One of the hottest pitching prospects in the Tampa Bay Rays organization is coming home.
Mahopac grad C.J. Riefenhauser has had an eye-opening season in the Rays’ organization as a left-handed reliever, which has earned him a spot in the MLB Futures Games at Citi Field on Sunday.
“I was at my locker just getting dressed to go to BP and the manager came over to congratulate me. I had no idea,” Riefenhauser said. “It’s a great honor. The Rays definitely kept working with me, and this organization is so pitcher dominant. Just to be recognized is unbelievable, especially with it being in New York.”
Riefenhauser was originally selected to play in the Double-A all-star game after a lights out first half. The 23-year-old had a 0.51 ERA and 0.74 WHIP with 11 saves and 48 strikeouts in 53 innings for the Rays’ affiliate in Montgomery, Ala., before being promoted to Triple-A Durham at the end of June.
“We expect him to keep on rolling the way that he’s doing it,” Rays organizational pitching coordinator Dick Bosman said. “I don’t see where he needs to do anything different at this level. That’s how confident we are in him and his repertoire.”
It has not all been smooth sailing for Riefenhauser. He had his worst professional season in 2012, combining for a 4.55 ERA while splitting time between starting and relieving.
“After 2010, they tried changing my arm angle. They raised me up and made my slider more into a slurve. Last year was a work in progress for me,” he said. “This offseason I worked out all of the kinks and I feel comfortable with it. I’m trying to get that fastball command down and keep on improving on my secondary pitches.”
As full-time reliever this season, Riefenhauser has flourished. He worked to develop three pitches that he can go to at any time in the count, which makes him project as more of a late-inning reliever than a specialist who may only face a batter or two.
“He’s going to run the ball up there 90-92 (mph) with life and plenty of location. Fastball command is the foundation of what we do,” Bosman said. “He’s worked on locating fastballs to right-handed hitters, and his slurve ball has really improved a lot. The changeup is coming along, too, which is going be a significant contribution.”
Riefenhauser has been at Triple-A for close to two weeks, where he says, “The competition is definitely a little bit better. They’re smarter, and they’re not going to chase anything.”
Bosman sounds confident that Riefenhauser has what it takes to pitch in the big leagues, but also says that the Rays organization preaches patience with its prospects.
“We’re very slow. We don’t rush guys,” he said. “The saying around here is, ‘Steady as she goes.’ We want these kids to be able to play a full season at each level.”
Riefenhauser is fine with that, noting that Tampa Bay has an excellent track record of producing quality major league arms. For now, he’s simply excited for the chance to pitch in front of family and friends.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “At first, I was selected for the Double-A all-star game, so I wasn’t going to be able to go home. Since (the Futures Game) is on Sunday, I’ll be able to go home with my family from Monday to Thursday. To get away and spend some time with the family is definitely something I’m looking forward to.”
Photo from Montgomery Biscuits