Rays top prospect Wander Franco called up

You are reading the title of this article correctly: the Tampa Bay Rays have called up baseball’s top prospect for the past two seasons, Wander Franco, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

Franco has shot up the prospect board and has been referred to as a generational talent. He’s one of just four players to have been named Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect in baseball for two consecutive years.

He started out the 2021 minor league season in Triple-A Durham, skipping Double-A Montgomery entirely, and he has looked incredible so far.

In 39 games with the Durham Bulls, over 162 at-bats, Franco has hit .315/.367/.586 with 51 hits, 11 doubles, 7 home runs and 35 RBI.

His average and on-base numbers this season have been the worst in his minor league career so far, which is an incredible thing to say considering most players would dream of those numbers being their best.

He’s split time between shortstop and third base and with Taylor Walls currently holding down the fort at shortstop after Willy Adames was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, it would only make sense for Franco to play third.

Franco will need some more time to get adjusted to the position, but the encouraging news that we’ve seen is that he’s been able to figure out left-handed pitching this season, something that plagued him in his first two minor league seasons.

He’s also made some great plays out in the field, so anyone who might have been concerned about his fielding, he’s looked very comfortable thus far.

There’s a lot of hype about Franco, and understandably so. He hit this home run in March during spring training, and we’re still wondering if this ball actually landed.

For those who were waiting for him, this was 100% unexpected for him to get called up this early, but Rays fans are more excited than ever to have seen this news, especially since the Rays were just swept in Seattle.

That four-game sweep and six-game losing streak has now gone out the window because the next potential phenom in baseball has arrived, and his name is Wander Franco.

What the White Sox series means for the Rays moving forward

After being down 7-2 in Wednesday’s series finale against the Chicago White Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays seemed down and out.

It was getaway day on the southside of Chicago, and it didn’t seem like the Rays were really in the game to start, leaving starter Ryan Yarbrough out to dry as he would give up seven runs, five of them earned, in 6.1 innings of work.

This series started out hot for Tampa Bay, winning 5-2 in the series opener on Monday, but in that game, things took a turn for the worst as Tyler Glasnow left the game early after just four innings.

We would later find out on Tuesday that an MRI revealed a partially torn UCL in his pitching elbow, meaning Glasnow will be out for a significant period of time.

Tuesday’s game was a forgettable one, a 3-0 shutout loss, which left Wednesday as the series decider, the rubber match.

Through four innings, it was all White Sox, with the Rays falling into a 4-0 hole, which turned into a 7-2 hole after the fifth. Then, Tampa Bay just started chipping away at the lead, coming all the way back to tie the game with a Manny Margot RBI double in the eighth.

Unfortunately, while the Rays had opportunities late, they were unable to execute as the White Sox would win, 8-7, in 10 innings. 

It seemed like this series took an immediate 180 degree turn once the news about Glasnow came out, and that certainly might be true. However, after 14 innings of deflating baseball, including all of Tuesday and the first five innings of Wednesday, the Rays turned back into the team that took the series opener on Monday.

This White Sox team is now the best team in baseball for a reason and this series lived up to the hype of being exciting and competitive, though it flew under the radar of most considering no game was on national television.

While the Sox were undoubtedly good, the Rays were their equals and had Glasnow not gotten hurt on Monday, this series might have been a clean sweep, but taking one of three will do for right now. 

The Rays might have lost the series, but they didn’t lose it without going down fighting, something to keep an eye out for down the road. They also saw great offensive series from Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe and a home run from Mike Zunino in the series finale.

Zunino has been struggling in recent games to find his stride from earlier this season, but hopefully that home run will be the catalyst for an offensive tear.

The main problem that the Rays now face is how to replace their ace. Glasnow was on track to put up Cy Young-caliber numbers, but this team will need to find ways to fill his spot in the rotation.

If any team were to face this problem, the Rays are the best-equipped to overcome it, so expect plenty of arms to come up from Triple-A, but expect the unexpected. The Rays are unconventional, so anything could happen.

Overall, the Rays now sit at 43-26, just a game up on the Boston Red Sox in the AL East, and they’ll look to right the ship with a four-game series in Seattle starting on Thursday.

Tyler Glasnow placed on IL with partial UCL tear in right arm

In a season that has been so positive and dominant so far for the Tampa Bay Rays, the team and its fans received shocking news Tuesday afternoon.

As reported through various outlets, including Jeff Passan and Marc Topkin, right-handed starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow, the ace of this Rays rotation, has been placed on the IL after an MRI revealed a partial UCL tear and flexor tendon strain in his pitching arm.

