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Rays Top 50 Prospects: No 22, Chih-Wei Hu

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MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have been known to make crafty trades over the years, and the next prospect on our list comes to them from the Minnesota Twins. The Twins used Hu’s return, Kevin Jepsen, for a mere 62 games, before he returned to the Rays as a free agent in 2016.

No.22, RHP Chih-Wei Hu, 24 years old

Born: November 4th, 1993 in Taichung, Taiwan

Height/Weight: 6’0” 220 lbs Bats/Throws: R/R

Signed: by the Twins as an international free agent in August of 2012 for $212,000

Twitter handle: @cwhu1993

Twitter profile statement:Pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays Instagram: chihwei_hu”

Baseball America Rankings

  • Ranked as the 16th best Rays prospect post 2015
  • Ranked as the 5th best Rays prospect post 2016
  • Ranked as the 14th best prospect in the Southern League in 2016
  • Ranked 27th best Rays prospect post 2017

DRB Writers ranking

  • High: 13th
  • Low: 36th

Chih-Wei Hu: Abilities

  • Fastball and Sinker that work in the 93 to 94 MPH range
  • Plus and firm Change Up that works around 88 MPH
  • Slider which also sits around 88 MPH
  • Also has a curve, cutter, and a “palmball” — a type of changeup — that he has yet to throw in the MLB

Grades for ‘18 (Pipeline): FB: 60 | CU: 50 | Slider: 55 | CH: 60 | Palm: 50 | Ctl: 55 | Overall: 45

  • Abilities notes: Most of us at DRB were taken aback when Hu was converted to relief instead of continuing on as a starter in 2017. With his arsenal’s breadth and starting performance to that point, he seemed primed for a shot at the rotation. It’ll be interesting to see if he re-assumes the starter role in the future.

Joined the Rays by way of...

Through trade, along with Alexis Tapia, for relief pitcher Kevin Jepsen on July 31st, 2015. Many forget about Tapia because he’s dealt with injuries over the years, but he has talent and is still only 22 years old, so if he can get healthy the Rays could benefit from both Tapia and Hu in the future.

Latest Transaction: recalled from Durham Bulls September 21st, 2017

Note It’s truly amazing how the pen could look in 2018 when you consider its makeup in terms of draft, international, and trade acquisition mix. Assuming Hu makes the cut and the Rays go with eight in the pen, as is the current plan, Ryne Stanek may be the only Rays-drafted reliever on the team.

Facts, Honors, and Awards

  • Baseball America Double-A All-Star for Southern League, ERA leader, and Mid and Post Season All-Star in Southern League 2016, Futures Game selection 2016 — so 2016 was a huge year for Hu.
  • Promoted to the Rays early on in 2017 but spent most of the season in Triple-A.
  • Ranked 27th by MLB Pipeline pre-2018.
  • Mitch Lukevics noted about Hu,

“He takes the ball and competes,’’ “He is very resilient and unshakable. You know what you are getting when he takes the mound every time.’’

  • Baseball America’s Matt Eddy noted Hu’s control abilities in a Feb ‘17 article titled “A Dozen Pitching Prospects Who Control Their Controllables”, noting this about Hu,

“The 23-year-old Taiwanese righthander claimed the Southern League ERA title last year in a breakthrough season. While he doesn’t have a dominating pitch profile, Hu throws a nifty changeup and exerts control over the smaller facets of pitching that he can control”

  • Hu’s Brooks Baseball information points to a slight increase in velocity (+1 to +1.5 MPH) on his pitches between the beginning of the season to the end of the season. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what Hu’s velocity looks like in 2018.

Stats

Chih-Wei Hu 2017

GP 37
GP 37
GS 4
IP 71.2
W 5
L 2
Sv (SvO) 2 (2)
H 64
BB 16
SO 66
HR 11
AvgA 0.235
Whip 1.120
BAbip 0.278
LOB% 77.0%
GB% 40.5%
FB% 37.0%
HR/FB% 15.1%

Stats Notes: Left-handed hitters hit a robust .289 against Hu in Triple-A leading to a 3.68 ERA against them. Something he’ll need to work on, along with his performance with bases empty, when he allowed a .276 average (40 hits in 34 innings) and performance on the road when he allowed a .287 average and 7 of his 9 Triple-A HRs allowed.

Interesting Comparison: Fernando Rodney

Because Hu has a “Palmball”, one that we have yet to see in the MLB mind you, that’s where I started the search. It didn’t take long to note Rodney who is of similar stature at 5’11” and 230 lbs (6’0” 220 lbs for Hu).

I’m not sure Hu’s going to shoot any invisible arrows into the Trop’s roof, that’s not his style, but Rodney’s profile is interesting as a comparison because he’s been fairly effective even without using his slider much if at all during some seasons. Instead, he relies on keeping hitters off balance with a 12-13 MPH spread between his fastball and changeup (Palmball).

Looking at Hu’s change from 2017, it was much firmer — not his palmball — and so it’s hard to say whether or not he’ll introduce it and get a wider ranger of speeds than he displayed in a short period of time. In either case, it’s the sole pitch that’s rated as plus by many and it, along with plus overall control, may determine his ceiling.

We can’t really compare their minor league performances as Rodney didn’t start as long as Hu, and had a rough time making the jump to the MLB initially, taking three seasons to get comfortable there. It took until he was 28 to get settled in completely.

However, when we look at Rodney from 2014 onwards, where his fastball has ranged between 95 and 96 MPH on average and he’s re-introduced the slider to some degree, it’s very close to where we’d expect Hu to be should he remain in a relief role.

Notes for 2018 and beyond

The Rays and Hu seemed to streamline his arsenal once he turned to a relief role, and that makes sense. With the life in his pitches, he’s hard to square up and generally gets a good amount of ground balls (43% to 53% range), both of which should be strengths of his.

The worrisome part of 2017 for Hu was the high flyball rate MLB hitters managed against him in a very short time (48% in 10 IP). That, along with a 44% hard contact rate and 15.4 % HR/FB rate in MLB, and 15 % HR/FB rate in Triple-A, are things to watch for going forward. Overall, he allowed a career high 11 HRs in 2017.

When it comes to his usage going forward, it’s important to note that the Rays kept him used to going out a few innings at a time even once he switched to relief. He threw two or more innings in 12 of his last 28 Triple-A outings including eight of his last 12 outings.

Hu continues to develop a cutter that some praised, possibly giving him second plus pitch to work with along with the change up. That, along with noted durability and effectiveness vs both LHB and RHB make him a potential impact arm in either the pen or the rotation.

Where he winds up long term is anyone’s guess at this point, but it seems like for now the Rays want to use him - along with many others - as a reliever that can also handle going multiple innings.

As an FYI, the Rays are known to have fun with Hu’s name.

Chih-Wei Hu: Spotlight Videos

Recap and links of previously listed DRB Top 55 Rays Prospects

*Note: rankings were adjusted and reflect recent additions to the system - it is now a Top 55 list