The Rays have a great problem–they have too many starting pitchers that are capable of being in their Triple-A rotation. Despite an injury to Jeremy Hellickson that pulled Jake Odorizzi into the big league rotation and a suspension to Alex Colome, the Rays have six starters who can pitch at the level. Rather than send one of them back to Double-A, the Durham Bulls will carry Nate Karns, Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, Mike Montgomery, Merrill Kelly, and Erik Bedard on the Durham roster. What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?
Keeping all six of these guys with the Bulls gives them all a chance to pitch against the best minor league competition possible. Had they carried just five, it would have caused Kelly to be sent back to Double-A. Instead, he gets to throw against Triple-A competition. He broke out in Durham last season and doesn’t need to be sent back to Double-A, where his development would be stunted. With this arrangement, Kelly gets to pitch against the best competition level possible, even if it might cost him a few innings.
Having six starters also ensures that no one is forced to throw too many innings. The Rays already have had their depth tested through Hellickson’s injury and Colome’s suspension, so another injury would be a huge blow to their depth. By having six starters around, the Bulls can closely monitor everyone’s innings. They aren’t going to take away valuable development time from Karns, Romero, or Andriese. But at the same time, they are more than capable of ensuring no pitcher throws too many pitches in high stress situations. If that is through a six-man rotation or by simply giving one pitcher a starter’s amount of innings out of the bullpen remains to be seen. Either way, their chances of getting hurt are minimized, and any of the six should be fresh in the event of a big league call up. If another injury were to occur to the big league rotation, the Rays can now be more certain that none of their backup options will also be on the mend.
Yes, this arrangement limits innings, but is that necessarily a good thing? Kelly and Montgomery are at key points in their development, and while their path isn’t as clear as the other three prospects, they still have a chance to become big league starters. But this arrangement will take away some innings from them, and thus hurts their development. Even if they do end up as relievers, the more innings you can throw in the minor leagues the better off you are. It might have been worth sending Kelly back to Double-A for the time being to ensure that he and Montgomery received their full portion of innings.
The Rays have six starters in Durham for now, but the picture could be even more crowded shortly. Colome is suspended for 50-games, and that time will be up before you know it. Also, Hellickson’s will be ready to return in mid-late May, which would lead to another pitcher being demoted. Before you know it, there will be eight starters in Triple-A at the beginning of June. What do you do then? Send Kelly To Double-A? Put one or two of the starters in the bullpen? Players get their feelings hurt and lose confidence when they go from a more important role to a lesser one. But if you start the pitcher in the less exciting role, their expectations are tempered. Is it worth two months of Triple-A innings to risk one of these guys losing their self-assurance? Because of the Bulls’ impending traffic jam, they could have started the season with just five starters in Durham and been better equipped to accommodate the two additional that will be there soon. But now, a pitcher or two is going to face a demotion to the bullpen or Double-A, and you never want a prospect to lose their confidence.
There are plenty of pros and cons to having six starters in Triple-A. Regardless of the potential consequences of doing so, there are some teams that don’t even have five starters truly capable of pitching in Triple-A, let alone having eight that could potentially cause a jam. The Rays have made the tough choice of keeping six starters around in Triple-A. Given how successful they are with pitching prospects, we have to think that it will work out for the best.