Robbie Ray had a good showing in the AFL, with a 2.45 ERA over four starts. He struck out 13 in 11 innings of work, and posted numbers that would indicate he was a different pitcher than what Tigers fans saw out of Ray, especially later in the year.
Scouting reports backed up that, and then some. Ray’s velocity had a noticeable uptick, consistently sitting in the 92-96 MPH, with one scouting even reporting he touched 97 MPH. That’s a welcome sight for a pitcher who spent much of the season at the low end of that range, and averaging just 91 MPH for the season, according to PITCHf/x data.
In addition, Tigers fans likely noticed that Ray struggled to stray outside of his fastball/changeup combo, relying on his curveball just around 10% of the time in his big league appearances, before shelving the pitch midseason in favor of a slider. One scout made a point to note that he was noticing improvement in the pitch with each appearance, also remarking that the pitch was in some ways closer to a cutter.
While many fans will never be pleased with the Tigers trade last off-season in getting rid of Doug Fister for a trio of players, one of whom is already no longer with the organization, and a second of whom was a part of the Tigers bullpen mess, if Ray can maintain that mid-90’s velocity and master the finer points of his slider to make it a true swing-and-miss pitch, he could yet be a solid middle of the rotation starter.
The scouts were more mixed on Steven Moya, as has been the case for the massive right-hander for years now.
The scouts that love him continue to note that his approach at the plate is improving, and they simply won’t stop gushing about his power, which all scouts agree is among the very best in all of minor league baseball right now. As has been noted, he did show a bit more patience in the AFL, pushing his walk rate over 6% and facing 3.8 pitches per at-bat.
On the other hand, scouts that are down on him still don’t see him making the adjustments at the plate where he’ll be able to consistently hit big league pitching. Scouts pointed out struggles against left-handed pitching (which was a reason why Moya was experimenting with switch-hitting this past summer), and a difficulty getting his hands in to drive balls on the inner half of the plate. Much of Moya’s power does come from his ability to generate bat speed with his long arms, but if he can’t fight off pitches inside, he’ll never get the chance to extend them as pitchers will just pound him inside.
Regardless of the long-term outlook on Moya though, the word out of Arizona was consistent that Moya still has a lot of room to grow, and shouldn’t be counted on at the big league level in 2015, at least not to start. A half a season in Triple-A could see enough growth to warrant a longer look, but Moya won’t be ready for that role in April.
Fields remains a sort of enigma, that one scout described as “confusing.” They continue to remark that he exhibits all the qualities you’d want out of a player believed to have a bright big league future, but doesn’t seem to be able to translate it to baseball production. He’s a good athlete and looks the part, but struggles to make contact or drive the ball when he does.
Leyba meanwhile was praised for being one of the youngest players in the AFL and holding his own, but scouts frequently mentioned a lack of differentiation on his part. He’s not terribly athletic and as the scouting report has said on him for some time, he doesn’t have a carrying tool that makes him stand out.
Overall, the optimism over Ray and his performance was probably the most encouraging story for the Tigers coming out of Arizona this fall. It remains to be seen how that could influence the Tigers decision-making as the off-season progresses.