This article is part of a regular series in which we profile a specific prospect, detailing his background, strengths, weaknesses, and future.
In the 2011 draft, the Tampa Bay Rays had an unprecedented 10 out of the first 60 draft picks, replenishing an organization that is in constant need of talent due to the financial restraints at the major league level. The first selection of the bunch was right-handed pitcher Taylor Guerrieri, and after just one year, it's already beginning to look like he'll be the best of the bunch.
Signing at the deadline for $1.5 million, Guerrieri did not pitch last season. Despite being advanced for a prep draftee, the Rays took a cautious approach with him and held him back in extended spring training before letting him debut in June in the short-season New York-Penn League.
In seven starts taking the mound for Hudson Valley, Guerrieri has shown both why the Rays selected him in the first round, and that he likely could have handled a more advanced assignment. Ignore his 0-2 record and instead focus on his 1.24 ERA and 25 strike outs in 29 innings. Even more impressive, however, has been his control, walking just two batters over that stretch.
The Rays as an organization are typically cautious with their pitchers, electing to have even the most advanced arms advance one level at a time, especially when dealing with picks right out of high school. We saw this with both Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson, the latter of whom was thought to be major league ready almost a full season before he debuted in Tampa, but instead headed to Triple-A for almost a full season.
What this does is help build up duribility and innings limits gradually over time, meaning that when they get to the major leagues, pitching prospects are prepared to throw upwards of 180 innings, even in their rookie seasons. The cost-conscious Rays need that kind of production from young (and inexpensive) players in order to compete, so they rarely promote pitchers until they are prepared to not only compete at the major league level, but be above-average players who can help them contend.
The same approach will likely be taken with Guerrieri, who could easily spend the remainder of the season in Hudson Valley. At just age 19, Guerrieri would be on the same time table to the majors as Hellickson and Wade Davis, both of whom spent their age 19 seasons at Hudson Valley and moved methodically through the Rays system.
The Rays are limiting Guerrieri to around four innings per start, but will hopefully let him at least work through five innings towards the end of the season. Regardless, his performance has been impressive, and given that his command was a possible issue, it's encouraging to see such good control numbers (even if control and command are two different things).
With his mid-90's fastball and strike-throwing ability, Guerrieri won't truly be challenged in short-season ball this year, but he will hopefully be able to build up enough innings to head to full-season Bowling Green of the Midwest League next season.
With Matt Moore and Chris Archer using up their prospect eligibility, Guerrieri now becomes the top pitching prospect in what is still a deep farm system. Just don't expect him to be making a quick run though the Rays system anytime soon, no matter how well he pitches.