No. 17 prospect Curet's dominance catching Rays' attention

April 26th, 2024

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.

CHICAGO -- Four starts into the season with High-A Bowling Green, everything about the way is pitching checks out.

He’s picking up plenty of strikeouts -- 18 in 17 innings, in fact. He’s been difficult to square up, giving up only seven hits, including two homers. He’s still walking batters, with a 13.4% walk rate, but not quite as often as he did in recent seasons. And he’s dominating opponents with his 70-grade fastball, the best heater in Tampa Bay’s Minor League system.

Add it all up, and it’s been a solid start to the season for the Rays’ No. 17 prospect, who earned a spot on their 40-man roster during the offseason even though he’s almost certainly not going to get close to the Majors this year.

“Really encouraged with the start for Curet,” Rays senior director of player development Blake Butera said. “Encouraged with the strike-throwing ability that we've seen this year so far. Just want to see if we can continue that.”

The 21-year-old right-hander was named the Rays’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year after last season, when he went 8-1 with a 2.94 ERA, 144 strikeouts, 73 walks and only 51 hits allowed in 104 innings over 26 outings for Single-A Charleston and Bowling Green. His ability and upside are obvious, but his walk rate screamed “reliever risk.”

What the Rays have seen so far this month, in a limited sample size, is another step in the right direction.

I think mainly just getting ahead with the fastball, he's done a good job,” Butera said. “His pre-two-strike zone rate has been a lot higher than it's been previously, and he's just setting himself up better when he's ahead in the count early.”

Curet throws an effective slider and a changeup, both typically sitting in the mid-to-upper 80s, but his fastball is what makes him a potentially special pitcher. He typically throws his four-seamer at 95-98 mph with movement that makes it an even more effective pitch at the top of the strike zone.

What’s next for Curet? Ideally, more of the same.

“We want to see him continue this and be able to hopefully get into the fifth, sixth, seventh inning and just stay consistent,” Butera said, “and just kind of keep what he's doing right now.”

Triple-A Durham: Pretty tough to ignore what non-roster catcher Alex Jackson is doing after not making the Rays’ Opening Day roster. The 28-year-old is slashing .306/.351/.694 with seven home runs, five doubles and 18 RBIs in 18 games, albeit with 19 strikeouts in 77 plate appearances, and the Rays are pleased with the strides he’s taken defensively behind the plate while splitting time with Logan Driscoll and occasionally Rob Brantly.

Double-A Montgomery: Another catcher off to a hot start? Yes, indeed. Kenny Piper has picked up right where he left off in a breakout 2023 campaign by hitting .309 with a .906 OPS, two homers and 13 RBIs in 15 games. Splitting time with No. 5 prospect Dominic Keegan, Piper has also continued to shine defensively. Before cranking 20 homers in 93 games last year, he had been highly regarded for his skills behind the plate, specifically his incredible throwing arm. If he can maintain this offensive performance, look out.

High-A Bowling Green: The Rays selected Brayden Taylor with the 19th overall pick in last year’s Draft as a third baseman, but he’s done most of his work this season at shortstop, with nine error-free starts there and three at third base. So far, so good. Taylor has shown the all-around talent Tampa Bay expected, slashing .269/.409/.423 with five extra-base hits, eight RBIs, seven steals and nearly as many walks (13) as strikeouts (17).

Single-A Charleston: Selected out of a New York high school in the sixth round of the 2022 Draft, right-hander Gary Gill Hill only just turned 19 years old last September. So he’s young and raw, but undoubtedly talented. After adding weight to his still-lanky frame, he has an easy delivery that can pump out 97 mph fastballs and complements that with a slider and changeup. Three starts into the season, he’s allowed just two runs on eight hits and seven walks with 15 strikeouts in 13 innings.