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Luis Patiño could force his way into the Rays rotation

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The young hard throwing righty should be one of the first calls up from the farm.

Tampa Bay Rays v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Luis Patiño has some big shoes to fill.

Traded to the Rays as part of the package that got general manager Erik Neander to part ways with former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, Patiño is set to start the 2021 season in the AAA rotation. But given his ceiling, that’s likely not where he will end it.

No matter what top 100 propect list you look at, you will see Patiño’s name somewhere in or around the top 25. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs has him especially high on his list, with the Rays righty coming in at No. 12.

What he brings to the mound

Patiño has three plus pitches, starting with a high octane fastball that averaged nearly 97 MPH in 2020. Not only did the pitch rank in the 94th percentile by velocity, it also ranked in the 89th percentile in spin, coming in as just under 2,500 RPMs. The pitch gets a good amount of rise as well, getting about one inch of vertical movement above average. Patiño leaned on the pitch quite heavily, throwing it nearly 65 percent of the time.

Patiño plays off his great fastball with two secondary pitches—a changeup and a slider which he threw at nearly identical clips. The changeup generated a 33% whiff rate, and when hitters did make contact, they didn’t fare much better, hitting to a tune of a .210 xwOBA. The pitch was much better against lefties than it was against righties, which is to be expected, but the pitch was serviceable against righties as well.

Finally, Patiño’s slider may be his best pitch. By a Statcast metric called horizontal movement above average, it breaks 5.5 more inches than other sliders in its class. In a small major league sample, hitters whiffed on nearly half of total swings, with righties swinging and missing quite a bit more than lefties. Interestingly, righties fared better when they made contact than lefties. This will be something to keep an eye on when he gets his next chance against major league hitters, as this could very easily reverse course in a larger sample.

What he could do better

As electric as Patiño’s stuff can be, there are some things he needs to improve upon in order to be a successful major league pitcher. For one, a 16.5% walk percentage, which ranked among the worst in baseball (2nd percentile) is just not going to cut it, no matter how good the stuff is. For context, by BB/9, Patiño walked over seven batters per nine innings.

This is important because it dilutes his ability to strike out batters, which may be his strongest attribute. By K/9, Patiño achieved a pretty strong mark of 10.90 strikeouts per nine innings. Because of all of the walks and the extra batters he faced, his strikeout percentage was closer to the league average at 24.7%. Still good, but not nearly as good as it could be.

As of now, Patiño is slated to start the season at the alternate site as the Rays will stretch him out to be a starter. Although there are a few pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart, surely the organization recognizes he may have as high a ceiling as anyone on the staff. It’s unclear what role the Rays will use him in, but either way, Patiño could be a weapon in many different capacities for the ‘21 Rays