The Rays’ starting rotation has been finalized: David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb. We are days away from Opening Day, and the Rays appear ready for the season to begin. As Roberto Hernandez adjusts to his new role in the rotation and Jeff Niemann moves to the bullpen, everything seems like it has fallen into place. There is just one problem; Chris Archer is starting the season for the Triple-A Durham Bulls.
While the news from the Rays’ camp these past few days has revolved around whether or not Hernandez or Niemann would get the final rotation spot, Archer has not been on anyone’s mind. The 24 year old righty is better than both Hernandez and Niemann and has a much more promising future ahead of him, making him an ideal choice as a starting pitcher for the Rays.
As one of the Rays’ top prospects, Archer impressed this spring, giving up just 1 hit while fanning 5 in 7 innings. But, the righty’s time in major league camp was cut short as the Rays reassigned him to minor league camp on March 12. The Rays were awed by Archer’s performance in camp but said that he needed to work on some key factors of his game, such as his fastball command and changeup. Archer is known for his mid-90’s fastball and having a deadly slider, which caught many peoples’ eyes as Archer spent some time on the mound for the Rays last season.
Archer made his major league debut with the Rays on June 20, 2012, against the Washington Nationals, giving up 3 runs and delivering 7 strikeouts in 6 innings. During the season, Archer made 4 starts and 6 total appearances for the team, finishing with an unimpressive 4.60 ERA. But the middling ERA belies just how impressive Archer looked. In 29.1 innings, Archer struck out 36 while walking 13. And while playing for the Triple-A Durham Bulls in 2012, he posted a 3.66 ERA in 25 games, allowing just 99 hits and 6 home runs in 128 innings, striking out 139 while walking just 62. Most notably, Archer finished his time at Triple-A on a roll, going 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA and a 49-17 strikeout to walk ratio in 51.1 IP across his final 11 starts. That stretch took place after Archer ascended to the major leagues for a pair of spot starts, and with the knowledge that he could beat major league hitters, everything came together for him when he returned to the minors.
Although Archer is only 24 and does not have nearly as much experience on the major league level as Niemann, 30, or Hernandez, 32, Archer should not still be playing in Durham. He conquered the level at the end of the season and the Rays were impressed with his performance in the major leagues, with Joe Maddon even saying ”for sure, Archer could be here right now.” But how long will Archer have to wait?
Rumors abounded that the Rays might trade Jeff Niemann with his role with the team now reduced. But that does not appear to be in the wings at this point with Niemann’s fastball sitting in just the mid-80′s this spring and teams still waiting for him to prove he’s healthy. Hernandez, the pitcher the Rays named their 5th starter, is healthy, but that by no means guarantees that he’s going to be very good. His best season was way back in 2007 and since then he’s had a grand total of one good season, 2010, with his ERA sitting at 5.06 since 2007 overall. The pitchers currently blocking Chris Archer are a pitcher who has done almost nothing in the major leagues the last five years and another who can’t stay healthy and has seen his velocity going down. How does that make any sense?
Archer is a more reliable pitcher than Hernandez or Niemann, and the Rays do not have to worry about injuries with him or wonder if his glory days are in the rear view mirror. As the season begins, the Rays will quickly learn if their gamble on Hernandez was worth it. If not, they have the option of making Niemann a starter again. Either way, it does not matter which player out of the two earns that 5th starter spot in the rotation this season- before we know it Chris Archer will be starting for the Rays and both Hernandez and Niemann will be a distant memory.