The Situation: Rays long man Tommy Hunter has hit the DL after suffering a calf injury covering first base this past weekend. In his stead the Rays have called up pitching prospect Chih-Wei Hu to take over his role in their bullpen
The Background: Hu was signed out as an 18-year-old of Taiwan by the Minnesota Twins in 2012 for $220,000. He made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League the following season and proceeded level-by-level from there. Although he never posted big strikeout numbers in the minors, his performance was never anything less than stellar at any extended stop. So yeah, he was basically a Twins pitching prospect. Hu was dealt to the Rays in August 2015 as part of the Kevin Jepsen deal and continued to have success while posting average-ish K-rates. A strong Double-A campaign—that level was always going to be an important test of the profile—in 2016, along with flashes of better velocity, was enough to make him the sixth-best prospect on the 2017 Rays Top Ten list.
Scouting Report: Hu is a big-bodied, pitchability-over-stuff right-hander. These aren’t the sexiest of prospect profiles, but Hu has been effective at every level he’s pitched. He works off a deceptive, low-90s fastball that can bump into the mid-90s in short bursts. The party piece here is his palmball, which is a bit of a modern relic. It’s no mere museum piece though, rather a swing-and-miss offering that can touch 90 mph. He throws the palmball sparingly and fills out the rest of his arsenal with a pair of breaking balls and a change-up. All have a chance to be average offerings, but none are quite at that level yet. As you can might be able to guess from the description of the arsenal, Hu gets by on command and pitch mix. He can throw good strikes with his fastball, and isn’t afraid to throw his offspeed early in the count. Hu lacks premium stuff, so there isn’t a ton of upside here, but the Taiwanese righty is just about ready to eat innings at the back of a major league rotation.
Immediate Big League Future: The bullpen assignment here is likely temporary. Hu only has made five starts in Triple-A, and the Rays tend to like their arms to log innings at every level of the minors. Hunter’s injury may not keep him out much past the minimum, though leg injuries can be tricky. Keep an eye on if Hu’s fastball ticks up in his relief assignment though, this could be a trial balloon for a more meaningful bullpen role later this year if a spot doesn’t open up in the Tampa Bay rotation or if major league hitters find more success squaring his stuff than their minor league counterparts have. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Fantasy Impact: Hu didn't put up Hu-ge numbers (sorry, off to a bad start) at Double-A Montgomery last season, but he was solid, posting a 2.59 ERA in 24 starts. While his palmball is a cool gimmick, it doesn't necessarily translate to huge strikeout totals, as Hu strugging to whiff seven batters per nine last season. Having said that, his 3.39 DRA and 90 cFIP point to an eminently middle of the road pitcher.
While middle of the road sounds like a knock, Hu does possess some fantasy value. He's going to call Tropicana Field his home park, which helps physically if not aesthetically, and there's always a need for solid performers, especially in deeper leagues. The immediate issue for Hu, is that he's probably not getting called up as a starter, so he'll likely log innings in middle relief. That's useful for the real life club, but not so much for us in fantasy. I'd keep an eye on Hu in dynasty formats, but I wouldn't expect much in his first big league foray. —Mark Barry