Chapman, Kelvin Herrera, Arquimedes Caminero, Trevor Rosenthal, Craig Kimbrel, Jumbo Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Pedro Baez, Dellin Betances, Hunter Strickland, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman, Hector Rondon, Blake Treinen, Tommy Hunter, Daniel Hudson, John Axford, Wade Davis, Zach Britton, Sam Dyson
That’s a really intriguing list of names, the majority of which have excelled as closers, and exactly what the Rays could use in the back of the pen. A high velocity shut-down RP, who in this case won’t break the bank and, once added to the 40-man, has options to his contract.
The Road Ahead
There’s still a long road ahead for Rosa and definitely no guarantees along the way, but unlike some - Topkin - I’ll hold my breath and hope they move him quickly to the pen. While the Rays have a history of keeping pitchers in the starting role as long as possible, if Rosa does go to the pen and throws strikes, with that kind of heat, the sky’s the limit. The Rays would be able to look back on the Enny Romero trade as a heck of a deal.
Either way, you can follow and support Rosa on Twitter: @jeffrey_coete.
Rosa is someone to keep an eye on in 2017, both in how he’s used and how he performs. If he comes up and eventually electrifies the pen, I would add what a possible nickname (due to the Rosa) could be: “THORN”
Here’s a quick video showing his smooth yet powerful delivery to finish it off: