By Tommy Rancel //
Before the 2008 season started, Jake McGee was named the 15th-best prospect in Major League Baseball by Baseball America. However, in the summer of ’08 McGee took a visit to a place no pitcher wants to go; Dr. James Andrews’ office. McGee would undergo Tommy John surgery – ending his season and wiping out nearly all of 2009.
Tommy John surgery is hardly a death sentence for young pitchers these days. Yes, the rehab is long and exhausting, but most come back and continue their careers. In 2010, McGee found himself where he left off in 2008, pitching for Double-A Montgomery. Although he went just 3-7 in 19 starts, his peripheral numbers were fantastic. He struck out 100 batters in 88.1 innings while allowing just 33 walks and 3 home runs.
After making his 19 Double-A starts, McGee was promoted to Triple-A Durham to work out of the bullpen. The Rays will likely say the move was made to limit the workload – and that is partially true – but one must wonder if this will end up as McGee’s permanent home.
Even before the injury, many had McGee pegged for a role in the bullpen. The lefty owns an excellent, mid-90s fastball, but has yet to find a consistent secondary offering. One really good pitch and two fringe pitches will get you by in a bullpen, but not a major league rotation.
In addition to the lack of secondary stuff, Jeremy Hellickson has risen through the ranks of the organization during McGee’s absence/return. Not only has Hellickson shot past McGee on prospect lists, he is also now blocking him in the pecking order of the Tampa Bay rotation.
That said, it is McGee who may be the most important Rays’ pitching prospect down the stretch in 2010.
Upon his promotion to Durham, McGee was lights-out in the bullpen. In 17.1 innings, he allowed just one earned run while striking out 27 batters and giving up just three walks. Meanwhile, Hellickson has struggled in his transition to the bullpen.
Even before his struggles, Hellickson was not going to be used as your average relief pitcher. He was to pitch two or three times a week and was not expected to be brought into the middle of an inning. The rules for McGee are not likely to be the same.
With Randy Choate serving as the team’s only left-handed reliever, McGee should get some action as more than a lefty specialist – meaning coming into a game to face batters from either side of the plate, sometimes in the middle of an inning with runners on base. He will also likely to be used as needed instead of a pseudo schedule.
The one role the Rays have yet to fill this season is the one vacated by injured reliever J.P. Howell. Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour have been excellent set-up men, but neither is left-handed. In McGee, the Rays may finally have that lefty with the ability to get hitters of both handedness out.
If all goes well, it could be McGee and not Hellickson who plays the part David Price did in 2008. However, unlike Price, McGee’s time in the pen may not be temporary. There is no rush to add McGee in your single-year league right now. Indeed, McGee struggled mightily last night in his big league debut, throwing six straight balls before recording a strike, and generally looking very nervous.
But with the potential loss of Rafael Soriano as well as other key bullpen members like Benoit next season, McGee should be on your radar for fantasy bullpens of the future, and as a potential closer. He’s worth a pickup in keeper leagues.
For more on Jake McGee and the Tampa Bay Rays, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.