It’s time for the first big callup of the year for the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays.
Josh Fleming, the Rays’ #20 prospect according to MLB.com, has already claimed the title of the first callup of the season for the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays, but on Saturday, Luis Patiño was added to the taxi squad in anticipation of making his Rays debut for Sunday’s matchup against the Blue Jays.
Patiño has been working as a starter at the alternate site in Port Charlotte but is expected to begin as a reliever for the Rays. Rays manager Kevin Cash has not yet clarified exactly what Patiño’s role will be Sunday, but he has already confirmed that Fleming will pitch the bulk of the innings tomorrow. Whether he pitches as an opener for Fleming or simply in a relief role, his parents—making the trip from Colombia—will be thrilled for their first look at Patiño in the Show.
2021 Tampa Bay Rays: Road to the Show
Patiño, the Rays’ #2 prospect and #16 overall, was traded from the San Diego Padres during the offseason in a large deal that included Francisco Mejia and two other prospects, in return for ace Blake Snell. While Mejia made the Opening Day roster, Patiño has been staying loose at the alternate site in anticipation of this very moment.
The 21-year-old made his major-league debut last season with the Padres, pitching 17.1 innings across 11 appearances, compiling a 5.19 ERA to go along with his messy 7.3 BB/9 and 9.3 H/9. While a WHIP just under two isn’t exactly enticing, even with his struggles Patiño maintained a whopping 10.9 K/9. The right-hander also made three appearances in the postseason, pitching two-and-a-third innings and allowing one earned run.
Upon his trade to the Rays in December, expectations have only continued to mount for the young Colombian. He received an invite to Spring Training and dazzled in his limited opportunities, pitching three innings allowing no earned runs, one hit, no walks, and striking out one. The 21-year-old’s stuff is raw, yet electric—and while he wasn’t anticipated to make the Opening Day roster, it was only a matter of time before he made his 2021 Tampa Bay Rays debut.
Though he’s been working as a starter, Patiño profiles more as a bullpen arm. He has a mid-upper 90s fastball that serves as his bread and butter, making up about two-thirds of all pitches in his limited 2020 appearances. As is often the case with flame-throwing relievers, control is a bit of an issue for the young righty.
Patiño has two secondary pitches: a slider and changeup, which he threw equal amounts last season with the Padres. While his slider has higher expectations from scouts, his two secondary offerings are a crucial complement to his high-heat four-seamer. Whether he can command these pitches appropriately will be a big tell for whether he can make a jump to the rotation or if he’s destined to remain in the bullpen. At just 21 years old, he has plenty of time to develop his control and work on these secondary pitches. Even if he profiles as a reliever long-term, he’s the most exciting pitching prospect in a stacked Rays farm system.
Expectations on the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays
Without looking too far into the future, what matters is what Patiño can do now for the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays, currently mired in second in the AL East with an 11-10 record. Cash has remained secretive whether Patiño will serve as an opening for Josh Fleming or come in for relief, he’s a huge potential weapon for the Rays, and one that likely will need to work out well if the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays want to make a run anything like the 2020 team did.
It seems unlikely that Patiño will unseat any of the current members of the rotation, but if he can develop his secondary pitches and prove sufficient control, it’ll be hard for Cash to make an argument to keep him out. In the meantime, how well those secondary pitches function Sunday will serve as insight into where Cash will want to go with Patiño. Regardless, he’ll be a valuable addition to the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays bullpen.
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