The big question on every Rays fan’s mind is going to be what the Rays’ rotation looks like next season. Will David Price be starting on Opening Day or will the Rays enter the season with their least experienced rotation since 2008? That is the most important question, but the question of the starting rotation is not just a big league issue. The Rays have to figure out who will compose their starting rotations at every level from Rookie Ball up to Triple-A, and while the players at the lower levels may be 2014 draftees, we can finally start getting a feel for the starting rotations of almost every Rays affiliate. Let’s see who will compose those rotations, and along the way we will get a quick glance at the pitching prospects in the organization and the minor league affiliates we will have to keep our eyes on.
MLB Rotation B: 1. Matt Moore, 2. Alex Cobb, 3. Jeremy Hellickson, 4. Chris Archer, 5. Jake Odorizzi
Jake Odorizzi is ready for the major leagues. The question is going to be whether he will get a spot. The Rays have a history of making trades to open up spots for top prospects, with the Matt Garza deal creating an opportunity for Jeremy Hellickson and James Shields‘ departure giving Chris Archer his chance. At the same time, though, they also left a big league-ready Hellickson in the minors for nearly all of 2010 and started Archer in the minors this season, so they are not opposed to making prospects wait awhile to crack their rotation. Odorizzi certainly wants Rotation B, but Rotation A is certainly scarier and there is no reason the Rays could not stick with it. Having Price in their versus Odorizzi is a major difference at the big league level, and which path they choose will also have a ripple effect at Triple-A.
Triple-A Rotation B: 1. Alex Colome, 2. Enny Romero, 3. Mike Montgomery, 4. Merrill Kelly, 5. Mike Colla
That first rotation would give the Durham Bulls a terrifying starting five for the opposition for the second straight year. The second one, meanwhile, still features talent but the Rays would likely resort to Mike Colla, a 27 year old who has never pitched above Double-A, to eat innings in the fifth spot. Colla is decent enough for that role, but with an injury always a possibility not just at Triple-A but in the major leagues as well, expect the Rays to sign at least one more depth piece. Acquiring a Triple-A pitcher or two in a Price trade, though, could shake things up.
Among the pitchers currently lined up to be in the Bulls’ rotation, do the Rays have enough depth to withstand poor health or performance on the big league staff? A Price trade would shake things up, but the answer appears to be yes. Improved command and secondary pitches make Odorizzi a realistic candidate to begin the year as the Rays’ fifth starter. Not many teams can keep that type of pitcher at Triple-A for long. Colome still needs work on his command and durability, but a few spot starts and a bullpen role down the stretch are a likely outcome for Colome in 2014 as long as he stays healthy. Romero is unlikely to surface until September as he continues refining his arsenal, but Mike Montgomery is all but assured to make his major league debut, although the odds are that it will come out of the bullpen. Kelly and Colla, meanwhile, will hope to keep throwing the ball well to give themselves a chance. The Rays’ starting depth may not quite go 11 deep like it used to, but the Rays right now have at least seven qualified pitchers ready to take the ball for them at the big league level, and all they need is one more pitcher to help fill out their Triple-A rotation.
The Montgomery Biscuits’ projected top three may not rival the Bulls, but it still features plenty of upside. Garvin will finally reach Double-A after Tommy John Surgery held him back, and if his polished arsenal does as expected, he could crack Triple-A before long and finish the season in the major league bullpen. Rivero will spend the season with the Biscuits as he hopes to find more consistency with his fastball command and secondary pitches, but he is the latest fireballing lefty to come up through the system and has plenty of potential. Hahn could very well be the wild card of the organization thanks to electric stuff but issues staying healthy. It will be interesting to see if the Rays take the training wheels off and let him go deeper into games after he made just two starts as long as five innings in 2013. Then there are Mateo and Thompson. Both had big second halves and will hope to put together complete seasons to finally crack Triple-A. Poor performance by either one could mean a demotion to the bullpen in favor of Colla or a pitcher coming up from Charlotte. This Biscuits rotation features plenty of risk–Garvin and Hahn are coming off of injuries, Rivero’s arsenal remains somewhat raw, and Mateo and Thompson have been inconsistent. However, their ability is tantalizing and it is possible that at least one of them will finish the season in the big leagues.
