In this installment of Mining the Minors, we take a look at a pair of high-upside pitchers in Triple-A — one starter and one reliever — who pile up loads of strikeouts. And almost as many walks.
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: 2-3 W-L; 2.21 ERA; 1.42 WHIP; 45:23 K:BB over 36 and 2/3 IPs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 6
Talent Rating: 8
Obstacle(s): Rays’ rotation options; control issues; organizational approach to prospects
Talented as Torres is, the 23-year-old Venezuelan can be just as maddening. Signed in 2005 by the Angels — he came to the Rays org in the 2009 Scott Kazmir trade that turned out to be the fleecing many expected at the time — the 5’10, 175-pound lefty gets good movement on his three average-to-plus pitches, the best of which are his low- to mid-90s fastball and a promising change. It’s that movement that has helped him ring up 9.4 K/9 in his minor-league career…and walk 5.0/9.
Let’s take just his first seven Triple-A starts into account as a sampling: In three, he’s compiled a sexy 25:4 K:BB ratio; while in his other four, he’s walked just one fewer than he’s struck out (20:19). Basically, when Torres toes the rubber, he either has it or he doesn’t as far as command goes. One thing he does always have, though, is the ability to limit homers, as he’s yet to surrender one as a Bull, and his career rate is just 0.3/9. That’s a good trait to have, especially when you give up as many free passes as Torres does.
When Jeff Niemann went on the DL recently, there was some speculation that Torres (or fellow prospect Alex Cobb) could get a call-up to show his stuff, but the Rays instead decided to insert everyone’s favorite Ping-Pong-playing longman Andy Sonnanstine into the rotation. This was not only a wise move — Torres isn’t ready just yet — it was also a typical one for a franchise that recognizes the financial incentive not to promote prospects until they’re (more than) ready to contribute.
Still, Torres’ biggest hurdle at this point is himself; if he can’t improve his command and control, he’ll likely become a reliever — albeit a valuable arm who can throw multiple innings, a la Jake McGee, another starter-turned-reliever in the Rays system — but there’s still hope Torres can be a mid-rotation starter. He’s more valuable in keeper leagues but worth stashing in deep AL-onlies in case he strings together some low-walk starts in Durham and earns a look in St. Pete as a starter later this season.
ETA: A late-summer debut is possible, depending on how the Rays are holding up in the AL East, and if they need any pitching reinforcements.
Jose Ceda, RP
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: 1-1 W-L; 10 SVs; 0.56 ERA; 0.88 WHIP; 19:5 K:BB over 16 IPs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 8
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Injury history; weight issues
Simply put, Ceda is not a small man. In fact, pretty much everything about him — from his size to his fastball to his walk rate — is big. The 6’4″, 268-pound 24-year-old Dominican, who signed in 2004 and was acquired in a trade with Chicago for Kevin Gregg, has as much history hitting the upper-90s with his fastball as he does hitting the cookie jar. He has been listed as heavy as 280 pounds in the past, and this spring, the right-hander reported to camp overweight,, much to the ire of Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez.
After he was held out of spring workouts until he got his weight under control, it appears Ceda may be doing much the same with his stuff. Fully healthy following shoulder surgery that caused him to miss all of 2009 — his first season in the Marlins organization — Ceda has been using his explosive good ol’ No. 1 and his above-average slider to mow down hitters in his first exposure at the Triple-A level. While the miniscule ERA (0.56), nasty K rate (10.7/9) and Pacific Coast-leading 10 saves are all impressive, the biggest number — and by that, I mean most important — is 2.8, which is his current BB/9 rate, down from 4.7 career. That earned Ceda the Marlins’ minor league pitcher of the month for April.
Of course, there’s always the worry that a pitcher like Ceda could get eaten up (pun…intended?) in the bigs. That’s just what happened to him during his promotion from Double-A last September, when he posted 9 Ks but 8 hits and 11 BBs in 8 and 2/3 IPs. But if his command has, in fact, turned a corner, his career minor-league hit rate (5.6/9) and homer rate (0.5/9) should translate enough to make him a strong back-of-the-bullpen option.
Ceda has the stuff, certainly, to wedge himself into a setup role with the Marlins this season, making him a solid spec add in NL-only leagues. And if he has success, it’s not out of the question that he could be groomed as a replacement for closer Leo Nunez, who is a free agent after 2012, which means Ceda would be even more valuable in keeper and dynasty formats.
ETA: If Ceda keeps up his current pace, he should make it to Florida in June.
When it comes to monitoring players for this column, I’ll do the grunt work, but if you have any suggestions for minor leaguers that you would like to see tracked, discussed and evaluated in Mining the Minors, feel free to post suggestions in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can going forward.