In 2014, the Tampa Bay Rays will have a very good rotation. David Price will be the ace, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will be right behind, and Chris Archer will be yet another promising pitcher in the fourth spot. Who will slot in behind them, however, remains up in the air. Four candidates remain, and let’s talk about the chances of each one ending up with the spot.
The Up-and-Comer: Jake Odorizzi
After a strong season at Triple-A and several effective appearances in the major leagues, Jake Odorizzi entered spring training as the favorite to take over Jeremy Hellickson‘s spot in the Rays’ rotation. Then camp began, and we found out that Odorizzi learned a split-change from Cobb, a pitch that has shown considerable promise as he has worked to add it to his arsenal. Odorizzi has proven himself major league ready, and his new pitch gives him a chance to be a better pitch then previously thought. His spring training has not been perfect, but the fifth starter competition is still his to lose.
Odds of winning the fifth spot: 4 to 3
The Veteran: Erik Bedard
A few years ago, Erik Bedard was a talented but oft-injured pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. He was traded by the Mariners to the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline and pitched decently for them down the stretch. In the two years since, however, Bedard’s effectiveness has waned even as his ability to miss bats has persisted. He comes to the Rays after two disastrous hoping to prove he still has something left. Instead, he has allowed 6 runs on 11 hits in 7 innings, striking out 4 while walking 5. Bedard may not be finished, but he has done nothing to convince the Rays that he is more worthy than Odorizzi.
Odds of winning the fifth spot: 5 to 1
Hoping to Make a Move: Cesar Ramos
Cesar Ramos has filled a variety of roles the last three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2011, he was a situation lefty and not a very good one. In 2012, he started at Triple-A before pitching extremely well when he returned to the majors, and the Rays actually sent him back to Durham to see if he could be an option to start games. Then last year, he spent the season as a long reliever. Ramos will likely have his first repeat role in 2014 as he heads back into long relief, but the Rays are giving him a second chance to start. With an unimpressive arsenal, however, the probability is low that Ramos can make anything of it.
Odds of winning the fifth spot: 25 to 1
The Arm to Dream On: Nate Karns
This offseason, the Rays traded Jose Lobaton, Felipe Rivero, and Drew Vettleson just to get their hands on Nate Karns. They saw a fastball touches the mid-90’s, a sharp curveball, and a changeup that continued coming along, they saw a pitcher with the ability to be a frontline starter. And after he made three starts for the Washington Nationals at the end of 2013, the Rays decided to give him the chance to show how good he could be right off the bat. Karns is not young at 26 years old, and pushing him makes sense in theory. With his changeup and command still needing work, though, it would take extraordinary circumstances for Karns to make the team.
Odds of winning the fifth spot: 100 to 1
Erik Bedard the name is much better competition for Jake Odorizzi than Erik Bedard the pitcher. Odorizzi may not have the upside of previous Tampa Bay Rays pitching prospects, but he is clearly big league-ready and it would take a drastic turn of the tide for anyone but him to be the Rays’ fifth starter. This is not a rigged competition–if someone blows the Rays away, they will have a chance to be the fifth starter. But Bedard and Ramos should be more focused on earning bullpen roles than catching Odorizzi, and Karns is at least a half-season away from being a realistic factor. Every Rays fan’s knee-jerk reaction after Jeremy Hellickson went down was that it was Jake Odorizzi’s time to shine. We have no reason to think otherwise now.