Figuring It Out

By Robbie Knopf

Sometimes Triple-A just isn’t the same. Maybe it’s too easy for some players. Maybe they don’t get the same rush of adrenaline that helps to perform like they do at the big league level. Maybe it’s just too different. In how many professions do you go from bus rides to one promotion later, plane rides?

The Rays would love to Chris Archer an opportunity to continue figuring himself out as a pitcher at the big league level. If a pitcher is talented enough and experienced enough, you’d rather they develop in the big leagues. There’s such thing as being “big league ready.” But then there is a part of the big leagues that takes an adjustment no matter how good you are. But the problem is how this collides with winning. Archer’s fault or not, they have lost his last two starts. Returning to the big leagues to replace him is a pitcher in Jeremy Hellickson with over a year’s more experience, and who has pitched well basically every year. Does Hellickson have Archer’s tantalizing stuff? No. Hellickson has been extremely effective and we hope that can continue to be the case. But Archer has ace upside and Hellickson will never reach there. It doesn’t matter though. Hellickson has reached his upside and continues to show that at the big league level. Archer is still a step away. Even Hellickson himself only got his first big league cup of coffee in August 2010 despite appearing to be ready for the majors all season. And the Rays aren’t going to go into a 6-man rotation, taking starts away from ace David Price and workhorse James Shields. Their goal is to win ballgames.

The Rays used to be able to do basically whatever they wanted in terms of developing young pitching. They weren’t going to contend anyway, so it didn’t matter. But they rushed players, and several of the Devil Rays’ top prospects could have succeed had they  been drafted by a team like the Rays are now and moved slowly up the professional ladder. What their current situation does, even if it’s not the ideal situation, allows them to keep players going at a methodical place. They say for free agents “better a year too early than a year too late.” For prospects, it’s the opposite. And while it’s sad to see pitchers like Archer go down to the minor leagues, the Rays strategy leads to a contending ballclub while at the same time preparing prospects as much as they can in the minors to succeed in the future.