We are halfway through Spring Training and some interesting things have transpired during these couple of games. There have been some impressive outings by prospects including top prospect Taj Bradley, and the 2021 6th-round pick Mason Montgomery.
Less well-known prospects such as Evan Reifert, and Josh Roberson have been lights out. Reifert is quietly positioning into the next main bullpen arm of the stable; he offers a nasty sinker-slider combo that can make the batter look foolish. Roberson overpowers batters with a fastball touching 98 MPH that has a very solid spin rate.
But they are not the only ones who have made an impression. I will present a couple of under-the-radar players that have had a noteworthy spring. They are not on the forty-man roster, but with Kittredge and Baz headed to the 60-day IL, spots could open up for them.
Heath Hembree is a 34-year-old righty who has bounced around the league. Basic numbers stand out in Heath’s spring training performance; he has a 0 ERA, 0.53 WHIP, and 6 strikeouts in 5.2 innings pitched. However what is exciting to the pitching staff is his fastball, which is touching 94, but is spinning in the right way. He is averaging 2660 RPM’S on that fastball, and it gets a tone of ride. If he is able to locate that fastball successfully in the upper third; we might see Hembree in the bigs for a while.
Hembree is adding more spin at his fastball with taking less velocity. If he can locate his fastball well, It must be a good pitch. #Rays catcher set universal target (high-out) for him and it will be helpful for him to get a better location. pic.twitter.com/zLpRwVYcCi— Homin Lee (@Homein22) March 11, 2023
Ben Heller was signed to a minor league deal on January 19th of 2023. Ben has been one of the most stellar relievers in the Spring, and he might be leading the way to steal a bullpen spot. His overpowering 4-seamer can touch 97-98 MPH. What’s quite interesting is the shape of Heller’s breaking balls. The slider sits around 88 MPH, but has an extraordinary vertical break sitting around 33 inches. Nonetheless, horizontal movement is nonexistent. On the other hand, the curveball only touches 78 MPH, however, has both amazing vertical and horizontal movement. The curveball on average drops 49 inches and moves 14 away from the batter. In other words, the curveball is like a deeper version of his slider. In the next image, we can appreciate a diagonal line between the 4-seamer, the slider, and the curveball. Is just a fun pattern that I found, however, we can say that every pitch is deeper than the other.
Kyle Crick signed with the Rays thanks to their reputation for pitcher development. He has actually shown some potential with his wicked slider, which usually has around 20 inches of horizontal break. Kyle has struggled a bit with some hits here and there, but the stuff is still there. The question is if the fastball will be able to complement that amazing slider.
Kyle Crick, Frisbee 80mph Slider.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 14, 2022
3136 RPMs [Yes, it's Baez again] pic.twitter.com/8M6icv8jvf
There could be a good battle for some roster spots; Shawn Armstrong seems that he isn’t quite ready to pitch, and if some injuries occur the Ray might need some help from these minor leaguers. It will be more than helpful to have some extra arms that you can rely on for some big moments during the season. Spring training has been awesome to find about prospects, but clearly these guys are the winners so far; they could potentially be on deck thanks to their performances.