Image credit: Austin Pruitt (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
On a day where the Rays made a big move, trading Matthew Liberatore to the Cardinals, they also made a smaller move, sending righthander Austin Pruitt to the Astros in a deal that brought back outfielder Cal Stevenson and righthander Peyton Battenfield.
For the Astros, the trade gives the club another low-cost arm with MLB experience who could fit into the Astros bullpen with an ability to fill in as a starter. His lack of options will limit his value in a bullpen however, as teams generally prefer low-leverage relievers who can be promoted and demoted as needed. For the Rays, his role will likely be taken by pitchers like Trevor Richards, Jalen Beeks and Anthony Banda, all of whom still have remaining options.
Peyton Battenfield, RHP
Battenfield is the younger brother of Blake Battenfield, a pitcher in the White Sox system. He pitched his way into the second day of the 2019 draft as a ninth-round pick after a strong finish to his junior year at Oklahoma State. A reliever with the Cowboys, Battenfield was used as a starter and reliever in his pro debut. He has four fringe-average to average pitches (91-95 mph fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup). His velocity has ticked up in the past year, so there is hope there is even more to come. He’s the kind of versatile swingman/bulk-innings pitcher who the Rays have had success developing.
Cal Stevenson, OF
Stevenson is a little undersized (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) and his tools are unspectacular, but he’s an excellent baseball player because he almost always puts the bat on the ball. A 10th-round senior sign by the Blue Jays out of Arizona in 2018, he was part of last summer’s Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini trade. He runs the risk that eventually he’ll run into a situation where, much like Cardinals outfield prospect Mike O’Neill years ago, his OBP skills diminish once more advanced pitchers challenge him pitch after pitch. But his ability to make contact makes him hard to strike out and he can work counts to the point where he either lines a pitch or draws ball four. He is an above-average runner who is a little stretched in center field, but needs to be able to play there enough to be a potential fourth outfielder option. Stevenson used to pitch and does have some arm strength.
Austin Pruitt, RHP
Pruitt has ridden the Durham-St. Petersburg shuttle for each of the past three years. He’s been optioned and recalled from the Bulls to the Rays (and back again 16 times since he was first added to the 40-man roster before the 2017 season). He’s been a low-leverage reliever, spot starter and bulk-innings reliever for the Rays thanks to a a fringe-average 91-93 mph fastball, average changeup, slider and cutter. Pruitt’s value to a big league club is somewhat diminished because he is out of options. Pruitt could potentially slip through waivers if designated for assignment, but because a team cannot be confident of moving him up and down from Triple-A to the majors, he comes into spring training needing to show that he’s worthy of a permanent spot as a reliever/swing starter.