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Dylan Ray n Things
Nate Handy provides an in-depth breakdown of Dylan Ray
By: Nate Handy
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Weaponry. The offerings a pitcher uses to try and mess up hitters’ timing, get them out. From a 100 mph fastball, to a 50 mph euphus, disrupting timing is the name of the game. Sure, location and a pitch’s movement play into earning whiffs or mishits, but even then, I’d consider timing disruption a part of that equation versus the best hitters in the world. Regardless, knowing the toolbox is imperative in evaluating a pitcher’s outlook. We can forever debate how much our future outlooks should be dependent on the toolbox. My preference is to consider it as much as the other part, how well they know how to use the tools/how capable they are of using them. A 50/50 split. These days, the split is one-half excellently quantifiable things. The other end may have some metrics and cues attempting to help, but is one I theorize measured best with eyeballs, which is laborious.
The dynasty world knows more about the toolbox, thus the big toolbox guys get more of the attention. Makes sense. I postulate one could do fairly well strictly evaluating this half of things. But I want to be better than my competition. There is a bar an arm has to reach on both ends of the spectrum to become a viable MLB starter but history has shown outlier arms (on either end) can experience successful careers, and that the real transcendent bangers…have both… high-end toolboxes and high-end ability to use them.
My understanding of the size of one’s toolbox has evolved over the years. In part because my understanding grew, but also because the game shifted some. Primarily two-pitch pitchers used to not get invited to my party. They’re more likely to get considered now. They are getting more MLB starter jobs for one, but also because of a notion Sean McGrath (the then Mariners AA pitching coach, now Iowa’s pitching coach) and Geoff Pontes discussed on an episode of the 90th percentile podcast. (link to episode) McGrath suggested a definition of an MLB starter might be how well they execute their best pitch. This checks out for me. For some MLB two-pitch guys, it almost seems they have two best pitches and execute them both very well, but I digress. The size of the arsenal may not matter all that much, but for my tastes, evolving arms with deeper toolboxes simply present more possibilities.
Interestingly, watching a lot of minor league arms, the part about reaching a bar on either end…the minors are more populated with capable toolboxes than they are with arms capable of using them well. So long story short, I’m on the prowl for arms with the know-how/capability to maximize whatever they’re working worth first, and worry about the quality of tools second. I may be a bit of an oddball in this regard.
The man I recently binge-watched all his broadcasts (minus Everett’s pressbox games) fits this bill. Ray is pushing to get the most out of his interesting (and I dare say mysterious) toolbox.
What Was Known Heading In…
Not much. Ray was the second Alabama pitcher taken in the 2022 draft. He was a fourth-rounder, while teammate and Wisconsin-bred Connor Prielipp was the heavily touted arm with injury stuff taken in the second round. (FWIW, after this review, I’d take a gamble on Ray over my guy Prielipp at this juncture.) Ray had Tommy John surgery while in college and logged just 31.1 IP during his time at school, all in relief 2022. Ray has put up some lines and good overall production this season at high A Hillsboro:
And I knew several Dugout members were interested in knowing more about him. That was it really. I’d not seen but a few PAs prior. I will share some scouting-grade stuff as we go, but I didn’t look at these until after the watch. This review was of twelve outings watched casually and then eight outings watched with much more intent and tracked here, albeit in a sloppy manner: (link to notes)
There’s an old adage that the best pitch in baseball is a well-located fastball. It’s an old adage because there’s truth in it. For Ray, there is a teddy bear pitch. When it’s time for some comfort, time to steal a little some-some, winning the pivotal first pitch of an AB, etc., his glove-side fastball starting off the plate, coming back to nip the edge is it. This pitch garnered bountiful called strikes, especially on the first pitch. I can’t say I spot it with 100% certainty, but it sure seems like a two-seamer. There are definitely two fastball signs being put down at times, but what appears to be a four-seamer and two-seamer mix isn’t always jiving with the signs I’m seeing. In some outings, one finger seems to produce either varietal, other times it’s clear his catcher, J.J. D’Orazio (who really impressed this watch and appears to be a legit MLB catching prospect) is calling for a two-seamer or four-seamer. There were also a few occasions I’d bet he threw a cutter, but we’re talking maybe 3-4 times the whole review. Here’s a cycle through some signs (slider/4-seam/2-seam/curveball/change):
And this is the teddy bear:
Ray loves this outside backdoor fastball to righties, but he’s not shy about using it as a frontdoor inside offering to lefties either. I was left wondering if the pitch could have some teeth trying to get on the hands of righties. Ray tried it on occasion, but I wonder if undesirable outcomes have him shying away. Similarly, the tailing action away to lefties…he didn’t seem to try that as a chase offering too often. Long story short, he’s much more comfortable landing this pitch glove-side.
