Had it not been for a deep and immensely talented crop of right-handed pitching prospects in the 2011 draft class, Taylor Guerrieri would have received consideration as a top-five overall pick.
Due to his strong commitment to South Carolina, his home state and lingering questions about his makeup, Guerrieri slipped until the late first round when the Tampa Bay Rays made him the 24th overall draft pick. The right-hander held out until the Aug. 15 signing deadline, but ultimately came to term with the organization on a $1.6 million bonus.
Because he signed so late in the minor league regular season, Guerrieri didn’t make his professional debut until the 2012 season. However, given his physical maturity and pitchability, the Rays assigned him to their Single-A short-season affiliate rather than the traditional rookie-level designation.
Guerrieri exceeded all expectations, registering a 0.87 ERA, 1.99 FIP and .185 BAA in 52 innings spanning 12 starts. He was easily the New York-Penn League’s top pitcher and demonstrated advanced command of his arsenal with a 45/5 strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) rate. Furthermore, he allowed only 35 hits without surrendering a home run.
At 6’3”, 195 pounds, the right-hander is physically strong with fairly broad shoulders and an athletic physique. However, there’s still room left for projection as Guerrieri will add strength to his lower half and core. With a loose arm, his delivery yields easy velocity, and the fact that there’s a little length on the backside enables late life on his fastball.
Although he’s only 19 years old, Guerrieri already possesses a distinct feel for four above average-to-plus pitches. His two-seam fastball is most effective in the 90-96 mph range and is a heavy pitch with tons of sink and late, arm-side action. While his velocity isn’t overpower—well, it was in the New York-Penn League—the right-hander is adept to locating the pitch with near precision against both right- and left-handed hitters. He’ll also mix in a four-seam fastball that registers toward the high end of the aforementioned velocity range.
Guerrieri has a second plus offering in a curveball that features late, downer bite and consistent, tight spin. Due to its excellent pace and shape, he’s had success throwing it for a called strike as well as burying it for swinging strikes. And as he continues to develop an already solid average changeup, his pitchability will receive even higher marks.
Given his early success this year in the New York-Penn League, it would have been easy for the Rays to hand him a quick promotion to Low-A. However, they remained steadfast in their gradual development of the right-hander by keeping him at the same level for his entire professional debut.
With advanced command of four potentially plus pitches, Guerrieri’s ceiling is extremely high as he projects to be a front-line starter for the Rays. However, with no need to rush him, the organization could conceivably move the right-hander at a one level-per-year pace up the ladder, which puts him in line for a 2016 big-league debut. But if he continues to dominate as he did this summer in the New York-Penn League, I wouldn’t be surprised if he arrives a year ahead of schedule.