Washington Nationals: Tanner Rainey a late-inning diamond in the rough

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 10: Tanner Rainey #44 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on April 10, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Reds 6-1. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 10: Tanner Rainey #44 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on April 10, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Reds 6-1. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals made a surprise move trading away Tanner Roark on Wednesday, but in Tanner Rainey, they have a potential diamond in the rough.

On Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals made some news when they dealt Tanner Roark over to the Cincinnati Reds. However, they acquired reliever Tanner Rainey, who looks like he could be a diamond waiting in the rough.

Rainey was ranked as the Reds’ 23rd best prospect according to MLB.com after transitioning to the bullpen before the 2017 season. Since then, he’s been able to fly through the minor leagues, culminating in his major league debut last season.

Some may immediately look at the horrendous 24.43 ERA he posted in eight major league appearances and cringe. However, in such a small sample size, it’s safe enough to ignore this and look at his much more promising stats from the minor leagues.

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For starters, in 2018 down in Triple-A with the Louisville Bats, Rainey posted a 2.65 ERA in 51 innings, while striking out 65 batters. He also dominated between Double-A and High-A in 2017 when he struck out a remarkable 104 hitters in just 62 innings, flashing his enormous upside in his first full season as a reliever.

Tanner Rainey’s upside comes from his mouthwatering arsenal that is arguably one of the best for a relief pitcher in the entire Nats organization. His fastball averaged 98.3mph in his short big league spell while even notching a handful of triple-digit fastballs. He pairs his fastball with a slider that averaged 89.9 last year in the majors to form a devastating 1-2 punch.

No Nats reliever had a higher average fastball velocity or higher slider velocity than Rainey had last year. On pure stuff alone, he’s instantly one of the more exciting bullpen options the team could use to round out their relief pitching corps.

The main issue that Rainey has had throughout his professional career is the alarming level of walks he issues. In his four minor league seasons, he has a high 5.3 BB/9 and has never had a BB/9 rate lower than 4.3 in his career. While a pitcher’s command isn’t the easiest thing to correct, just a slight improvement in limiting walks could thrust him into a high-leverage role.

Yes, there is undoubted risk involved with taking something of a flier that’s similar to what they already have. But Rainey’s stuff trumps them all and appears to be trending the right way after his conversion to a relief role, so could end up being a positive addition to the team in the long run.

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While the Washington Nationals likely could’ve done a bit better in terms of a return for Roark, Tanner Rainey looks to have a lot of promise. Hopefully, with a change of scenery, he can finally click and harness his devastating stuff out of the bullpen.

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