Ray can go on long stretches (like the whole review) of executing this pitch at a very high level, rarely letting it eek onto the plate too much while garnering a high strike percentage. Granted we don’t get really great angles but these hitters sure seem to say no to this pitch quite early. This is the foundation of his fastball game. There is no statcast nor broadcast graphic velo reports here, but the pressbox shares sometimes. Velocity reports there ranged from high 80s to 97 mph on “fastballs.” Taking a TV broadcaster’s word for what offering is being thrown is far from 100% accurate, often quite bad. But I double/triple or more checked darn near every pitch of the eight-game review. They were reporting stadium gun velos on fastballs, that part was true, but again, I think there were different varietals with the two-seamer and rare cutter getting called out on the low end. That being said, I think it’s fair to say his velocity does fluctuate. The encouraging part is it may have been getting faster the deeper we went into the review. With the last outing, 7/21 having the claims of 97. Regardless of the exact number, the eyeballs could tell you he was humming it that day. For a guy in his first year of starting, logging innings like this, velocity potentially jumping fifteen starts in is intriguing.
Although capable at times, Ray’s game isn’t overpowering hitters with the fastball. He plays them up in the zone far more than down without exuding a ton of confidence in them. He’s very conscious of them not catching too much plate. Is this because he feels he can’t get away with it as much as others, or because he’s trying to be that sophisticated? There is a lot of improvement in his fastball game that can come when ahead in counts. Ray is ahead a lot. The 7/21 start he didn’t get into a three-ball count until his last batter faced, for example. Ray’s 0-2 or 1-2 fastballs, even when the intent is clearly to try and get chase out of the zone, miss the mark by too much, far too often. There are burn-one-here-to-try-and-let-them-get-themselves-out offerings and then there are completely noncompetitive offerings. There’s far too much of the latter, especially with the fastball. Here he gets to an 0-2 count after two changeups, two yuck fastballs and then gives up what he didn’t want to do 2-2 with a changeup:
Here are some more bad 0-2 fastballs, this sample doesn’t even run past April. Plus, these were just the ones I happened to mark down before I even knew it was a season-long thing:
The fastball is far from an out pitch at this juncture. Of the 41 strikeouts in these eight games, 14 were fastballs, maybe 15 as a few couldn’t be deciphered. In other words, just over a third of the Ks were finished off with fastballs and even then, the majority of those were in the early part of his season. And within the fastball Ks, they are almost always up and often out of the zone. Is this because the quality isn’t there? The confidence in it isn’t there? Because the secondaries got better? All of it? End of the day, the fastball isn’t looking like an MLB hitter destroyer, yet anyway.
BA tagged Ray with a 50 control grade and a 55 fastball grade. I’m no grader and not questioning their report at all, but I was guessing control would maybe be 55 or 60 and fastball 50 or 45. Fangraphs has a 45/50 on the fastball and a 30/50 on command…not selling that ice to this eskimo. The variance in the fastball grade makes a lot of sense to me. Depending on when you catch Ray, you can get different showings. The fastball outlook has mystery in it and could be a key part of how it ends up going for Ray. The control grades though, being mindful of the difference between command and control, sell Ray short IMO, especially if you weigh secondary command higher than fastball command, and even more so if you give points for commanding a feel pitch…
This offering appears to be turning into Ray’s nasty. With a similar movement profile as the “2-seam” fastball, this thing pulls a mean parachute with pressbox reports it can get upwards of 12/13 mph difference, and it moves (or has the illusion of movement, however you want to talk about changeup profiles, you’ll blatantly see what I’m saying.) Ray commands it too. Of course, there are occasions when it gets away, but even then, it gets whiffs versus these hitters. I’ve never video-deep-dived on a guy whose missed changeups up in the zone have gotten such favorable results. Of course, that’s not a plan you want to run with, but perhaps a testament to its nastiness. As our review progressed, it was obvious he was understanding how to use it and how potent it could be. And unafraid to double and even triple up on it, and like all his offerings, unafraid to use it in any count. He will use it against righties too, with success, typically after the slider feel isn’t there, which happened frequently and may be part of the evolution story of the changeup. Here is a clip from the 7/21 start (if you’re going to watch one Ray outing, I recommend that one, especially if you want to see him feeling the change and pumping the fastball) whereupon he shakes off every other idea to finish off a righty (Brett Auerbach) with a change, and then triples up on it versus a lefty (Ghordy Santos) the next at-bat, after getting down 2-0 from two missed fastballs (96 and 93 mph, not shown):
(note: Ray started lifting his glove above his head about two thirds of the way through the review. Old school. Not sure why. Related to setting grip in a more hidden manner?)
(The above was the “Oooh Shit” moment in this review.)
