When the Tampa Bay Rays traded Steven Souza Jr. to the Arizona Diamondbacks on February 20th, 2018 in a three-team deal with the New York Yankees, the focus was infield prospect Nick Solak and pitching prospect Anthony Banda coming to Tampa Bay. Both were highly regarded and rightfully so, with Solak coming off of a MiLB.com New York Yankees Organization All-Star honor and Banda having already made his Major League debut. However, the Rays also secured two “players to be named later” in the deal and on May 1st, the Rays acquired pitchers Colin Poche and Sam McWilliams from Arizona. Since that time, the relatively unheralded Poche has broken out on the national stage.
Poche was initially selected with little fanfare in the 14th round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Dallas Baptist University. A solid professional debut with Short-Season Hillsboro was a pleasant surprise, but 2017 began to put Poche on the map. The left-hander split the season between Single-A Kane County and Advanced-A Visalia, posting video game type numbers, going a combined 3–1 with a 1.25 ERA (50.1 IP) in 31 games, allowing seven earned runs all season, striking out 81 batters and holding opposing hitters to a .174 batting average. In fact, Poche struck out 37% of all the batters he faced while with Visalia.
All of these statistics were accomplished with a fastball that sits between 89–92 mph, but is lethal because of his deception. Multiple players at Spring Training this season, including catcher Nick Ciuffo who worked with Poche in Durham last season, alluded to his fastball as being “invisible.”
“He makes some guys look really bad,” Ciuffo said in an interview with MLB.com’s Juan Toribio. “He’s really, really good, and he’s going to help this team out a lot in the future.”
Poche followed up his breakout season in 2017 with incredible numbers last season in the Diamondbacks and Rays system. Poche went a combined 6–0 with a 0.82 ERA (66.0 IP), striking out 110 batters and holding opposing batters to a .151 average. In Double-A alone, Poche allowed four hits and no earned runs, while striking out 60% of all batters he faced.
Now, Poche is aiming for his Major League debut and earned a non-roster invitation to Spring Training this year. Despite his success, Poche is not currently on the 40-man roster and Tampa Bay is already short on space there, making his path to the majors this season an uphill battle.
“It’s not something that I can control,” Poche said in an interview with MLB.com’s Juan Toribio. “For me, I’m more focused on going out and performing so the people think I deserve that spot.”
In the interim, Poche could spend time in Durham, where he went 5–0 with a 1.08 ERA last season. The Durham bullpen could also return 2018 saves leader Ian Gibaut for a formidable one-two punch. Poche struck out three of the four batters he faced in a Triple-A Championship game loss to Memphis and will be called upon for more innings as Durham seeks a Governors’ Cup three-peat.