Breaking down Rays' noteworthy addition to 40-man roster

November 17th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Yoniel Curet just turned 21 earlier this month. He’s only made six appearances above the Single-A level, all of them with High-A Bowling Green down the stretch in 2023. This spring, he didn’t quite crack the Rays’ Top 30 Prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.

Now, Curet has a spot on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster. The club selected the hard-throwing right-hander -- in addition to well-regarded corner infield prospect Austin Shenton-- on Tuesday, protecting both from the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place on Dec. 6 at the Winter Meetings.

Shenton, acquired from the Mariners as part of the Diego Castillo deal around the 2021 Trade Deadline, was more of a traditional addition. The Rays’ No. 26 prospect put together a strong offensive season. Plus, he offers some versatility as a left-handed-hitting first and third baseman, he has already proven himself at the Triple-A level and he could realistically contribute in the Majors next year.

Curet, on the other hand, was somewhat of an unusual selection even after being named the organization’s Pitcher of the Year in September.

The Rays use their entire 40-man roster as well as anybody in baseball, but that means they typically can’t afford to carry many (if any) players who won’t contribute in the Majors. Their flexibility is already a bit limited, as they’re using 40-man spots on a handful of rehabbing pitchers, namely Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs, who can’t be placed on the 60-day injured list until Spring Training.

In other words, Tampa Bay has to make the most of every roster spot it has. That the club added Curet, who is extremely unlikely to pitch for the Major League team this year given his limited experience in the low Minors, speaks to how highly the Rays think of him and how much they didn’t want to risk losing him.

“He still has a ways to go before he impacts the club, but it's the kind of ceiling that you don't want to take for granted, you want to continue to nurture and see where it goes,” Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said. “He has the ingredients to be a front-end pitcher with further refinement, and [those are] the kind of guys that we need to be patient with, but we also need to take care of.

“So it comes at a near-term cost in terms of the Major League roster and making it all work with the 40 spots you have, but there's a point where the assessment of the ceiling amongst our staff is that it's in a place where you want to continue to move it along and is worth that trade-off.”

Putting a young, lower-level prospect like Curet on the roster comes with certain costs. Players generally only get three Minor League option years, and Curet will burn one next season. But the Rays think the long-term reward could be worth whatever it costs them now. And they didn’t want to see another team take a chance on Curet as a Rule 5 pick, hope he could hold his own in a low-leverage bullpen role for a year, then help him develop into something more.

“There's limited time for the development,” Neander said of putting Curet on the roster. “I think it takes a special kind of upside to warrant that type of consideration, and that's the case here.”

Curet’s numbers were certainly impressive in his first full season. He posted a 2.94 ERA in 104 innings over 26 outings for Single-A Charleston and High-A Bowling Green. He struck out 144 of the 432 batters he faced and only allowed 51 hits. His 16.9 percent walk rate was concerning, but he’s still young and learning to harness his electric repertoire.

Neander raved about Curet’s fastball, which can get into the upper 90s and dominate hitters up in the strike zone, calling it “special,” “elite” and “high-end.” Curet said at the end of the season that he wants to work more on his curveball to complement his fastball, slider and changeup.

“There’s still a lot of work I think I can do to get better,” Curet said, through interpreter Manny Navarro, before the Rays’ Minor League awards ceremony in late September. “But thank God that I was able to be in this position to be able to get better.”

Curet said that as he stood in front of the Rays’ dugout at Tropicana Field. He’d been there before for an offseason workout. He couldn’t help but think about when he might be back.

It’s a little easier to imagine now.

“Anytime you're in a park,” he said through Navarro, “you live out this dream.”