The Rays have lost a second highly touted pitching prospect to a torn ulnar collateral ligament, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that right-hander Jose De Leon is headed for Tommy John surgery (Twitter link). Fellow right-hander Brent Honeywell, widely regarded as Tampa Bay’s best all-around prospect, underwent Tommy John earlier this spring.
Acquired last offseason in a straight-up swap for infielder Logan Forsythe, De Leon was thought to be a near-MLB-ready asset at the time of the trade. However, De Leon battled a flexor strain and tendinitis in his elbow for much of the 2017 season and was ultimately limited to just 41 innings on the season as a whole — 38 1/3 frames in Triple-A plus another 2 2/3 innings at the big league level. Now, with today’s news, the Rays won’t have the opportunity to reap much benefit from that trade until 2019, at the earliest.
While the Rays have an enviable stock of MLB-caliber arms on the precipice of breaking into the Majors, there’s no question that the team’s pitching depth has taken a massive hit in recent weeks. The Rays felt comfortable enough with their depth to trade righty Jake Odorizzi to the Twins in a move that looks to have been largely motivated by finances, and in the three brief weeks since that trade they’ve lost both Honeywell and De Leon — effectively removing three rotation candidates from their roster in under a month’s time.
Tampa Bay will open the season with Chris Archer, Nathan Eovaldi, Blake Snell and Jake Faria in a four-man rotation, with Matt Andriese reportedly likely to jump in as a fifth starter after a few weeks. (The early schedule affords enough off days that Andriese can be used as a multi-inning reliever in the interim.) If Faria can build off an impressive rookie season (3.43 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 in 86 2/3 innings) and Snell can continue at the pace he showed in a very strong second half of the 2017 season (3.49 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9), then the Rays still boast a solid mix of starters even with the recent rash of injuries.
Beyond that quintet, the Rays still have lefties Anthony Banda and Ryan Yarbrough in addition to righty Yonny Chirinos waiting in the wings at Triple-A. Nonetheless, Tampa Bay is considerably less equipped to handle a major injury (or injuries) in the rotation now than it was at the onset of Spring Training. The organization no doubt has Double-A arms that can move up to step into the Triple-A vacancies, though it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see them pursue some additional veteran depth from outside the organization after losing both De Leon and Honeywell for the year.