It's time to unleash the Snelzilla.
The Rays are calling up top prospect Blake Snell to make his Major League debut Saturday against the Yankees in New York, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. There has been no corresponding move as of yet to open up a spot for Snell on the active 25-man roster, although Topkin added that it is likely coming after Friday's contest between the American League East rivals. (Update: the Rays confirmed that Snell's debut will come Saturday in a tweet sent Friday afternoon.)
The 23-year-old left-hander was scheduled to pitch Friday night for Triple-A Durham at Norfolk. He was 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA, 21 strikeouts and seven walks in 14 1/3 innings during his first three starts with the Bulls. Despite those impressive stats, he has not pitched past the fifth inning. He allowed two earned runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out seven over 4 2/3 innings against Charlotte in his last start Sunday.
Snell is ranked as MLB.com's No. 12 overall prospect after completing a career year in 2015. The 2011 first-rounder went 15-4 and led all Minor League full-season pitchers with a 1.41 ERA, compiled over three levels from Class A Advanced Charlotte to Triple-A Durham. His career-high 163 strikeouts over 134 innings ranked fifth-best in the Minors. He was the MiLB.com staff's choice for the the Best Starting Pitcher MiLBY and was added to the Rays' 40-man roster in November on the strength of those numbers. Last October, he told the MiLB.com podcast that he had similarly lofty goals for himself in 2016.
"My goal is I want to be an All-Star," he said. "I want to be the best I can be and I really believe that I can compete up there with the best. ... I know how hard that is but I feel that's something that I've been working for, and I've just got to keep pushing myself to be the best I can be."
Snell's fastball earns a strong 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale, according to MLB.com. He also possesses a 60-grade curveball, an average changeup and an ungraded cutter that can be devastating at times. The only below-average grade Snell received was for his control, considering he's averaged 4.5 BB/9 during his Minor League career. That number dropped to 3.6 in 2015, but as previously mentioned, control issues resurfaced in his first three starts in the Minors this season.
Snell replaces Erasmo Ramirez as the Saturday starter after the latter was pressed into pitching 1 1/3 innings in the Rays' 12-8 win over Boston on Thursday. There's no sign yet whether Snell's debut will be a spot start or if he'll remain with the big club after Saturday. With three days off in the next two weeks, the Rays may not need to keep five pitchers in their rotation until next month, making Snell a likely candidate to be optioned back to Durham.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.