Down on the Farm: Starting Pitchers
By David Egbert
After breaking down all the Rays’ position player prospects, we have finally arrived at the crown jewel of the Rays system: starting pitching. Developing pitching has been the strong suit of the Rays minor league system at all levels and last year was no exception. Here are the top five prospects by resume.
1. Jake Odorizzi: Odorizzi had a great season at Triple-A, going 9-6 with a 3.33 ERA and a 124-40 strikeout to walk ratio in 124.1 innings pitched. He had a 3.94 ERA and a 22-8 K-BB in 29.2 innings for the Rays. Odorizzi is still working to develop that put-away pitch but he has an assortment of offerings that continuously keep batters off=balance. He throws a low-90’s fastball that he has learned to command better and the bottom of the zone, and it works well when he throws it to both sides of the plate. Aside from his fastball, Odorizzi throws a slider, curveball, and changeup, and while the slider is his best secondary pitch now, his curve and changeup both show the potential to be above-average offerings. Odorizzi has nothing more to prove at Triple-A, and if David Price is dealt, he should start next season in the Rays’ rotation.
2. Taylor Guerrieri: Guerrieri was dominant this season for the Hot Rods, going 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA and a 51-12 strikeout to walk ratio in 67 innings pitched. However, Tommy John Surgery ended his season and creates some doubt. Often clocked in the mid-90’s, Guerrieri’s two-seamer can be dominant with major run and sink. He has a curveball that has good depth and is a strikeout pitch, and his changeup continues to come along. Most impressive is his command, which is outstanding for such a young pitcher. Keep your fingers crossed that he comes all the way back from TJS, because if he does he could be something special.
3. Alex Colome: Another standout pitcher in the vaunted Durham rotation, Colome went 4-6 with a 3.07 ERA and a 72-29 strikeout to walk ratio in 70 innings pitched and rolled against the Miami Marlins in his big league debut before struggling in his next two outings. Colome has been a high level prospect for the past several years but he has had a hard time staying on the field. After shoulder soreness prevented him from being called up last season, his fine season at AAA and solid start for the Rays were interrupted by an elbow injury that wound up sidelining him for the last three months of the season. When he’s healthy, Colome has an impressive arm and throws a 93-95 mph fastball. He also throws a sharp curveball and an upper 80’s slider that are both works in progress. If Colome can stay healthy in 2014, he could another crack at a rotation spot at some point next season.
4. Enny Romero: Romero had the most exciting finish of any Rays prospect this year. Romero spent most of the season with Double-A Montgomery, going 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA and a 110-73 strikeout to walk ratio in 140.1 innings pitched, but the Rays decided to promote him to Triple-A Durham for his final start of the season and he threw 8 shutout innings. That was supposed to be the end of Romero’s season, but after the 18-inning game against the Orioles, the Rays needed a starting pitcher and decided to give him the call. Romero was enigmatic in his start, walking 4 in 4.2 innings pitched, but he allowed just 1 hit and no runs as the Orioles looked bewildered facing him all game. Romero has an electric arm, touching 97 MPH with his fastball as he showed in his start with the Rays. His biggest problem, though, is command and that will determine his success going forward. He shows promise with his curveball and changeup, but he has to get more consistency on both pitches. He should start 2014 at Durham, and after a full year at Triple-A, he could become an interesting pitcher at the upper levels of the system.
5. Jeff Ames: Several different pitchers could be considered the fifth best pitching prospect in the Rays’ system, but Ames stood out as he delivered a tremendous season at Low-A Bowling Green. Ames went 9-4 with a 2.98 ERA, striking out 83 while walking 38 in 114 innings pitched. Ames throws a four-seamer which he throws in the 93 to 95 MPH range, and he also delivered a two-seamer this year which he can use to force groundballs. His offspeed pitches are still developing, but he shows promise with his slider. Ames is exactly the type of live arm the Rays are great at developing, and the fact that he can already throw a decent amount of strikes gives him a higher chance of being an impact pitcher for the Rays within a few years.
There is depth beyond the first five and pitchers like Blake Snell, Jesse Hahn and Felipe Rivero also have potential. Two wild cards are Mike Montgomery, who came over in the Shields deal and had an up-and-down 2013, and Merrill Kelly, who came out of nowhere to post strong numbers at Double-A and Triple-A. The old saying goes that you can’t have too much pitching and it certainly appears that the Rays have plenty. It’s exciting to know that no matter how much trades or injuries shake up the Rays’ rotation, they will always have another promising pitcher to plug right in.