The Tampa Bay Rays are at it again, and they have a plethora of starting pitching prospects that are not far from being ready for the big leagues. But the great problem is that they already have Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jake Odorizzi under control in the big league rotation through at least 2016. Thus, the Rays could elect to transition some of their starting prospects to the bullpen instead of having them sit in Triple-A for the next three seasons. Who among their group is most likely to be converted?
At this point, Colome may never see time again as a starter. After throwing 157.2 innings as a starter in 2011, he has thrown just 162.0 in the last two seasons combined thanks to a series of arm injuries. The Rays were probably going to give him one last chance to be stretched out as a starter this season, but thanks to a 50-game suspension for PEDs, he is not going to build up enough innings to get his arm strength where it needs to be. Thus, he is likely going to be converted to relief. He already has outstanding stuff in the rotation, albeit with iffy control. Move him to the bullpen and that stuff plays up even more, and the control issues are masked. He could find himself in the Rays’ bullpen before the end of this year, and might quickly establish himself as Grant Balfour‘s heir for the Rays’ closer role.
Everyone thought Montgomery would be move to relief this year after struggling as a starter for the previous three seasons. But, a strong Arizona Fall League out of the bullpen led the Rays to give him another chance at starting. He has been decent so far this year back in the rotation, but his future still probably lies in the bullpen. He once was a consensus top-30 prospect in baseball thanks to a fastball that sat in the low-mid 90’s from the left side and a devastating changeup, but this stuff had largely disappeared until it showed signs of coming back in the AFL. His stuff looks much better coming out of a relief role, and he has a much better chance of being successful as a reliever than a successful starter. He too could find himself in the big league ‘pen sooner rather than later.
Andriese is not a guy that the Rays are going to want to move into the bullpen, but given their future logjam at starting pitcher, it might be the only way he reaches the big leagues with the Rays. The power sinkerballer has a knack for inducing ground balls, and has two nice secondary pitches in his splitter and curveball. He also throws a slider that is decent at times, although in relief it is likely he would scrap the pitch. He has solid command and a good feel for pitching, but he does not have the elite stuff that Nate Karns and Enny Romero come with. Thus, Andriese is likely headed to the bullpen barring a multitude of trades or injuries. He would slot in well, and could be a setup man type in the future thanks to his command and nice three pitch mix. Andriese is going to make it hard on the Rays, but he is so low on the depth chart, both now and in the future, they are not going to want to keep him in the minors forever.
Kelly is similar to Andriese in that the Rays don’t want to move him to the bullpen, but that is likely the only way he will see big league time. He is not the prospect that Andriese is, but he has quietly put up a nice minor league career to date. Unlike the other three guys on this list, he does not have the stuff to profile as a late-innings reliever. That being said, he has more than enough ability to be a righty specialist or swingman type. His fastball sits in just the 88-90 MPH range, but he does a decent job of keeping the pitch down in the zone. His changeup is his best pitch, and can be unhittable at times, and he also features a slurvy breaking ball that is iffy. He started this season in the Durham Bulls’ bullpen until Erik Bedard was called up, and that is likely his future role. Once again, the Rays have a youngster that could become a nice part of their bullpen sooner rather than later.
These Tampa Bay Rays starting prospects are all likely heading to relief, especially with the Rays having such a strong big league staff under control for so long. Nate Karns and Enny Romero both are also no guarantee to remain starters, but they are better prospects than the players already mentioned, and the Rays are going to want to keep them around as starters for future depth. The Rays bullpen has a promising future, and these four pitchers could pair nicely with the likes of relief prospects Brad Boxberger, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Kirby Yates to give the Rays a scary bullpen. Once again, Andrew Friedman has done a great job to put together so much pitching depth that there is no clear answer of what to do with it.