A Look At the Tampa Bay Rays Fifth Starter Battle
The Tampa Bay Rays rotation seemed very set in stone midway through the offseason after it became clear that David Price would not be traded. It looked like Price would be joined by Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Jeremy Hellickson in what looked to be one of the best rotations in baseball. However, an injury to Hellickson that will sideline him until at least mid-May opened up a spot in the rotation. Thankfully, the Rays have plenty of players ready to step up and take the job. Here’s a look at the candidates to be the Rays’ the fifth starter.
Jake Odorizzi heads into camp as the favorite to win the job, but he is by no means a guarantee. Odorizzi has very little left to prove in the minor leagues after managing a 3.33 ERA with a 9.0 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9 in 22 starts with Triple-A Durham in 2013 and solid results in 7 appearances for the Rays. He is by no means an ace, but with an above-average fastball and three average secondary pitches, Odorizzi should be a durable mid-rotation starter. The best part about Odorizzi is that he comes with few question marks. He has been very durable over his minor league career, and has solid command which always plays in the big leagues. However, if the Rays see something they don’t like out of Odorizzi in spring training, they will have no problem passing him up for another option. Odorizzi might be the current frontrunner, but a poor performance from him or strong showing by another candidate could lead to him being back in Triple-A to begin 2014.
Colome actually has more upside than Odorizzi, but he also comes with much more uncertainty. Last season, Colome managed a 3.07 ERA and a 9.2 K/9 in Triple-A before posting a 2.25 ERA in a 3 start big league cameo. Colome features a fastball that can touch 97 MPH and is generally regarded as a plus pitch. He also features a strong curveball and two more solid pitches in his slider/cutter and changeup. Overall, his pure stuff is superb–but he struggles with both health and command. Colome threw just 91.2 innings in 2012 and followed that up with just 86.1 innings before an elbow strain ended his season. He seems to be healthy heading into spring training, but we cannot be sure as long that will last. As far as command, Colome has posted a career minor league 4.2 BB/9 and throws way too many pitches up in the zone. With his durability and location issues in mind, Colome might be better suited for the bullpen down the line. However, right now his stuff and upside is too good to ignore, and if he can prove he is healthy this spring, he could very well pitch himself into the final rotation spot.
The Rays just gave up two promising young players in Felipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson, pluz catcher Jose Lobaton, in order to acquire Karns, so they obviously think very highly of him. He has never pitched above Double-A except for three big league starts in 2013, making him a long-shot for the rotation given the Rays conservative nature when promoting pitching prospects. However, his results are hard to look over. In his minor league career, Karns has posted an outstanding 2.69 ERA with a 10.7 K/9 and a 3.8 BB/9, including a 3.26 ERA, a 10.5 K/9, and a 3.3 BB/9 at Double-A in 2013. He features a solid fastball that sits in the 94-96 MPH range, as well as a plus curveball that is almost unhittable. His changeup lags well behind the other two pitches, but that is the pitch the Rays are best known for developing and Karns could come together quickly. The odds are against Karns, but with a strong spring against major league caliber hitters might, he might just convince the Rays that he has the ability to bypass Triple-A.
Bedard is the lone veteran vying for the fifth spot after he was brought in on a minor league deal. He was a very good pitcher early in his career, but the 34 year old has slipped the past two years by posting a 4.78 ERA between with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros. The good news for Bedard is that he is a flyball pitcher and Tropicana Field is known for its ability to keep fly balls from becoming home runs. Thus his numbers would probably look slightly better at the Trop, although slightly better on a 4.78 ERA is nothing to be too excited about. Bedard is more likely a candidate to be a swingman out of the bullpen if he breaks camp with the Rays, and will likely only make the rotation in the event of another injury, but he will be stretched out as competition in the fifth rotation spot.
As you can see, the Tampa Bay Rays have an abundance of options for the fifth starter spot. Jake Odorizzi seems to be the favorite for the job at this point due to his reliability in terms of both health and performance. However, the Rays’ fifth starter could very well be one of the higher-upside pitchers Colome and Karns if they show enough to warrant the risk. The competition will be plentiful this spring for the fifth starter spot, and the Rays have to hope that one of these candidates can take the job and run with it.