When we heard that Jeremy Hellickson would be out until mid-May after minor elbow surgery, every Tampa Bay Rays fan had to think about Jake Odorizzi as Hellickson’s obvious replacement. Odorizzi had his moments for the Rays last season and has nothing left to prove after a strong season at Triple-A Durham. But while Odorizzi looks to be ready, he lacks the dominating stuff possessed by other Rays upper-level pitching prospects. Is there any chance another prospect could pass Odorizzi to begin the season as the Rays’ fifth starter? Let’s look at the possible candidates.
Colome was every bit as good as Odorizzi at Durham in 2013 and was downright incredible in his major league debut, allowing just an unearned run in 5.2 innings, striking out 7 while walking 2. While Odorizzi lacks a standout offering, Colome touches 97 MPH with his fastball to go along with a slider, a changeup, and a curveball that all possess considerable potential. The question with Colome, however, is his durability. Colome tossed 157.2 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2011, but he hasn’t reached even 95 innings the last two years as he has dealt with shoulder and elbow problems. Add in inconsistent command of his pitches, and Colome could be better suited for the bullpen moving forward, where he has the stuff to close games someday. Colome’s stuff warrants a look, but Colome would have to dazzle the Rays to overcome his deficiencies and be a serious competitor to Odorizzi.
Romero’s first big league game was one of the most puzzling games you will ever see. In 4.2 innings, he walked 4 without striking out a batter, but he allowed just 1 hit on his way to tossing shutout ball. Romero’s proponents believe he could be the definition of an effectively wild pitcher in the major leagues. In any event, it is unlikely that he gets that chance early on this season. Romero managed a 2.61 ERA in 28 starts and 148.1 innings pitched primarily at Double-A this season, but his K/9 and BB/9 were both unimpressive at 6.9 and 4.5 respectively. Romero is another pitcher with electric stuff, also touching 97 MPH with his fastball to go along with a changeup and a curveball that have their moments, but he still doesn’t have any idea where they are going on a consistent basis. Romero still has time to harness his arsenal, but he needs a full year at Triple-A.
It has now been four years since Mike Montgomery first burst onto the scene as one of the top prospect in baseball. At this point, he will never get there. Montgomery, now 24, still throws a plus changeup and a low-90′s fastball with solid life, but his breaking ball has never come along as hoped and his fastball command still needs work as well. In 2013, his third year at Triple-A, Montgomery had his moments but managed just a 4.83 ERA in 117.1 innings pitched overall, managing a strikeout to walk ratio of less than 2-to-1. The good news is that Montgomery did look very good out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League–but it is there in the bullpen that he has the most realistic chance of contributing to the Rays this season. Montgomery nearly made the Royals’ 2011 rotation after allowing just 1 run on 5 hits in 9 innings of work that year in spring training. It will take something even more impressive than that for Montgomery to have a chance now.
Acquired by the Rays in the Alex Torres trade, Andriese was the centerpiece of the deal and will be an interesting player to watch for the Rays this season. Andriese, 24, cracked Triple-A in just his third professional season, and while his 4.45 ERA in 58.2 Triple-A innings left something to be desired, his 42-12 strikeout to walk ratio, 0.3 HR/9, and 52.9% groundball rate all are reasons for optimism. Andriese attacks hitters with an excellent low-90′s sinker, and he combines it with three solid if not spectacular secondary pitches in his curveball, splitter, and slider. Thanks to his ability to command all of his pitches, Andriese is the most likely among all of the players we discussed to remain a starting pitcher. Andriese’s upside may be a number three or four starter, but with another half-season at Triple-A, he made be ready to get there in 2014 if necessary. Andriese’s stuff, durability (he’s never been injured), and peripherals suggest that he make be the most feasible candidate to take on Odorizzi this spring. Andriese’s odds are long, but the Rays believe in his talent and could be handing him starts at some point this season.
As we look at these players, we see not only Jake Odorizzi’s competition for the fifth starter spot, but also the state of the Rays’ pitching depth. When Jeremy Hellickson returns, the Rays will possess six talented major league starting pitchers, and Andriese could make it seven. But beyond those seven, the Rays are looking at pitchers with significant questions in their games, and it would be far from an ideal situation if one of them had to called up. The Rays have to hope for health moving forward, and a breakout season from somebody would certainly help as well.