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Have the Rays found something in Jacob Faria?

The 23-year-old has been fantastic in his first few starts

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When I told him who I planned on writing about this week, one of my editors responded: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Jacob Faria until literally right now.” This is coming from someone who runs a baseball site — that's how anonymous the Tampa Bay Rays right-hander is at the moment.

And to be fair to said editor, I only beat him to Jacob Faria enlightenment by a few hours. There just wasn’t much of a reason to know who he was until you notice how good he has been through his first four starts in the majors. Check out this line:

Jacob Faria 2017 statistics (thru 6/28)

4 25 2/3 28.2% 4.9% 23.3% 2.10 2.71 0.9

Only four starts, sure, but Faria hasn’t just been good — he’s been dominant. This is coming from a guy who was not on any top 100 list of note and was ranked 8th in the Tampa Bay system — generally not considered very strong — coming into the season by Baseball America.

So who is Faria then? Is he a guy with good stuff that finally put it together? Were scouts just wrong about him? Did he make huge improvements from his recent past as decent, but otherwise bland prospect? Is it some combination of all of the above?

Since you are probably unfamiliar with Jacob Faria, let’s find out. First, let’s establish who he was as a prospect/minor leaguer.

In their 2017 Handbook, Baseball America described him as someone who’s game is “founded upon his deception and downhill angle.” Faria’s fastball sat in the low 90s but could touch as high as 94 on occasion. He supplemented that pitch with what BA termed “two distinct, below-average breaking pitches,” and a changeup that they described as “plus.” At 6’4, he was your classic fringe prospect who gets by with decent stuff, good enough command, and enough size to hide the ball effectively. Overall, Baseball America gave Faria a future value grade of 50: a future average major leaguer.

The stats, however, suggest he was better than that. His 2015 season was outstanding, as he finished second in the minors with a 1.92 ERA while sporting a K/9 rate over 11 in 75 double-A innings. His 2016 wasn’t quite as good, but he still struck out more than a batter per inning. Overall, he was a very effective minor leaguer and earned his major league call-up a few weeks ago at age 23 — still fairly young as far as pitchers go.

There are a few noticeable differences between Faria the prospect and Faria the nascent big leaguer, however. For one, he’s throwing harder than those prospect reports said. He’s not a flamethrower by any means, but his fastball is sitting at about 92.5 MPH. Not a huge change, but enough to make a difference.

And despite the fact that scouts were not particularly enthralled with their potential, Faria has not been hesitant to use his breaking balls, throwing them a combined 28.5 percent of the time. In that small sample size, they’ve been pretty good, too. Faria’s slider is getting whiffs about a fifth of the time, while no one has yet to get a hit off of his curveball. The slider, in particular, looks like it can be an out pitch:

What has really stood out in contrast to Faria’s minor league performance has been his command. Faria always had decent command — his career minor league BB/9 was a little below three — but he’s been hitting his spots nonstop since getting the call. That 4.9 percent walk rate, and nearly 50 percent Zone% are a testament to that.

If there is a concern about where Faria is locating the ball, however, it’s that he’s possibly getting away with a bunch of meatballs right now:

Locating in the middle of the zone is something you can get away with for a handful of starts, obviously, but neither the Rays nor Faria will hope that that is a trend that continues. Major league hitters aren’t going to keep missing those opportunities forever.

So while it’s early, it does appear that Faria has what it takes to be a quality major league starter. Most guys who make the major leagues never have a four-start run like this. Faria’s had it in the first four starts of his career. That alone is cause for optimism, even if he isn’t this good.

The Rays will hope that he is indeed this good, of course, but even another solid starter will do a lot to help them keep pace in the AL East. From a neutral perspective, I certainly hope that Faria keeps performing. It’s always fun to see mediocre prospects become good major leaguers. In Faria, the Rays appear to have found the latest example of that archetype.

. . .

Joe Clarkin is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Clarkin.