Taylor Guerrieri Set to Make Pro Debut

Rays fans have been anxiously awaiting the professional debut of 19-year-old Taylor Guerrieri ever since the Rays drafted the right-hander in the first round of last year's draft. The moment has finally arrived, as Guerrieri will take the hill on Wednesday night for the Hudson Valley Renegades in Aberdeen, MD. But as long as the wait has been for fans, it's been even longer for Guerrieri.

It's a moment that Tampa Bay Rays fans have been anticipating for over a year. But for Taylor Guerrieri, the wait has seemed even longer.

On Wednesday, the highly-touted right-handed pitching prospect will make his professional debut as the Class-A Short Season Hudson Valley Renegades travel to Aberdeen to take on the IronBirds.

Guerrieri, the Rays' first round selection in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, signed late in the season last year, too late to play at any level in the Rays' organization in 2011. His first work as a professional player came at the beginning of March when he reported to spring training before he was assigned to Hudson Valley.

The product of Spring Valley High School in South Carolina is excited to finally pitch in a meaningful baseball game for the first time in over a year.

"It's pretty special," Guerrieri said. "Now you get to actually play pro ball. You actually get to play in front of some fans now. I'm looking forward to it."

No fans are there to watch in extended spring training, so Wednesday will be the first time anyone outside of the organization will have the opportunity to see Guerrieri pitch since he was drafted. Hudson Valley pitching coach has been watching, though, and he thinks that the 19-year-old has made significant strides since then.

"I've definitely seen him turn a lot of positive corners," Snyder said. "I've seen a lot of maturity on and off the field. The ability to apply a lot of the instruction that (the coaches) have implemented since day one. He's a young kid but has a tremendous feel for pitching."

It hasn't exactly been easy to get to this point for the hard-throwing right-hander. Guerrieri mysteriously switched high schools in his senior year, which led to questions about potential off-the-field issues. According to the Tampa Bay Times, what Gurrieri referred to as rumors were said by Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison to have been "blown out of proportion."

Then after being drafted as the 24th overall selection despite being ranked 10th by Baseball America, the 6-3 195-pound Guerrieri faced a difficult decision. He had committed to play at the University of South Carolina, the local school he had grown up rooting for and had just won a second consecutive national championship. The decision took all summer, but eventually the allure of playing pro ball turned out to be too much to turn down.

"I had it in the back of my mind the whole time that I was going to sign," Guerrieri said. "You kind of just have to play it by ear, one morning you wake up feeling one thing and the next you flip-flop. But I'm glad that I signed, it worked out for me."

Guerrieri was drafted for being a power pitcher. Snyder said that his fastball is consistently in the mid- 90s and has "quite a bit of movement," which he couples with a "power breaking ball." Over his time in extended spring training, Guerrieri has spent time working on a third pitch, a changeup.

"I think I've improved a lot on my changeup and my overall command," Guerrieri said. "Extended spring training helped me out a lot with that, that was a good learning experience for me."

According to Snyder, it is not purely Guerrieri's stuff that will make him formidable on the mound, but his ability to use his pitches well.

"For a kid his age, it's remarkable to see the amount of feel he has for pitching in and of itself," Snyder, the former World Series champion with the 2007 Boston Red Sox, said. "When it comes down to crossing the lines he definitely kicks it into another gear. He's a competitor out there."

And that powerful fastball that has gotten him this far is there whenever he needs it. It's what has him ranked as the 99th best prospect in the game by MLB.com and fourth in the Rays' system by Rays Digest.

"I think my out pitch is my fastball, for sure," Guerrieri said. "That's the one that I throw the most. I just like to get ahead, first pitch strikes, if I stay ahead of hitters I'll be alright."

It is easy to forget that Guerrieri would only have just finished freshman year in college and that he still has a long way to go in his development. He is the youngest player on the Renegades roster, as he will turn 20 in December. But it's one step at a time, and finally pitching at the professional level Wednesday will be a major step.

"I just think it's a matter of going out there every five days and continuing his development," Snyder said. "He's a power pitcher with great stuff. It's just a matter of going out there, pounding the strike zone and understanding day in and day out what it takes to continue to make strides."



Eric Vander Voort is the Hudson Valley beat writer for Rays Digest You can follow him on Twitter at @ecvandervoort.

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