Name: Robbie Ray
Notable 2011 Stats: 3.13 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 3 HRA, 38 BB, 95 K, 40% GB% in 89 IP with Hagerstown (A)
Why He’s This High: Ray had a big year in the Low-A South Atlantic League as a teenager, striking out well over a batter per inning. That’s quite an impressive showing for his first pro season straight out of high school, and speaks to his polish. Certainly, his performance was better than expected, even when one considers that he received a near-$800,000 signing bonus as a 12th-round pick in 2010. Obviously, his stuff was good enough to confound full-season-caliber hitters almost immediately.
Ray already shows a feel for three pitches–a moving low-90′s fastball, a sweepy slider, and a fading changeup. He still has room to grow into his frame and add some more velocity, and scouts laud his athleticism and projectability.
His low arm slot hides the ball well to lefthanders, but he didn’t have any sort of problems against righties thanks to the good movement on his fastball and his ability to get empty swings at the changeup.
Why He’s This Low: Ray’s delivery is a bit too arm-heavy, as he doesn’t follow through consistently on his pitches. There has to be concern that his elbow will wear down throwing that way, as he needs to minimize the stress on his arm. He’s not quite big enough that he projects as a workhorse, and he has yet to show that he can make it through a full season healthy, as he was on a strict innings limit in 2011. Even then, he wore down in the second half, posting a 4.78 ERA in his final twelve starts after a 1.13 in his first eight.
Ray’s walk total was fairly high, as he walked nearly four batters per nine innings. Obviously, this can be excused–it’s not awful, and he’s inexperienced–but there’s clearly some polish that he needs to add. He also didn’t demonstrate much in the way of groundball ability, and twelve hit batters indicate that his control issues might go beyond just the medium-high walk rate.
Like #82 prospect Jose Campos, Ray’s arsenal isn’t quite developed enough for us to say that he’s got a definite MLB-plus pitch, as all three of his pitches need work. He’ll need to get stronger to maintain his velocity deeper into games, his slider needs tightening, and he needs to get more consistent with his changeup. All three could be average-plus or plus offerings, but at this stage it’s too early to tell quite where they’ll go.
Conclusions: Ray is very much a work in progress, but the ingredients of an electric lefthanded arm a la Erik Bedard are here. Really, Ray needs to have a nice 140-inning season in 2012 to erase concerns about his durability and show that he can maintain excellent performance at a higher level over the course of a full baseball season.
As is the case with a lot of these teenage arms, much of Ray’s appeal lies in his projectability, so where I rank him versus many similar pitchers is almost like throwing darts in some cases–so many of the attributes in play here are very fluid and are more future conjecture than present reality.
That said, Ray gets a boost over the Carlos Perezes of the world because, in spite of his inexperience, he more than held his own when challenged with a SAL assignment. If he’s already retiring batters mostly older than him at this early stage of his development, one would have to think the odds of his maintaining his superiority are good.
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