Major League general managers are almost always ecstatic when they can land one of Andrew Friedman’s prized Rays pitchers, especially when that pitcher is still only 22. But Justin Choate, whom the Diamondbacks acquired in the three team deal that sent top pitching prospect David Holmberg to Cincinatti and closer Heath Bell to the Rays, may be the rare exception. Choate does not fit into the ranks of Price, Shields, and Kazmir, but rather Howell, McGee, and Oveido.
Choate was ignored by big league scouts out of high school and proceeded to also go undrafted after both his junior and senior seasons at Stephen F. Austin State University. The Rays ended up signing him out of the independent Pecos League, after 30 different teams had each passed on him 150 times over the course of three drafts. He was promptly sent to short season A-ball, where he pitched to a 2.88 ERA over 40.2 innings of relief. With a 2.0 BB/9 and 7.7 SO/9, his control was impressive, but his ability to miss bats was little more than pedestrian.
His stats seem encouraging but that was largely because he was more polished than most A-ball pitchers and there is in fact a very good reason why scouts looked past Choate for most of his life. His stuff is simply not what you would expect in a future big league pitcher. His fastball sits at an unassuming 86-87 MPH and while his slider will take him to the upper minors and perhaps the big leagues, its little more than an above-average pitch. As a result, Choate is nothing more than a future middle reliever at best, and could just as likely never throw more than ten innings in the majors.
Of course, Arizona GM Kevin Towers is a more than capable talent evaluator and he would not give up a closer and one of his top ten prospects (Baseball America ranked Holmberg as the organization’s sixth best prospect prior to the season) for salary relief and a potential middle reliever. The D’backs will also receive a player to be named later in this deal, a player Towers described as being the centerpiece for Arizona, but whose name couldn’t be released for “administrative reasons.” This probably means that the player has been agreed upon by both sides but isn’t technically allowed to be traded yet – most likely one of Tampa’s 2013 draft picks as MLB rules prevent them from being traded until next August. If Arizona receives either of the Rays’ first round picks, catcher Nick Ciuffo or right handed pitcher Ryne Stanek, this could suddenly be a very good deal for Towers.