He exited Monday’s series opener against the Chicago White Sox after just four innings when it looked like he was experiencing discomfort in his arm.

Unfortunately, while the team and fans hoped there would be no significant problems with their ace, those nightmares were realized and now, the Rays will have to keep up their domination without Glasnow in the rotation.

To put his season in perspective, Glasnow, in 14 starts this season, had given up just 26 runs in 88.0 innings pitched, striking out 123 and posting a 12.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 ratio.

At this point in the season, Glasnow was an AL Cy Young candidate for sure, currently in the top 5 in the AL in WHIP, H/9, FIP, strikeouts, K/9 and Win Probability Added (WPA), along with posting a 2.0 WAR already.

In short, he’s been nothing short of incredible this season, but like in 2019, when Glasnow started off the season on a tear, he was sidelined until late into 2019 with arm issues. 

Now, while the Rays got him for over a month longer to start the season, he will be out of the rotation indefinitely. 

Though his loss will be heavily felt on this team, the Rays are a team that is built with depth in mind and the arms that this team can bring up from the minors should be able to supplement Glasnow’s place on this pitching staff for some time.

Expect to see Luis Patino back with the major league club soon as well as Brent Honeywell, and we could even see the debuts of Drew Strotman or maybe Joe Ryan and the newly-promoted Shane Baz.

Baz’s chances of getting called up are slim-to-none in 2021, but someone like Adrian De Horta or even Brendan McKay once he recovers from injury, are possible.

Also, the Rays have enough arms up right now on the big league club that they can make their way through and still be dominant. 

Hopefully, the best-case scenario is that Glasnow will return soon after the All-Star Break, but the most important thing is that the Rays don’t rush him back and keep their ace healthy as he begins his recovery back to getting back on the mound.

Chaz Roe begins rehab assignment in Durham on Tuesday

It looks like the Rays pitching staff is getting closer to full health as right-handed pitcher Chaz Roe is the next arm to be nearing his return to the majors, beginning a rehab assignment in Triple-A Durham on Tuesday.

Roe was originally placed on the 10-day IL after reporting discomfort in his shoulder following his first appearance on the mound in the 2021 season, where he gave up two earned runs in 0.2 innings of work against the Miami Marlins.

That initial left shoulder strain turned into a diagnosis that was to have him sidelined for up to 12 weeks as he was placed on the 60-day IL on April 6.

Roe is eligible to return off the IL on Thursday, but considering the amount of time he’s been out and the fact he got injured so early into the season, don’t expect him to be back with the Rays immediately on Thursday.

The righty is going to need several outings to get back up to game speed, so the earliest Rays fans will get to see him back on the team will be early next week. 

Roe has been a reliable arm for the Rays, but he has dealt with his fair share of injury problems in his career, including in Tampa Bay.

With the bullpen Tampa Bay is currently riding with, there’s really no reason to rush Roe up as there are plenty of capable minor league arms that can come up right now without even needing to bring him up.

Let him stretch his arm out, test the waters and see where it is and then, if he says he’s good to go, bring him up. 

One more thing of note: according to Baseball Savant, Roe had the most horizontal movement on his slider of anyone in MLB by over three inches. 

He was the only pitcher in MLB to have 20+ inches of horizontal movement on his slider. Hopefully, Roe will not only be back on the mound soon, but will be as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than he has been with the Rays.

Luis Patiño activated off 10-day IL, optioned to Triple-A Durham

The Rays received some good news as right-handed pitcher Luis Patiño was activated off the 10-day IL after Sunday’s game against the Phillies.

He previously went on the IL after a finger laceration on his throwing hand, but manager Kevin Cash said that he’s looked good in his bullpens since the injury.

Patiño was optioned to Triple-A Durham, where he’ll be utilized as a traditional starter, a good boost for the righty. He’s appeared in five games, including three starts, for the Rays this season, giving up six earned runs in 15.2 innings pitched.

A big concern about Patiño so far this season has been his drop in velocity from 2020, but with a change in mechanics over the offseason, most notably the retooling of his slider, he’s lost roughly two miles per hour on his four-seam fastball.

However, while he’s now sitting around 95 on the fastball, his slider has picked up two miles per hour as Patiño has been averaging 87 MPH on it this season. 

The slider usage has risen dramatically this season while the fastball usage has dropped nearly 20 percent, which you can see in the chart above. 

Patiño’s changeup usage has gone down significantly from 2020 as that was his second-most used pitch, but now, he’s gone fastball slider. 

If he can bring back the changeup more, which is what he might experiment more with in Durham, being a three-pitch pitcher will make him that much better in 2021.

