The Tampa Bay Rays have finalized their wide-open bullpen competition. Injuries to high leverage arms Brad Boxberger and Shawn Tolleson had opened two spots on the major league side.
The Rays are taking it down to the wire, as we are on the cusp of breaking camp for Opening Day, but winning the sixth of seven bullpen slots is surprisingly 2013 draft pick Austin Pruitt.
In turn the Rays have optioned Chase Whitley to Triple-A Durham to continue his work as as starting pitcher -- noting he will be the first arm called upon if needed in April — as well as prospect Jaime Schultz, who will permanently convert to relief after flashing high velocity and an ability to pitch in back-to-back games this Spring.
The big story here, though, is Pruitt. A ninth round selection by the club from the 2013 draft, he worked his way through the organizational ladder without much fanfare, eventually named the Durham Bulls MVP for the 2016 season.
Pruitt is projected to a long relief role — something that may become a mainstay behind the fifth pitcher in the starting rotation, whoever that might be throughout the season — and has given the Rays confidence by exhibiting a crazy low walk rate throughout his career and this spring. He works a major league fastball and curve that should be able to put the best of hitters away, and you can see both pitches in action at Fangraphs.
The Rays now have finalized all but one place in the major league pitching situation. The starting rotation is locked in and will feature Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Blake Snell, and Matt Andriese while Alex Colome, Xavier Cedeno, Tommy Hunter, Erasmo Ramirez, Danny Farquhar, and Austin Pruitt will be in the bullpen, leaving one more spot available for either waiver claim Jumbo Diaz or an option outside the organization.
Austin Pruitt will become the first Rays draft pick from 2013 to make his MLB debut.
#Rays Cash said Pruitt impressed with mound presence, control. Will be used in multi-inning situations— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 30, 2017
In the meantime, the Rays still have a couple of other roster moves left to trim their 40-man roster, as Tampa Bay has yet to add Tommy Hunter, Rickie Weeks, Jesus Sucre, and possibly Peter Bourjos to the 25-man roster.
Still in limbo for the Opening Day roster are utility player Nick Franklin, and prospects Daniel Robertson and Mallex Smith.