Ray is efficient, throwing 65% strikes on the season. Which is interesting for a guy who could be labeled a nibbler with the fastball. There was a streak of five out of seven outings he was 71% plus. Within that stretch, as they allowed his pitch counts to grow, he threw four FQOs in five outings. He also had a 21-inning scoreless streak. Doing such things typically requires secondary command/control. Ray’s fast/slow game is his strong suit. From the start of the season fb/chg/fb/ is a common sequence and he’s gotten more sophisticated throwing in wrinkles as it’s moved along. Here’s a sequence you don’t see every day, especially in A-ball as he goes changeup/fastball/changeup/fastball to a righty, Dasan Brown (should have been an out):
(During the final edit, I caught a blurred frame of the second changeup in this sequence, whereupon I think Ray had a split change grip. Hard to tell, but that’s different than his typical “ok” change grip. It wouldn’t shock me in the least if he’s tinkering like this.)
BA slapped a 45 on the change while Fangraphs has a 45/50. Seems to me it’s evolved into something capable of being above average. Down the stretch of our review, this offering was stealing the show.
Ray’s exciting in that he has the potential to play all the games; speed you up, slow you down, go fast, medium, slow, go north, go south, go east, go west against both side hitters. If we can set aside Trevor Bauer’s drama, he does know things about pitching. Watch this 30-second clip (link). It’s not that easy Trevor, but it is a dynamic way to attack hitters and give them too many problems to cover at once. This idea is with me when watching and trying to prognosticate how one may fair against major league hitters and/or how one may carve out a lasting role in the bigs. Within this idea is where you can separate the two-pitch guys, pointing to the limitations they have.
Getting back to Ray, the slider, specifically the command of it, has lots of room for improvement and is his medium-speed avenue. Plenty of pitchers have a speed they haven’t conquered. (Caden Dana is a young guy we looked at with this question. Jumping to the bigs, Reid Detmers’ slider seems pivotal to how things go for him.) Unlike the command of Ray’s other offerings, when Ray loses the slider feel, it can stay in a rough patch much longer. Ray’s least productive stretches tend to be when the slider feel eludes him. He can get bullheaded about trying to find it too, which I like at this juncture in his career. Here’s a K vs Alex DeJesus where he gets that first-pitch backdoor fastball for a called strike and then has a little adventure with three sliders:
Here, after three misses (fb/fb/chg), he shows some stones and faith in the slider, going to it twice, albeit with a less optimal result:
Here’s a look at some backed up sliders, which was a little bit of an issue for Ray, and a hung one at the end. Ray could benefit from burying his breaking balls better, which did improve as the review moved along:
Breaking balls are the toughest to evaluate via video for me. What looks good can sometimes not really be that great, as far as the true quality of the pitch goes, and vice versa. The slider movement looks to be inconsistent too, sometimes appearing firmer than others, sometimes seeming the break axis shifts. It’s an overall work in progress that has exciting moments. Here is a K vs. Grant McCray early in the season. I put it here because the first-pitch backfoot slider was probably the best backfooter he threw in the review. That pitch could use some work. You can see some of the adventures in the breaking ball game early this season as he went slider/change/curve/fastball/fastball/curve. This was a wild at-bat that ended well and is not a great representation of Ray, but I wanted to get that first pitch in here:
Here are some good sliders:
Fangraphs slaps a 45/50 on this offering, while BA gives it a 60, which surprised me. Are we to speculate the pitch achieves some encouraging pitch-plus-type reviews? Does inconsistency matter in such things? Was it just the happenstance of when it was measured, if it was measured at all? Are there labeling inconsistencies in play? Because his curveball got a 55/55 by FanGraphs and a 50 by BA.
The curveball, arguably his best pitch by the grades, rarely came out early in the review. Or was at least coming out much more near the end. It’s more likely to come out versus lefties, but played to righties too. With there being way more sliders thrown it begs the question if the curveball is at a better place than the slider and Ray and the D’Backs have simply been trying to develop the slider more or if Ray just doesn’t like the curveball as much OR if the changeup has just surpassed the curve as the slow speed show stealer? Another, albeit less important, Ray mystery. I’d suggest the curveball was commanded fairly well. There were some ups and downs, but appears to have a nice depth to it. When a curveball is just thrown in from time to time (probably mostly in try-and-get-a-whiff scenarios) it can be hard to come away with strong opinions on it. For me anyway. Here’s a look at some curveballs getting outs:
Here is another montage too large, but you should definitely watch it:
(Nevermind the mislabeled title when you get in there)
When binging and cueing in on what the intentions of the battery might be and how the execution is going, it can be easy to lose track of the score of the game and such things. When you’re skipping ahead, pitch-to-pitch, zoned in on catcher signs, rewinding and pausing/zooming in, operating some screen video software and all that stuff…you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the score graphic in the 4th inning, taken aback by how many runs the pitcher did, or didn’t give up. With Ray, when this occurred, and there was a run or two on the board, my reaction was, when the hell did that happen?! Even when execution was a struggle, like during the Spokane start 6/8, I was surprised to see runs on the board. Which I think is a good sign.