The pitching anomaly that is Ryan Yarbrough

There are certain things in life that cann ot be understood.

Even the best research cannot truly crack the code of certain things, and one of those things is Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough.

The left-hander has been a staple in Tampa Bay’s rotation since coming up as a 26-year old in 2018, but what has seemed to puzzle baseball fans is his performance on the mound.

Yarbs doesn’t blow pitches by hitters. His fastball sits in the low-90s and as a left-hander would, he has plus breaking pitches that induce weak contact. 

He pitches to contact and his career ERA and FIP have both sat around the 4.00 range, but he has been one of a select few pitchers who was introduced to the league in front of an opener.

Yarbrough, a lanky left-hander, is the byproduct of “The Opener”, a strategy the Rays have perfected unlike any other team in MLB. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

For those who don’t know about the opener, it’s a strategy the Rays perfected starting in 2018, where a relief pitch comes in to pitch the first inning or two of the game and then a traditional starter comes in to pitch the bulk of the innings in the game.

Yarbrough has thrived with an opener in front of him throughout his career and in the 87 games he’s pitched in, not including Friday’s start against the Phillies, 52 of those have come as a reliever.

He’s started just 35 games in his career thus far, and in those 35 starts before Friday, Yarbrough is 5-14 with a 4.60 ERA, giving up 100 earned runs in 195.2 innings pitched. Opponents hit .253 with a .714 OPS and 104 OPS+ when Yarbrough starts.

However, in those 52 “relief” outings, Yarbrough is 25-5 with a 3.39 ERA, giving up 76 earned runs in 201.2 innings pitched. His K/9 ratio as a reliever is 7.9 compared to 6.9 as a starter, and opponents hit .234 with a .682 OPS and a 94 OPS+ off him in relief.

It’s one of those things where when we talk about it and post about it on social media, it isn’t in any way a slight at Yarbrough’s ability on the mound. 

With a career ERA over a run lower as a reliever compared to a starter, Ryan Yarbrough has become a diamond in the rough for Tampa Bay. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

The statistics back up the claim that he’s much better with an opener in front of him on start day then as a traditional starter.

Whenever a baseball media outlet talks about it and shows the splits, it’s insane to think that’s the case, but it is. However, let’s try to make sense of why this is the case. 

Back in his rookie season in 2018, Yarbrough pitched in 38 games. Of those 38 games, 32 came as a reliever and just six were as a traditional starter. In 2019, of the 28 games Yarbrough pitched in, half came as a traditional starter and half as a reliever. 

Combine those two years together, and of Yarbrough’s first 66 appearances, 48 came in relief. He got used to the opener concept, so as a result, it’s taken him a significant amount of time to adjust to pitching as a traditional starter.

Yarbrough might not ever be able to fully adjust to that traditional starter role and an opener might be what he needs to continue to succeed, but time will tell. 

All we can infer right now is that one is just more comfortable than the other, so Ryan Yarbrough will continue to be an anomaly among pitchers in MLB not by accident, but by design.

Willy Adames: The next domino to fall

A stunned silence came over the Tampa Bay Rays dugout at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida.

The Rays, getting ready for a four-game tilt against the Toronto Blue Jays, were in the midst of warming up before Friday’s series opener when news broke about shortstop Willy Adames.

Adames, the vocal centerpiece of this team, the king of vibes and in many ways, the heart and soul of the Rays, was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers along with right-handed relief pitcher Trevor Richards.

In return, Tampa Bay received pitchers Drew Rasmussen and J.P. Feyereisen, but this wasn’t about what the Rays got back, it was more about who they got rid of.

The Detroit Tigers first signed Willy Adames as an international free agent in July 2012, and Rays fans will know Adames as the main prospect to come to Tampa Bay in the David Price trade on July 31, 2014.

He would work his way up through the minors over the next four seasons, holding the title of the Rays top prospect from 2015-17, soaring up the top prospect list to as high as #16.

Adames made his MLB debut on May 22, recording his first MLB hit in the same game, a solo home run off Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale.

He quickly became a fan favorite, holding down the fort at shortstop, making some incredible plays and being the center of some memorable moments in Rays history. 

He had three walk-offs in his Rays career, but what he’ll be known most for is ‘The Relay’. If you’re a Rays fan, you know exactly what that phrase means.

Game 4 of the 2019 ALDS, Rays v Astros. 

Yordan Alvarez lines a double that one-hops off the center field wall. Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier plays it off the bounce, relays it on a line to Adames in short center, and he throws a laser home to catcher Travis d’Arnaud to tag out Jose Altuve.

If you think Derek Jeter’s relay was good, this one might have topped it.

