The Tampa Bay Rays have in-house options to possibly solve their bullpen issues. However, can those in-house options do the job.
It seems that every team in major league baseball wants to refurbish their bullpen in the off season. Sometimes they are looking for a high leverage closer but most of the time they are seeking to fill the front end of their bullpen with inexpensive journeyman pitchers. The Tampa Bay Rays definitely fit this pattern.
The Rays are strong at the back-end with closer Alex Colome, setup man Brad Boxberger, lefty specialist Xavier Cedeno and either Erasmo Ramirez or Matt Andriese as a multi-inning setup man. That leaves the team needing a left handed and right handed middle inning reliever and a long man/ spot starter to fill out the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen.
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Can the Tampa Bay Rays avoid the long list of journeyman free agent relievers and solve their issues internally? Let’s take a look at the possibilities on the 40 man roster.
The top three candidates are Enny Romero, Danny Farquhar and Chase Whitley. Romero is a lefty who was supposedly on the same prospect track as Colome. He has a live arm and excellent curve ball. Unfortunately, Romero can’t seem to straighten out his mechanics and in two years with the Rays has not gotten his era under 5.00. This season will be his last chance but only if he can find his game, he has a load of potential.
The Tampa Bay Rays thought enough of Farquhar to obtain him in a trade with Seattle. However, the first half of his 2016 season was a disaster and he was sent to Durham. He returned in the latter part of the season and was much better. He has a deceptive motion and can induce ground balls. This is the perfect combination for a right handed middle reliever and if he can repeat last year’s finish, he has a job.
Chase Whitley was picked up from the Yankees as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. He finally got back on the mound at the end of last year and recorded a 2.51 era with 15 strikeouts in14 innings. He has been a starter all of his career and the only question seems to be whether he is more valuable as a long man out of the bullpen or starter depth at Durham.
The last two relievers on the 40-man roster with major league experience are Eddie Gamboa and Ryan Garton. Gamboa is a knuckleball pitcher who recorded a 1.35 era in 13 innings. His downside was 8 walks and, because of the walks, it’s difficult to see a knuckler coming out of the bull pen. Garton is a mid-level prospect who posted a 4.35 era in 39 innings last season. He will likely return to Durham as bullpen depth.
The real wild cards show up in the form of top level prospects Ryne Stanek, Jaime Schultz and Austin Pruitt. Stanek is a college player out of Arkansas with loads of talent but he can’t stay healthy. He finally made it to Triple A in a relief role last year. If he shows really well in spring training and stays healthy he has a chance to make the team.
Pruitt is another college grad but is not a top-level prospect. However, he did strikeout 149 while walking only 27 in 162 innings at Durham last season. He is 27 and there are several top level starters ahead of him so it makes sense to put him in the bullpen. If that works out, he might make the team as the long man/spot starter.
Schultz is another strikeout machine with 163 strikeouts in 130 innings at Durham last year. Pitching as a starter, his only problem was control as he walked 68. He will probably return to Durham to work on his control. He can throw 99 miles an hour and once he improves his control, it’s not hard to see him return at some point as hard throwing setup man or closer.
There is a lot of raw talent in this group and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see two or three of them make the front end of the Rays’ bullpen.
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Just in case, they will probably add another left-hander on a minor league deal in case Romero fails. However, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stick with this group and watch them develop. It’s better than playing journeyman roulette.