Image credit: Adrian Sampson (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
While it’s not the blockbuster you hoped for to kick off deadline day in Major League Baseball, the Rays made a savvy move, bolstering their pitching staff with the addition of starter Adrian Sampson and righthanded reliever Manuel Rodriguez. In exchange for the duo the Rays sent righthanded relief prospect Josh Roberson to the Cubs.
Over the last two days the Rays have added Aaron Civale from the Guardians and Sampson and Rodriguez to fortify a pitching staff that’s been badly thinned by injuries this season. Taj Bradley was demoted to Triple-A on Monday, opening a spot for Civale. Sampson is coming off of an injury and it’s uncertain if he will slide into the rotation.
Rodriguez will join a cache of relievers between the major league roster and Triple-A capable of providing quality major league innings. The Rays entered the week with just Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Taj Bradley and Zach Eflin in their rotation and entered Tuesday with the potential for a full five-man rotation following the additions of Civale and Sampson.
The Cubs add an interesting upper-level arm likely ready to log some service time over the final months of the season. Roberson has spent all of 2023 with Triple-A Durham and shows upper-90s velocity with a devastating slider in the upper 80s.
Adrian Sampson, RHP
Sampson broke into the major leagues in 2016, making a single start with the Rangers. He returned to the big leagues two years later in 2018, before earning regular opportunities with the Rangers in 2019. Sampson went overseas to Korea for the 2020 season, spending one year with the Lotte Giants. He returned to MLB, signing with the Cubs as a minor league free agent in May of 2021. He spent the next two seasons with the Cubs, earning a regular starting role in 2022. Sampson was left off of the Cubs Opening Day roster, and made two starts before going down with a right knee injury that required meniscal debridement surgery. Sampson returned to games late in June but has struggled over five appearances with Triple-A Iowa. His pitch mix consists of three pitches in a sinker, slider and changeup. He will show a four-seam fastball from time to time as well. While Sampson never possessed above-average stuff, his velocity across his arsenal has been down this season in the minors, as his fastball dropped from an average velocity of 92 mph to 89 mph.
Manuel Rodriguez, RHP
Rodriguez, who pitched in the 2021 Futures Game, made his major league debut on July 30, 2021, appearing in 20 games for the Cubs down the stretch. After dealing with injuries in 2022 he returned to the major leagues late in the season. Despite his prior MLB experience, the Cubs’ offseason additions to bolster their bullpen pushed Rodriguez to Triple-A. Rodríguez has found success at Triple-A in 2023, striking out 32.7% of the batters he’s faced, while forcing opposing hitters into a 58.4% groundball rate. Rodriguez boasts a mid-to-high-90s sinker and a cut-slider at 89-90 mph. The sinker rarely misses bats but generates ground balls at an elite rate, while his slider does the heavy lifting behind his strikeout numbers. It’s a classic relief profile the Rays will likely utilize down the stretch.
Josh Roberson, RHP
Roberson was acquired by the Rays as the player to be named later from the Marlins in the Louis Head trade in 2021. He’s 27 years old and reached Triple-A for the first time this season. Roberson was left unprotected during the 2022 Rule 5 Draft, but may have pitched his way into the 40-man picture this season. While his command is troubling, Roberson has loud stuff. It’s a two-pitch mix highlighted by a nasty upper-80s slider with cut and above-average spin rates. He generates a high rate of whiffs on the slider, using a mid-to-upper-90s four-seam fastball in tandem with it. While Roberson’s fastball boasts plus velocity, he lacks command of the pitch, rendering it fairly ineffective as a swing-and-miss offering. Roberson could make his big league debut this season.