Luis Patiño was at home in Barranquilla, Colombia, when his agent made a late-night call on Dec. 27. It was actually after 1 a.m., Patiño said, that he learned he was being dealt from the Padres to the Rays -- so late, in fact, that he didn’t answer the phone. His father got word first and broke the news to Patiño.
It was a strange and surprising feeling for Patiño, the promising young right-hander, because he hadn’t heard that he might be traded. But as soon as word spread that he’d been traded, Patiño heard from outfielder Manuel Margot and reliever Emilio Pagán about the Rays’ reputation for developing pitchers and how much he’d enjoy playing there.
And when he learned he was part of Tampa Bay’s return for former American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, Patiño realized what it meant.
“To know that I was a piece in the deal where the pitchers [have] had a lot of success in this league, and to be a part of an organization like the Rays and the fact that they wanted me here, it's definitely a good feeling,” Patiño said on a Zoom call with Rays interpreter Manny Navarro.
It was an unexpected end to a wild year for Patiño, MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect. He entered last season having made two starts above Class A ball and finished it pitching for the Padres in the National League Division Series. Then, all of a sudden, he was gone, part of the blockbuster deal that also netted Tampa Bay catcher Francisco Mejía, right-hander Cole Wilcox and catcher Blake Hunt, a familiar face who caught Patiño’s bullpen session during the Rays’ second Spring Training workout in Port Charlotte, Fla.
“Seems to be a guy that there's a lot of reasons to be excited about,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Seems very motivated, very polished, very mature for what he's been through already in a brief career."
This Spring Training will give the Rays a better idea about where Patiño fits in their short- and long-term plans, but he has been dreaming about an opportunity to lock down a spot in the Majors for a long time. He started playing baseball when he was 3 years old. He played soccer to help his quickness and agility and basketball to improve his overall athleticism. For him, other sports were means to an end: baseball.
When Patiño was 16 years old, he said, somebody first described him as “electric.” His teachers would often use the same word to describe his high-energy attitude. That, as much as the way fastballs explode out of his right hand, explains his Twitter handle: @ElElectrico62.
“I've always loved baseball and I wanted to do whatever I can to be the best player I could,” Patiño said.
He’s maintained that attitude throughout his professional career. He’s often sought advice from veteran left-hander José Quintana, a fellow Colombian who Patiño considers “like a father figure.” When Spring Training was shut down last year, Patiño went to Miami to live and train with -- and learn from -- his baseball idol.
“He’s got the experience,” Patiño said. “[To be] invited into his house and work with him and know what he's doing from as soon as he wakes up to when he goes to sleep and the routines, I think it actually helped me mature not only as a player, but as a person as well. Just the hard work he puts in and everything, I tried to learn as much as I could from him as well with all the experience he has.”
Patiño is young, having just turned 21 in October. He doesn’t have a huge frame, listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. Even Cash said he “might look younger than he is -- and that’s a compliment. He’s very much got that baby face.” But he was considered the headliner of the Rays’ return for Snell for a reason.
His fastball clocked in around 97 mph last season and topped out at 100 mph last season. Hitters struggled to square up his changeup and slider during his debut in the Majors, too, whiffing on nearly half of the breaking balls he threw. His surface-level stats weren’t great during his stint in San Diego -- a 5.19 ERA, 1.85 WHIP and 14 walks in 17 1/3 innings -- but he has a ton of upside, big-time stuff and a hunger to improve.
“I think the strongest point for me is my mentality. I set myself a lot of goals at the beginning of the year, things I want to achieve throughout the year,” he said. “I'm very excited to be here. To get to another World Series would be great for this organization. I want to help that team be a part of that.”
The Rays quickly got a feel for all of that just watching Patiño throw off a bullpen mound Friday morning at Charlotte Sports Park.
“Very, very motivated. Driven to be really, really good,” Cash said. “Motivated, driven and really hungry to be good are kind of the three things that we've heard -- along with just outstanding work ethic.”