With Taylor Guerrieri and Ryne Stanek both undergoing surgeries, the Charlotte Stone Crabs’ 2014 rotation took a big hit. But nevertheless, it still features a nice combination of potential and polish. Ames has pitched well as a pro even as he is learning to harness his repertoire, and High-A will be an interesting test to see how far he is come. Floro fits an entirely different profile as a pitcher, beating hitters with his heavy sinker, but he has been even better to begin his career and also faces a crucial juncture with the Stone Crabs. 2014 could determine whether Floro sticks as a starter or gets fast-tracked in a middle relief role. Snell, meanwhile, has the most upside of the bunch, flashing three plus pitcher but not always knowing where they are going. A big season could make him into one of the Rays’ top prospects, but there is an equal possibility control issues make his future look even more questionable. The Stone Crabs’ top three could be three impact big leaguers for coming years, but there is a strong chance that at least two of them will wind up in relief.
The bottom two spots is where it gets a little crazy. The big question in the Stone Crabs’ rotation is Parker Markel. Markel got demolished for Charlotte in 2013–will the Rays give him another chance at starting or will they shift him to the bullpen? The odds appear to be high, especially with less exciting players like Carpenter and Roberto Gomez being his only competition, but knowing they have serviceable options could be enough for the Rays to see if Markel can get himself together in shorter stints.
No offense to these six, but this is arguably the most boring Bowling Green Hot Rods rotation since they became a Rays affiliate. From the major leagues down to here, there appears to be a proportional talent drop at each level, and in this rotation there is only one pitcher even remotely resembling a top prospect. The funny thing is that these six pitchers are polished enough that the Hot Rods could do really well.
The one real prospect is Kirsch, who touches 94 MPH on his fastball and shows promise with a curveball, slider, and changeup. Beyond him, though, we’re looking at a group of low-upside college pitchers. Harrison and Brandt looked really good at the end of the season for the Hot Rods, and they will hope to prove they have broken through. Griffin, Pruitt, and Griset, meanwhile, are all 2013 draft picks and should at least get a chance to start for a year before they are moved to relief. Dylan Floro established himself as a player to watch with the Hot Rods last season, and the Rays have to hope at least one of these college pitchers does the same.
Now we see the real talent. Wood and Gannon will each move up from the Princeton Rays to the Hudson Valley Renegades, and their impressive arsenals could put them on the map. Wood gets great late bite on his fastball in the 88-92 MPH range to go along with a promising curveball. Gannon fits a similar profile at this point, but he is even more promising thanks to a projectable frame. The real jewels, however, are high-profile international signings Jose Mujica and Jose Castillo. Neither is even 18 yet, but both show incredible potential and it will be interesting if the Rays decide to push them to Hudson Valley after extended spring training. The Rays did not do that for Alex Colome or Enny Romero, but Mujica and Castillo were advanced enough to debut in the Gulf Coast League and seeing them in the New York-Penn League is a real possibility. Then there is Carroll, who touches 95 MPH with his fastball and hopes everything else will start falling into place. This projected rotation is the most variable of all of them, but it is good to know that even before the 2014 MLB Draft, the Rays have plenty of talented starting pitchers inhabiting the lower levels of the minors.
Things start to thin out at High-A and Low-A, but the next generation of Rays starting pitchers is coming and several pitchers stand out as being legitimate threats to be the next great Rays starter. Add in the injured Guerrieri and Stanek, and the Rays’ trend of strong pitching prospects in their system will continue–and that is before a David Price trade. The cornerstone of the Rays’ success has been their homegrown starting pitching, and the Rays system as it stands right now features the upper-levels talent to keep it going in the short-term and the promise in the lower minors to provide hope that they future could be even brighter. Get ready for another exciting year of Rays baseball, and the prospect watchers will not be disappointed either.