If you want to know how a baseball team works — what they value and how they think about the game — pay attention to what they do on the margins.
Everyone agrees what a major league star looks like, and wants as many of them as possible. It’s when you get to the 40th and 60th men on a roster that the real information about differences in philosophy between teams really starts to show.
One such nugget was buried in Neil Solondz’s game notes on the Rays Radio blog the other day:
Tampa Bay also added LHP Dietrich Enns to the 60-player pool in Port Charlotte on a minor league deal. The 29-year-old Enns has brief MLB time with the Twins in 2017 and he’s also been with the Yankees, Padres and Mariners organizations. He was a player and pitching coach this year for the Tully Monsters in Illinois in the American Association and his velocity jumped to 92–95 with a sharp cutter. In five games Enns went 2–0 with a 0.72 ERA and 42 strikeouts and just one walk in 25 innings pitched. Enns was playing for former Major League infielder Scott Spiezio.
Dietrich Enns? Never heard of him. Unless you’re a Twins fan or a prospect hound, or happened to see this tweet, I bet you haven’t either:
The Joliet Slammers are proud to announce Tully Monster pitcher Dietrich Enns has signed with the Tampa Bay Rays. Enns will report to the Rays alternate site. Read more at https://t.co/y45fovicTQ #jailbreak2020 pic.twitter.com/svWhkpyqpB— Joliet Slammers (@JolietSlammers) August 17, 2020
Why are the Rays signing this one off an indy league team? And why now? Low-to-mid 90s with a sharp cutter? I mean, that sounds good, but there are plenty of guys out there who can touch 95.
Lucky for us, he threw four innings in the majors back in 2017, which means we in the general public have Trackman data to flip to for a quick look at Enns (note that the Rays have access to minor league Trackman data, so they’ve seen a lot more of Enns than these four innings). So let’s check it out.
The thing that should jump off the page here is that Dietrich Enns throws a fourseam fastball with a ton of rise. Grabbing the numbers from Texas Leaguers, we see that he averaged 12.5 inches of vertical rise, as compared to a theoretical spinless pitch, on his 90 mph four-seam fastball. That’s below average velocity, but huge rise (average is somewhere between nine and ten inches).
For comparison, Colin Poche, the king of the rising four-seam, pasted 12.3 inches of vertical rise on his 93 mph fastball.
So let’s put that together. Dietrich Enns threw a fastball that rose as much as Colin Poche. And apparently he’s added velocity to where now he’s throwing it as hard as Colin Poche.
Now we don’t know yet for sure whether Poche was going to become an elite pitcher, and unfortunately we won’t get to find that out this year, as the young Rays reliever tore his UCL and had Tommy John surgery. But we already know, based on his appearance in 2019, that his fastball was an elite pitch. Last year I wrote that there are no other pitchers like Colin Poche, but the Rays may have just gone out and found one.
Back to Enns; that breaking pitch (either a slow slider or a hard curve) doesn’t look major league, and that changeup may or may not be, depending on arm action. But if he’s throwing a “sharp cutter,” as Solondz says, that’s a new breaking pitch and it’s also intriguing. One can see why the Rays wanted to get this guy into camp and take a closer look.
And I think this is where we can really see how the Rays front office works. We know they value guys with interesting stuff — fastballs with exceptional rise, sliders with exceptional sweep, unusual arm angles, all of it — and we know that they use the MiLB Trackman data (now Hawkeye) to find it. I didn’t know who Dietrich Enns was, but I’m sure they already did, so when the word came from a scout or another contact watching the Frontier League that his velocity was up, they knew it was worth their time to check.
It’s a similar story to D.J. Snelten, already with the Rays in Port Charlotte, who previously threw an exceptional changeup throughout the minors and in a brief stint in the majors, and who showed the world via Twitter that he could now touch 97 mph.
DJ Snelten hitting 97mph, this time with a glove on— Nick Sanzeri (@SanzeriBaseball) November 26, 2019
DJ has made some big changes to his delivery & its showing. Much more glute oriented. We (myself & @primeathletics1) focused on rebuilding his load phase.
He has MLB experience.
• 6’7, 235lbs@FlatgroundApp pic.twitter.com/mskF5GfVpj
I’m sure the Rays knew about Snelten’s changeup before this tweet.
It’s a similar story to Pete Fairbanks, currently striking out 40% of the batters he’s faced, who few had ever heard of but the Rays paid up for because he could throw 99 mph and flashed arguably the best hard slider in all of baseball.
The guys with monster stuff are out there, waiting to be found. One just has to take the time to look, to build a profile, and then to keep looking and adding to that profile, because pitchers are constantly working, making themselves better.
It’s a long way from Port Charlotte to St. Petersburg, and there’s a crowded 40-man roster between the two, with a lot of talented pitchers throwing a lot of interesting pitches. Enns may not make it all the way. But if he does, don’t be too surprised when he blows away major league hitters with a seemingly untouchable fastball at the top of the zone. Dietrich Enns didn’t come out of nowhere. He came out of Joilet, Illinois.
Which is a place the Rays look for pitchers.