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Getting to know new Rays prospect LHP Jalen Beeks

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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays are officially sellers at the 2018 trade deadline, and in return for Nathan Eovaldi, the Rays received 25-year-old LHP Jalen Beeks from the Red Sox, the organization’s No. 6 prospect, per Baseball America.

Beeks reached the majors for the first time this season, but his first two appearances weren’t great. His debut saw six runs allowed in four innings of work against Detroit, and in a relief appearance later in July, he allowed three runs in 2 13 innings against Texas.

In Triple-A , however, he was one of the most effective pitchers in the International League, named to the Triple-A All-Star Game. His 33 percent strikeout rate leads qualified pitchers in the league, and he’s only walking seven percent of opposing batters.

When he was a 12th-round pick from Arkansas in 2014, Beeks was an unremarkable prospect. In his first full season in 2015, he walked just 4.6 percent of batters for Class-A Greenville, but he only struck out 16.2 percent in 145 23 innings.

In the years since, he has refined his repertoire and become a better pitcher. In a recent piece at Baseball America ($), he told Alex Speier, “I’ve changed a lot. I don’t have any of the pitches I got drafted with.”

According to that story, Beeks used primarily a two-seam fastball and slider as an amateur, but he now pitches with a four-seam fastball, changeup, curveball, and recently a cutter, which has helped his results improve. His strikeout rate improved to 19.1 percent in 2016, and an impressive 25.6 percent in 2017.

Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

After the 2017 season, which was split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Beeks made his first appearance in Boston’s top-30 prospects list at BA as the No. 11 prospect in the organization. He then ranked sixth in the midseason update ($) this month.

In his brief stint in the majors, he leaned on a 91.5 mph fastball and 88 mph cutter, which combined account for 70 percent of his pitches thrown. His 75.1 mph curveball was his third pitch, used 18.2 percent of the time.

At 5’11, there is concern that he could be home-run prone due to a lack of plane on his fastball. In 87 13 innings in Triple A this season, Beeks has allowed 10 home runs. MLB.com’s report on Beeks notes he has a high-spin fastball, so the Rays will likely work with him on locating the pitch up in the zone. Moving to Tropicana Field could also help.

Reports from BA and MLB.com indicate Beeks has a projection of a back-end starter. MLB.com also notes that, in the past, his stuff has declined later in games, which means he could be a fit for the team’s unique pitcher usage tactics.

Beeks’s considerable success at the Triple-A level make this a hopeful acquisition to the Rays. On paper alone, there could be a lot of hype, but it’s also worth considering why the Red Sox would move a promising lefty.

The optimist would say that because the Red Sox, in need of another starter, knew Beeks would continue to get hit around with a full-time promotion, and didn’t want to weather the learning curve in a playoff push. The pessimist would say perhaps Boston doesn’t think this kid can stick as a starter. The answer is probably a bit of both.

Beeks has a history of evolving stuff, but with the Rays that will be a blank slate. At a minimum, he’s a major league pitcher, and that will go a long way for a Rays organization that’s lost its three top starting prospects to Tommy John this season.

Throwing from the left side, Beeks has a slight pause that’s well timed to throw off hitters, and hides the ball effectively before sending it to the plate. His stuff plays up with smart sequencing, and should be an interesting addition to the rebuilding Rays, offering similar value to that of Ryan Yarbrough, even if it’s in fewer innings per appearance.

If you accept the strategy of the Rays building their rotation out of long-releivers, this is a perfect trade for both parties.

Here’s what Kiley McDaniel had to say about the trade (via several tweets):

New Rays LHP Jalen Beeks has taken a unique path. He was a pretty generic smaller lefty at Arkansas w/fringe to average stuff & some deception. All three pitches got better in pro ball & he’s basically performed better at each higher level. Useful piece, potential back-end SP.

This is another example of how small market clubs have to keep flipping short-term assets (Eovaldi is a rental) into long-term, MLB-ready assets (Beeks has 6.5 years of control, is ready to enter the Rays MLB pitching staff of misfit toys) as detailed here.

TB has done a great job of this sort of churn, w/ arguably the most quality depth in their farm as any in baseball. Only 11 of 20 were originally signed by TB, so it’s almost as much pro scouting as draft/intl.