Who is Dane De La Rosa? I asked when the Rays purchased the obscure pitcher’s contract, in winter 2010. De La Rosa, as it turned out, was an aircraft carrier of a man: listed at 6-foot-7 with thickness to his frame. He threw a fastball, capable of tickling the mid-90s, and a breaking ball, prone to flashing plus. He had a brief stay in the real estate industry; a fitting second career given his constant relocation to and from random minor- and Indy-league cities. The answer to the question went like this. De La Rosa is a journeyman reliever with a chance to contribute to a future Rays bullpen.
I asked the same question after viewing De La Rosa’s latest appearance. The answer isn’t so clear anymore.
In his first big-league appearance this season, De La Rosa allowed five runs in an inning. He showed an inability to locate his fastball. Hitters pounced, and De La Rosa bounced back to Durham after the game. His only other contribution at the big-league level this season involved Sean Rodriguez’s broken hand. (In an embarrassing and regrettable moment, Rodriguez revealed De La Rosa to be the catalyst for his hand-breaking punch.) You could forgive De La Rosa if the thought of making a positive impact excited him.
Juiced or otherwise, De La Rosa pitched poorly. He again failed to harness his fastball, locating it up in the zone too much for comfort. Further complicating matters is De La Rosa’s missing oomph. His fastball averaged 95 mph during his brief stay in 2011, according to PITCHf/x data, yet he’s topped out at 94 and 92 mph during his cameos this season. Problematic control is nothing new for De La Rosa, who walked six batters per nine innings in Durham. Unfortunately, neither is misplaced velocity. (Not to mention the liquid state of De La Rosa’s secondary offerings.)
De La Rosa’s minor-league stats have remained shiny regardless. His hit and home run rates in particular. But let’s focus on his home run rate. He gave up two homers in 54 minor-league appearances; he’s yielded two home runs in two big-league appearances. It’s a nice statistical symmetry that helps illustrate the differences between the majors and the minors. At Durham, De La Rosa can live up in the zone and can miss over the plate without paying for it. In the majors, De La Rosa might be able to do either on occasion, but he won’t last for long if he makes it a habit.
That’s where we are with De LA Rosa. He’s at the crossroads. His stuff has seemingly regressed and his location has not progressed enough to make up for it. Whereas you once saw a middle relief option when you looked at De La Rosa, now you see an up-and-down reliever heading toward arguably the most important offseason of his career. If De La Rosa can regain his velocity, or improve his control, then perhaps he still has a chance to become a big-league fixture. Anything less, any further decline, and he might find himself off the 40-man roster by the start of 2014.