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Rays charged up about ‘The Electric One’

Pitcher Luis Patino, the key return in the Blake Snell trade to the Padres, makes a good first impression.
Luis Patino throws a bullpen session during a workout day for pitchers and catchers Friday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.
Luis Patino throws a bullpen session during a workout day for pitchers and catchers Friday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. [ WILL VRAGOVIC | Tampa Bay Rays ]
Published Feb. 19
Updated Feb. 20

Social media handles can mean lots of things. Or sometimes, nothing.

New Rays pitcher Luis Patino had a powerful reason for choosing his, @ElElectrico62. It is tied to his days growing up in Colombia.

“Back when I was about 16 years old, there was a guy out there that said, ‘You’re electric,’ so I just kind of just took it to heart,” Patino said Friday via team interpreter Manny Navarro during a Zoom call. “But then I realized there were also teachers in school that were saying, ‘You have a lot of energy, you’re very electric.’

“So I kind of just took it personal and said, ‘Well, there’s got to be something that I have in me that is going to give me this energy.’ So there are times where if I know I’m struggling or if I’m not having a good day, I actually think about that. And it helps me just get back into it and lock in again.”

Loosely translated, Patino’s nickname is “The Electric One.” Fittingly, he developed into a pitcher with electric stuff.

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The combination of a fastball that threatens triple digits, a wicked slider and an improving changeup made Patino the key reason the Rays were willing to trade ace lefty Blake Snell to the Padres in December.

Patino was the top attraction at spring camp Friday in Port Charlotte when the right-hander threw for the first time in front of new teammates eager to understand the appeal.

“A really good impression,” manager Kevin Cash said. “The ball really comes out of his hand. He’s really a physical, strong-looking kid. He might look younger than he is, and that’s a compliment. He’s very much got that baby face.

“But (he) seems to be a guy that there’s a lot of reasons to be excited about. Seems very motivated, very polished, very mature for what he’s been through already in a brief career.”

Getting to the majors a few months before turning 21, as Patino did last year, can do that, especially with only two games pitched above the Class-A level.

The Padres were competing for a playoff spot and wanted him to lend a hand to their bullpen. The adjustment to a new role (he had been a starter since signing in July 2016 for $130,000) added to the challenge. While the overall results — 5.19 ERA over 11 outings — weren’t good, Patino impressed enough to make San Diego’s postseason roster and showed glimpses of what’s possibly to come.

“They got a good one,” Padres pitching coach, and former Rays manager, Larry Rothschild said. “He’s got a really nice arm, can spin the ball and has the makings of a really good changeup. And he’s a good makeup kid. … He picks things up quickly. He’s a really good athlete.

“So he checks a lot of the boxes. He just needs some experience, which any kid at his age needs. So there’s really no downside to what he’s capable of doing. And what it can lead to.”

Like the experts who mostly rank him among the game’s top-20 prospects, the Rays like not only what Patino does but how he does it.

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“Motivated, driven and really hungry to be good are kind of the three things that we’ve heard,” Cash said. “Along with just outstanding work ethic. They’re all kind of lumped together.”

The package is a product of Patino’s upbringing in a South American country where soccer, cycling and roller skating are considered more popular sports. But Patino had relatives who were big baseball fans, introduced him to the game as a young child and urged him on. College professor parents kept him focused.

Playing soccer and basketball made Patino a better athlete, his strong lower half a reason he can produce big velocity numbers from a relatively small frame (6 feet 1, 195 pounds).

He latched on early to Jose Quintana, an Angels pitcher who is one of the more accomplished big-leaguers from Colombia. “He’s like a father figure,” Patino said. “Since I signed, he’s always been there by my side to give me any kind of help, lessons, advice.”

Patino also bonded (and shared a proud moment at the All-Star Futures Game) with another Colombian, catcher Ronaldo Hernandez. The two would have been teammates in Tampa Bay had the Rays not traded Hernandez to the Red Sox on Wednesday.

The Rays will be conservative with Patino, given his age and relative lack of experience. There’s a chance, probably a good one, he will start at Triple A.

But they saw enough to make him the centerpiece of the December deal, which also landed them catcher Francisco Mejia and two other prospects, pitcher Cole Wilcox and catcher Blake Hunt.

Patino welcomes the opportunity.

“I think the strongest point for me is my mentality,” he said. “I set myself a lot of goals, things I want to achieve throughout the year. Being in this organization, I’m able to have that ability and that flexibility. I’m very excited to be here. To get to another World Series would be great for this organization. I want to help this team be a part of that.”