Adames was an excellent defender, making some insane plays, especially in the 2020 ALCS against those same Astros. 

Now, his glove, his bat, and his energy, are gone, but don’t fret Rays fans. While Adames might be gone, reinforcements have come via the No. 1 farm system in MLB.

Exit Willy Adames, enter Taylor Walls.

Walls has been a highly-touted prospect in Tampa Bay’s system for some years now, an excellent defender with some pop. He’s soared up the ranks of the Rays’ minor leagues after an impressive three-year career at Florida State.

The Rays selected Walls in the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft, and would’ve probably made the MLB roster had there been a full 2020 season. 

He had made it up to Double-A Montgomery in 2019 and would’ve been in Triple-A Durham before the end of the season, so a September call-up was possible.

Instead, he played at the alternate site during the shortened season and now, after raking in Durham to start the 2021 minor league season, Walls is here and Rays fans are rejoicing.

With an organization like the Tampa Bay Rays, as much as it’s tough to watch a player like Willy Adames leave, it’s just par for the course as he’s not the first big name to be traded.

Heck, he came over as part of the David Price trade, so clearly, anyone is up on the trade block. However, while he is no longer on the Rays, Willy’s presence and his impact won’t be forgotten.

With the trade to Milwaukee, a team that doesn’t have a steady shortstop, Adames hopefully will be their franchise shortstop of the future and he’ll flourish there. 

He’s sure to be a fan favorite, but for now, we wanted to say, thank you for everything you did in Tampa Bay, Willy. We’ll miss you and we wish you all the best in Milwaukee. Don’t be afraid to come back and say hi either.

How well have the Rays done with player moves in 2021?

It’s been a while since we’ve last posted articles on the site and in that time, the Rays have been quite busy moving players around.

With the amount of moves this team has made, we’re here to look at them from an overall standpoint and give them some grades for what they’ve done.

We will talk about the Willy Adames trade in a larger context, but here is what we’ve thought of Tampa Bay’s recent player moves.

Yoshi Tsutsugo was the first name of note to leave the Rays this season (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

Yoshi Tsutsugo DFA’d: A+

The Rays made a calculated risk signing the then 28-year-old first baseman from the Yokohama BayStars in Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. He was one of the best sluggers in NPB during his career, and Tampa Bay hoped to get that kind of production in MLB after signing him to a two-year, $12 million contract in December 2019.

Unfortunately, Yoshi’s career in Tampa Bay, while promising to start, took a nosedive once the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the 2020 MLB season indefinitely. Not only was Tsutsugo still adjusting to life in the US, but he was unable to train for this season correctly as the pandemic wore on and lockdowns and quarantines sprung up nationwide.

He never quite got adjusted to MLB and despite hitting eight home runs during the 2020 season, he hit just .197 at the plate with a sub-.400 slugging, a .708 OPS and a 0.3 WAR. Rays fans were hoping for a return to form for Yoshi in 2021, but that didn’t happen, and after just 26 games played, he was DFA’d and eventually traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 15.

This move, however, was in the best interest of the Rays and Yoshi as this freed up another roster spot for the team, which has since been filled by Ji-Man Choi, who has returned from his rehab stint, and it allows Yoshi to hopefully flourish in another market. Win-win for both parties.

Hunter Strickland, while performing well in 2021, was moved to the Los Angeles Angels in May (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

Hunter Strickland to Anaheim: B-

This does seem like quite the low grade for this deal, as there truly wasn’t any telling as to what former San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Hunter Strickland would bring to the table coming into the 2021 season. Since his five-year stint in San Francisco ended, Strickland has bounced a bit, landing on three different teams before the Rays signed him to a minor league deal on February 2.

In 13 games with the Rays, Strickland was a fantastic relief option, topping out around 100 MPH on his fastball with some great breaking pitches. He recorded a 1.69 ERA with a 3.05 FIP in 16 innings pitched, striking out 16 and walking just six. His K/9 rate was the highest in any season he had appeared in 13 games or more and was rivaling numbers he put up in his first three seasons in San Francisco.

However, on May 15, the Rays sent him to the Los Angeles Angels for cash considerations or a player to be named later, but this trade just seemed weird at the time. The Rays have dealt with injury problems to its pitching staff arguably worse than any other team in MLB this season. Having fortified arms in the pen is a big positive, but knowing Strickland was just on a minor league contract, his time in Tampa Bay was limited to start.

The grade is lower because honestly, despite the arms the Rays have back in the bullpen, it would’ve been nice for Strickland to have stayed on the team until the trade deadline, where they could’ve gotten a more in a trade package for him. However, the Rays did fortify the bullpen more in a later deal we will discuss.

