Colin Poche: From PTBNL to Trusted Setup Man for the AL’s Best Team

Colin Poche of the Tampa Bay Rays throwing a pitch
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Colin Poche: From PTBNL to Clutch Rays Reliever

PHOENIX, June 29 — Left-hander Colin Poche has been a key late-inning reliever for the AL-leading Tampa Bay Rays in 2023, with 25 of his 33 appearances being scoreless. Manager Kevin Cash calls him someone who is “willing to do whatever is needed down in the bullpen to help us get wins.” Right-handed reliever Jason Adam added that he’s “dominating hitters in high-leverage situations.” Clearly, the Rays trust him, but the path he took to reach this point has been an interesting one.

Colin Poche was drafted in the 14th round of the 2016 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. When the Diamondbacks, Rays, and New York Yankees agreed to a three-team trade on February 20, 2018, several moves went into it. The Yankees sent right-hander Taylor Widener to the Diamondbacks and infielder Nick Solak to the Rays. Brandon Drury went from the Diamondbacks to the Yankees. The Rays sent Steven Souza Jr. to the Diamondbacks. But the Diamondbacks did not send anyone to the Rays right away. Instead, they sent two Players to Be Named Later, or PTBNLs. “It was unique,” Poche said. He added that it was “one of those weird situations where everyone knew about the trade…. As time went on, we found out there was a list of guys that they could choose from.”

“Pitching for Multiple Teams”

While pitching for the Double-A Jackson Generals — the Diamondbacks affiliate at the time — there were scouts there from the Rays as well as the Diamondbacks. “You’re almost pitching for multiple teams,” he said. “So it was really interesting, knowing what I knew about the Rays and how they focus on relievers, that I was on this list. I was putting up a good year and kind of had a good idea that I was going to get traded over. When it actually happened, it was bittersweet, because there are so many good people in that Diamondbacks organization that I got close with in that short amount of time.”

May 1 was the day it actually happened. Poche recalled, “I was very excited to come over to the Rays organization, just knowing how they are at developing pitchers and pushing guys to the big leagues when they’re ready. So it was pretty exciting times.”

He reported to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, but only pitched in three games for them. A week and a half later, he reported to the Triple-A Durham Bulls, where he stayed until June of 2019. On June 8, he debuted for the Rays, where he stayed for the rest of the season. That October, he pitched in every game of the Division Series, which the Rays ultimately lost to the eventual pennant winners, the Houston Astros, in five.

Injury and Rehab for Colin Poche

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Poche’s career took a detour in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. They had spring training, got sent home, and then came back for the two-week summer camp to prepare for the 60-game season. During the two weeks, Poche tore his UCL and had to have his second Tommy John surgery. His rehab forced him to miss the pennant-winning 2020 season as well as the entire 2021 season. But the Rays stuck with him, something Poche is “super thankful” for. “(The Rays) did a lot of things that instilled confidence in me (during) a time when it’s pretty hard to have that confidence in yourself,” he said.

But when Poche came back in 2022, the Rays, after he pitched six scoreless outings in Durham, brought him back to the majors. They immediately trusted him in high-leverage situations. And this meant the world to him. “It’s big,” he said. “They would put you out there in a big situation. We had a couple injuries last year, so everyone’s role got elevated a little bit. And it’s really comforting to know that they have that confidence in you. If you have a bad outing, they’re gonna put you back in there the next day. So one outing isn’t gonna change their opinion of you. Their confidence in you runs deep throughout the whole year. It’s really easy to pitch knowing you have their support.”

Focusing on the Long Haul, Not on Making the Team

That faith greatly helped Poche during spring training this season. He said it was the first year where he felt like he had a guaranteed roster spot. “I didn’t have to stress about making a team. From Day One, I could focus on what’s going to help me over the long haul for the season. They were very upfront with me about the situation. I think that allowed me to ease into the year and get my stuff where it needs to be.”

While easing into the year, he has been under the tutelage of what Poche says is “really good pitching coaches, starting with the top of Kyle Snyder. Basically, everyone down below is on the same page.” This leads to “consistent messages from each pitching coach,” something Poche says can be tough in pro baseball. “You have so many different coaches, you have a coach in low-A. Then you get sent to High-A, and maybe you have a coach with a different philosophy. But everyone here is on the same page with each guy. Everyone has their own personal plan. It’s not trying to put a blanket on everybody and tell everyone to pitch a certain way. They really look for what your individual strengths are and put you in the best situation to succeed.”

The Future for Colin Poche with the Rays

Adam says Colin Poche is “a blast to have on our team” and is an “awesome teammate.” Adam added, “He’s a great teammate from start to finish. (Colin is) out there supporting his teammates. He’s always the first one to point out something you did well. He brings a good sense of humor to the bullpen. He’s great on the bus with the guys — he’s everything you could ask of a teammate.” Cash added, “You couldn’t ask for a better teammate.” But something else stands out to Cash about Poche. “He has that unique fastball that doesn’t have 97-, 98-mile-per-hour velocity, but it plays like one when he’s throwing strikes. When he’s throwing strikes, he can take that ‘Here it is, hit it’ approach. And he has a lot of good results, a lot of swing-and-misses, and a lot of popups for our team.”

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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