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The Debut: Colin Poche

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

During the opening days of spring training just prior to the 2018 season, the Tampa Bay Rays blew up their team.

In December, they had already traded away franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria, and then, during the first week of Spring Training, the Rays jettisoned Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson, and Steven Souza Jr. from their roster during a slew of trades.

The Steven Souza Jr. trade, a three team deal, brought the Rays a solid pitching prospect in Anthony Banda and a decent infield prospect from the New York Yankees (Nick Solak), and then two players to be named later. It took just over two months for those players to be named, but the Arizona Diamondbacks eventually sent Tampa Bay a pair of pitching prospects, Sam McWilliams and Colin Poche.

Poche was originally drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by Baltimore, but instead elected to go to college. Poche underwent Tommy John surgery following his sophomore year, but came back to finish out his collegiate career. With the surgery, Poche’s draft stock had fallen, and he fell to the 14th round where he was taken in 2016 draft by Arizona.

It didn’t take long for Poche to establish his dominance in the minor leagues, easily carving through hitters in the lower levels of the Diamondbacks system. Following the 2017 season, Baseball America recognized him as the 29th-best prospect in Arizona’s system, and deemed him with an ‘invisible fastball’ despite it registering in the low 90’s.

Soon after, Poche was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays on May 1st, 2018 as one of the aforementioned Players to be Named Later in the Steven Souza Jr. trade.

By the end of the 2018 campaign, Poche continued to impress, finishing the season with a ridiculous 41.5 K% in Triple-A. He was named the Rays Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America (Marc Topkin), and named the 19th-best prospect in the Rays system.

During his delivery, Poche is able to hide the ball remarkably well and then, as he unfurls to the plate, he generates better than average extension which increases the perceived velocity of his pitch. Once he releases his fastball, he does so with tremendous backspin that gives the illusion of the ball rising on it’s way to the plate. Thus, creating a tremendous advantage for Poche and leading to a significant number of swinging strikes. The pitch has been dubbed, the ‘Invisiball.’

Once the 2019 season got underway, Poche was only a phone call away from reaching the majors, and it seemed inevitable that it would come.

Finally, in early June, the time had come.

Although he hadn’t been putting up tremendous numbers in Durham, the Rays needed an extra arm as they were set to take on the Boston Red Sox in a double-header at Fenway.

Following the Rays victory in game one, the team selected the contract of Colin Poche from Triple-A Durham, officially placing him on the active roster for the second game of the day. On his way to Fenway, Poche actually hailed an Uber that would eventually get caught up in the traffic of Boston, so Poche hoofed it the final mile of the way just so that he’d make it to the ballpark on time.

Once the game started, Poche took his place in the bullpen, but he wouldn’t be waiting long.

The Rays employed the opener for the game with Ryne Stanek getting the start. After recording four outs, Stanek lost his command of the zone and Kevin Cash turned to his newest Ray, Poche, with one out and two on in the bottom of the second inning.

The first batter that Poche would face in his Major League debut was Boston outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and Poche delivered him a 92 mph fastball that painted the inside corner. Bradley Jr. flinched his arms towards the sky as the ball passed by, but it was a clear strike and the umpire called it for strike one.

Poche challenged Bradley with the next pitch and blew what seemed to be a 110 mph fastball by him, but it only registered 94 on the radar gun. Poche kept going after Bradley, tossing his first curveball, but Bradley was able to foul it off. Eventually, Poche coaxed a weak flyball to left field for a flyout.

Marco Hernandez then came up for the Boston Red Sox and Colin Poche just pulled all five cards of Exodia and obliterated Hernandez.

Fastball down the pipe for a swinging strike.

Another fastball, slightly higher, for another swinging strikes.

Another fastball, even higher, and for a third and final swinging strike.

Just like that, Colin Poche had his first big league strikeout.

Poche’s debut wasn’t quite over yet as Kevin Cash brought him back out for the bottom of the third inning.

Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi gave the rookie an improper and quite rude greeting as they both singled to left field. However, Kevin Cash kept Poche in the game with Boston’s three and four hitters coming up.

Not deterred, Poche carved through Xander Bogaerts with the same efficiency that he sliced through Marco Hernandez an inning earlier.

1 strike, 2 strike, 3 strike, out; back to the dugout with Bogaerts.

Next up was Rafael Devers and he was anxious to go after Poche’s low 90’s heat. He swung violently at Poche’s first two offerings and missed by a wide margin. Devers didn’t want to be made to look foolish again and laid off of Poche’s next two offerings as they soared well above the zone.

Finally, Poche returned to the zone and turned Devers into a statue as a 92 mph fastball went straight down the middle for a called third strike, giving Poche his third strikeout of the afternoon.

That would be it for Poche as Kevin Cash turned to Austin Pruitt to hopefully end the inning. Pruitt would eventually end the inning, but not before he allowed a base clearing double (both runs were charged to Poche). In a sad twist of fate, the Rays went on to lose the contest, 5-1, and the loss would go to Poche.

During his debut, Poche threw a total of 24 pitches, 21 of those were strikes; 20 of his first 21 offerings were strikes. Of his 24 offerings, the Red Sox whiffed on one-third of them.

Poche became a staple in the Rays bullpen for the rest of the 2019 season. He continued to garner impressive strikeout figures as he struck out 34.8% of opposing hitters, which placed him among the top 10% in baseball among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.

Meanwhile, opponents hit just .180 against him, which placed him among the top seven percent of pitchers in the league with at least 50 innings pitched.

Despite those effective numbers, Poche is just in the middle tier of the Rays most dominant and effective relievers. Nonetheless, once the 2020 season eventually gets under way, Poche will again take his place in the Rays bullpen, just waiting for the call to again blow hitters away.

Enjoy Colin Poche’s just over 12 minute debut in its entirety