Fan favorite Willy Adames became the next big Rays name to leave via trade after heading to Milwaukee on May 21. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

Willy Adames & Trevor Richards to Milwaukee: A-

We can’t possibly give this trade an A+, and giving it an A- seems like a bit too much, but this is honestly a win-win for both sides of this deal. As much as Rays fans love Willy Adames, the shortstop of this team since 2018, we all knew that his time in Tampa Bay was going to come to an end soon, and most thought it would have been at the trade deadline this season.

Tampa Bay’s farm system is the best in baseball, and players have been chomping at the bit to come up, and this trade freed up just that. Adding in Trevor Richards to the deal balanced it out on the end of the Brewers, who have been in desperate need of bullpen arms.

Trevor Richards’ stint in Tampa Bay was short-lived, but in Milwaukee, he should be a key reliever. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

It seems like much more of a throw-in piece as Richards has struggled since the second half of the 2019 season, immediately after he was traded, along with Nick Anderson, to the Rays from Miami for Ryne Stanek and Jesus Sanchez.

In return, the Rays received relievers Drew Rasmussen and J.P. Feyereisen, two fireballers who should feature in “The Stable” soon. Feyereisen has already appeared in a few games for the Rays and has looked good, aside from his blown save in Game 2 of the Royals series earlier this week.

The Brewers get an arm for a struggling bullpen that has seen a decline in star reliever Devin Williams, and a franchise shortstop to build around in Adames, so another win-win. 

Stay tuned for our larger article focusing on the departure of shortstop Willy Adames.

RHP Collin McHugh activated from 10-day IL, tagged as opener in Angels series finale

Right-handed pitcher Collin McHugh officially returns to the mound Thursday night as manager Kevin Cash has tagged him as the opener in their series finale against the Los Angeles Angels.

McHugh was placed on the 10-day injured list on April 18 with a lower back strain after giving up eight runs and six earned runs in 5 ⅓ innings pitched this season, posting a 2.44 WHIP in the process.

Opponents have hit .480 off the righty this season and he’s struggled in a big way to start the 2021 season.

However on Tuesday, the Rays activated McHugh from the IL and placed righty Michael Wacha on the 10-day IL himself with right hamstring tightness, MLB.com Rays beat writer Adam Berry reported.

Rays fans have been waiting to see signs of 2018 out of McHugh, a year that saw him as one of the best relievers in baseball, posting a career-best 1.99 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 209 ERA+, 5.6 H/9, 4.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 11.7 K/9 rate.

There’s really no telling what version of McHugh the Rays will get post-IL return, especially considering his Spring Training outings weren’t stellar.

Let’s not dwell 100 percent on the negatives though because McHugh has shown his worth on the mound and he, like the rest of baseball, is getting re-adjusted to the 162-game schedule.

McHugh also sat out the 2020 season recovering from injury, so a healthy McHugh is one that will be a beneficial part to a Rays pitching staff that needs just about all the help it can get right now.

Diego Castillo placed on 10-day IL, Pete Fairbanks activated off IL

Bullpen struggles continue for the Tampa Bay Rays as right-handed reliever Diego Castillo was put on the 10-day IL with right groin tightness on Wednesday afternoon, Rays MLB.com reporter Adam Berry reported.

With 10+ arms currently sidelined for the Rays, Castillo has emerged as Tampa Bay’s go-to closer and late-innings specialist. However, after being used in five of the Rays’ last seven games, there was concern of overuse, similar to that of Nick Anderson, currently out until at least the All-Star Break.

Castillo has been a solid reliever for the Rays in 2021, posting a 3.14 ERA and 3.39 FIP in 14.1 innings, striking out 20 and walking just six with seven saves to his name, good enough for second in the American League.

In better news, right-handed reliever Pete Fairbanks has been lifted from the IL after being placed on the 10-day injured list on April 9 with a right rotator cuff strain.

He last pitched on April 6, throwing 1 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox, but after that game, he complained of soreness the next day, which was the catalyst of him getting placed on the IL.

So far with a small sample size of 2 2/3 innings, Fairbanks has been decent, but not up to his 2020 production, posting a 3.38 ERA, giving up one earned run while walking two and striking out two. His FIP is nearly a run higher in 2021, currently at 3.86 compared to 3.04 during the 2020 season.

The Rays look to continue their winning ways against the Los Angeles Angels, but starting pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani looks to end that on Wednesday evening. Tampa Bay sends out reliever Andrew Kittredge as Wednesday’s opener in front of left-handed starter Ryan Yarbrough.