Ray doesn’t walk many, with a 3.09 BB/9 on the season. Yet, it seemed when he did give some free passes, they’d hurt him. This was definitely the case when he opened up the Spokane start with two straight walks (a rarity.) Both came around to score.
Of the 160 PAs viewed in the eight starts, Ray allowed 10 XBH. Three home runs; Walking Cabrera on a 1-0 fastball, Victor Bericoto on a sabotaged first-pitch fastball, and a hanging 3-1 slider to James Parker. Ray allowed seven doubles, two of which were against big leaguer Wade Meckler, four were off fastballs, one on first pitch, three when behind and trying to get back. One of the doubles was off a changeup whereupon a rough bounce off the turf got over the LFer’s head. Another double off a changeup that caught too much plate and one off a hanging slider. The point is, Ray hasn’t been giving up a lot of loud contact. Walks, cheapies, and questionable defense played into runs scoring more than getting rocked around the yard.
Of course, there is much to be proven against better hitters. The notes spreadsheet isn’t murderer’s row. But against this level, many of whom are looking for fastballs to drive, Ray doesn’t give them many good pitches to hit. They say in the big leagues if you’re lucky, you get one good pitch to hit an AB. In the minors, you get more, but with Ray, he’s stingy.
And when he did face some of the better lineups, nothing seemed to really change, except maybe his confidence level. There doesn’t seem to be a big killer in him on 0-2 and 1-2 counts. I dare say he may be overly careful at times. Perhaps even trying to make too perfect of a pitch when he smells blood. Overall, there are areas I can’t help but wonder if Ray’s just gonna get better by merely pitching more and logging more positive outcomes. Maybe it will take a tweak in fastball or someone simply telling him it’s good because of x or y. Ray throws strikes and is efficient, but he doesn’t strike me as ultra-aggressive. He’s more matador than bull at this point. But could he get away with being more bull?
So What Do We Do With All This?
I might be having fun playing armchair scout, but this is about having fun playing dynasty baseball. Is Ray worth rostering? Maybe. I am in spots. No knock on anyone as it’s more just a matter of taste, but there are arms up and down everyone’s rank lists I’m not interested in at all, whereas I am here.
There’s no doubt he’s up my personal alley. There’s no big obvious monster pitch Ray can ride through pro success, which might be a blessing in disguise. Plenty of arms have ridden big fastballs or big breakers to the show, arguably short-changing themselves in the long run, never developing a more sophisticated attack or robust toolbag. Ray doesn’t strike me as that type. He and his battery mate are already growing a myriad of different attacks and leaps are being made by a 22-year-old in his first season starting at a high level. I can’t help but think he and his organization are happy with the progress.
If you are one that requires your specs to produce gaudy numbers on their way up, Ray may not be for you. I can foresee Ray hitting the uppers and producing ugly results. In a way, we may want him to. If he starts to be more aggressive in the zone with the fastball, it isn’t far-fetched that Amarillo and the Texas League treat his lines poorly as collateral damage from such a process can happen. And of course, the PCL awaits after that. It will be interesting to see him against more experienced hitters trying to take his teddy bear away, which I suspect they might, especially on the first pitch after getting to know him. In short, if you’re gonna be a Ray guy, sign up for the long haul. I get Joey Estes vibes in regard his evolution up may not show in the manner most hunt for arms.
I’ve been labeled too optimistic sometimes, but everything Ray seems headed in a positive direction, and I’m only that way with guys who are my type. There’s prudence and courage to grow into his craft. He’s showing the harder-to-find half of the real banger equation; know-how, Mussina Index, with tools that aren’t anything to shake a stick at. There could be real teeth in the entirety of the weapons and lots of directions he could pivot to. With such a short track record, how do we know how much developmental meat may or may not be left on the bone? 22 is still an infant in starting pitcher years and his arm hasn't shot a lot of bullets. There is certainly more polish needed, but there’s already a nice coat or two down on this prospect I’d firmly be planting inside a top 500 list. But I haven’t lined them up like that, so maybe I’m off. There’s no way there are 100 arms fitting my mold more so than Ray out there. But that’s me and I get he’s not the typical dynasty darling. At 6’3”, country-strong looking, sneakily athletic, TJ already done, with an org desperately trying to grow some of their own, who may actually be able to pitch…I’m so in at this 2% Fantrax roster percentage.