By David Driver
Used with permission
By David Driver
Prince William Today
FREDERICK, Md. - Robbie Ray, 21, sat a few rows back of home plate here Saturday night, charting pitches at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick for the Single-A Potomac Nationals of Woodbridge.
On a pleasant evening north of the Potomac River in western Maryland, left-handed starting pitcher Ray kept a keen eye on opposing hitters for the Frederick Keys since he would be on the mound the next day facing the Baltimore farm team.
“I just read the other team and see what they will do, looking for their tendencies,” said Ray, standing outside of the Potomac clubhouse prior to Saturday’s game.
Whatever Ray does is working, as the Potomac pitcher was named to the Carolina League All-Star team that will face its California League counterparts on Tuesday, June 18 in San Jose.
Ray leads the Carolina League in strikeouts with 93 and is tied for fourth in ERA at 2.84.
“It has been very good,” he said of this season. “I am fine tuning some things. I have been able to bounce back. Last year I struggled a little bit” with an ERA of 6.56 in 22 games with the P-Nats.
Ray is the No. 10 prospect in the Washington system, according to MLB.com, and No. 18 according to Baseball America.
"Robbie throws a fastball, curveball and changeup. In Instructional League last year we made a mechanical change with Robbie that has helped him utilize his lower half better as well as aid in his deception," according to Doug Harris, the former JMU pitcher who is now director of player development for Washington. "He had a very good off season from a strength and conditioning standpoint and continues to mature physically. The combination has allowed him to repeat his delivery with greater consistency, improved his velocity and is enabling him to hold his stuff deeper into games.”
It also means Ray will get a free trip to California, just the second time he has been to The Golden State. His mother, father and sister plan to be at the All-Star game.
After pitching in Frederick on Sunday, Ray was slated to fly with his Potomac teammates to California on Monday.
All-Star players were expected to attend the Giants home game against the Padres on Monday and also take part in a banquet and pre-game events prior to the contest on Tuesday.
Ray is scheduled to fly back to the East Coast on Wednesday. Potomac will resume its season June 21 with a home series with Salem.
But is it possible Ray could earn a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg after the All-Star break?
“I am going to keep doing what I am doing,” said Ray, who has no idea if he will get sent to Harrisburg. “Obviously the ultimate goal is to be a Major League player.”
He said it is motivating to see pitchers such as Nathan Karns, a teammate last year at Potomac, get called up from Harrisburg to pitch for the Nationals for three starts before he was sent back to Harrisburg last week.
“It is huge. You know you can get a phone call” with a strong performance at the Double-A or Triple-A level, Ray said.
Ray was 4-12 last year at Potomac after he went 2-3, 3.13 in 20 starts with low Single-A Hagerstown in 2011.
During Instructional League last fall he raised his arm slot a little. Ray said he also has more confidence in his curve this year and will use it on 3-2 counts if need be. After the season he worked out in Tennessee with several pro players, including Mike Minor of the Braves.
Ray was drafted in the 12th round out of a Tennessee high school in 2010 by Washington and turned down a chance to play at the University of Arkansas when he signed with the Nationals.
Ray is good friends with Potomac’s A.J. Cole, another promising pitcher in the Washington system. They have known each other since high school showcase events.
“We feed off each other,” said Cole, back with Washington after he was traded to Oakland in 2011. “This year I have been watching he has been doing really well. I am happy for him as friend and a player. He is doing really well and I hope he keeps going.”