On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they selected the contract of right-hander Trevor Kelley, who signed a minor league deal over the winter. In order to add Kelley to the roster, the Rays placed fellow right-hander Andrew Kittredge on the 60-day injured list.
The Rays previously made this move at the start of Spring Training, yet the league voided the deal since non-roster invitees are technically not eligible to be selected to the 40-man roster until March 15. However, the transaction now can be processed as planned.
Kelley had seen major league time in parts of three seasons with Boston, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee dating back to 2019. That time had been a struggle for the hurler, including last season when he logged a career-high 23.2 innings for the Brewers. He performed to a 6.08 ERA and a 6.41 FIP with a below-average 21.5% strikeout rate and a solid 8.4% walk rate with the Brewers. Yet, his expected numbers — a 4.20 xERA and 4.56 xFIP — while not eye-popping, were dramatically better. Home runs have been a recurring issue for Kelley, who has averaged a whopping 2.8 HR/9 over his career (11 home runs in 35.1 big league innings).
The right-hander has thrived at the Triple-A level, though, suggesting he has not yet clicked in the majors. In 164.1 minor league innings, Kelley sports a 1.81 ERA with a 25.7% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk rate.
He has a minor league option remaining too, so Tampa Bay doesn’t need to expose him to waivers if they wish to send him down at any point. That gives Kevin Cash some flexibility this season. Should he establish himself in the Rays’ bullpen, he could be a long-term option — Kelley is four days shy of a full year of big league service time, and he’s controllable for a full six seasons.
Tampa Bay, which is known for helping pitchers take the final step, clearly saw something in Kelley and his sidearm delivery, and suffice it to say he can give opponents an additional look out of the ‘pen.
At the start of Spring Training, Rays’ pitching coach, Kyle Snyder, had Kelley try a couple of new grips, giving birth to a pair of new pitches: a low-90s two-seam fastball and a mid-80s sweeping slider. You can see the cut action of Kelley’s heater above. According to Adam Barry (MLB.com), Kelley believes that will open up the bottom of the strike zone, which he previously struggled to utilize, and make him more dangerous against lefties.
It’s been here the entire time, and Snyder has just been the one to say, ‘Try this. Trust this.— Trevor Kelley
Thus far the results have been great, with Kelley posting six innings of shutout ball with just three hits and two walks against six strikeouts.