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Tampa Bay Rays: Rotation Prognosis for 2015 and 2016

By Joe Saunders
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May 23, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb (53) looks on in the dugout with a brace on his arm as he talks with pitcher Matt Moore (55) against the Oakland Athletics at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Cobb

Cobb has not thrown an inning yet in 2015 nor will he after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. It also remains to be seen exactly when he will come back in 2016. Cobb was the staff ace going into the season, but with the emergence of Chris Archer, it is possible that Cobb’s impact will be somewhat forgotten for the next two seasons, which would be a real shame. When healthy Cobb is one of the best starting pitchers in the game, but injuries have followed him throughout his major league career.

Cobb will look to start the long road back from surgery and hopefully recover in time to make an impact in the second half of 2016. How much he could help the Rays remains a mystery, but the Rays have Cobb under team control only until after the 2017 season so he is running out of time. The Rays will have to hope that Cobb can someday resume his role as the ace of the staff, but there is no guarantee of that anymore. He remains a part of the Rays’ future, but one might wonder how much longer that will be true.

Drew Smyly

Smyly also began the season on the DL and finds himself there once again after his shoulder problems continued. His three starts this season appeared to go well, but after concerns about his velocity in his third start raised some eyebrows, he was checked out and found out to have a small tear in his labrum. Instead of opting for surgery, Smyly made the decision to rest and rehab his shoulder in an attempt to pitch in around eight weeks for the Rays.

If Smyly’s recovery is successful, then the Rays will be able to add another potential top-of-the-rotation starter back into their starting five for the rest of 2015 and beyond. Smyly has shown the potential for a bright future with the Rays after being acquired in the David Price trade, but the possibility of shoulder surgery complicates that significantly. Even if Smyly can return, there would be no guarantee that he would avoid a procedure altogether.

Shoulder surgery is much more serious than Tommy John and the Rays won’t let Smyly undergo it until they have no other choice. If he goes under the knife, there would be major uncertainty both in terms of when Smyly would be ready to pitch again and whether his stuff would be the same when he came back. The Rays do have Smyly under team control through 2018, but any advantage that would give them relative to their situation with Cobb is negated by the severity of shoulder surgery.

Matt Moore

Moore has yet to pitch in 2015, but he is close to starting a rehab assignment and finding his way back into the rotation. Moore underwent Tommy John surgery after only two starts in 2014 and has been on the mend every since. He recently threw an extended spring training game and could soon begin a minor league rehab assignment. The hope is that he will be back in the rotation by the end of June.

Once Moore returns, we have to think that there will be a bit of an adjustment period–he won’t immediately be his old self. Moore has always possessed upper-echelon stuff with spotty command at times but will likely slot in somewhere near the middle to the back of the rotation when all is said and done. He still has a chance to be a very good pitcher–maybe a number two starter in an average major league rotation–but given the quality of the Rays’ starters, he will likely slot in as more of a mid-rotation arm than an ace.

Moore remains an important part of the Tampa Bay Rays’ future after signing a long-term extension in 2012 that could keep him in Tampa Bay through the 2019 season. For the short-term, meanwhile, Matt Moore’s return will not only upgrade the Rays’ rotation, but also improve the bullpen as Erasmo Ramirez or Alex Colome shifts to relief. Either of them could be a serviceable starter, but they both possess considerably more upside out of the bullpen.

Alex Colome

After starting the season on the disabled list, Colome has returned to the rotation and the results have been mixed so far. He has made five starts in 2015, and he has surpassed five innings just once. Even in that game, he was only left in to save the bullpen–he certainly wasn’t pitching well. Colome’s 4.81 ERA isn’t all that great, but his xFIP of 3.47 suggests he may have been a bit unlucky. Regardless, the concerns about his ability to go deep into games as a starter are one reason why Colome will ultimately land him in the bullpen.

Now that Colome is out of options, the Rays must keep him on the big league roster and can’t send him down to Durham to continue to work as a starter once Moore  comes off the DL. Colome has always had a chance to be solid major league starter, but there was always the concern of him ending up in relief between his issues with durability and command. There is a good chance that Colome will soon end up in the Rays’ bullpen, and although he could return to starting at some later point, he may find a home in the relief corps.

Colome’s average fastball velocity in 2015 is at 95.02 MPH and move to the bullpen could allow his fastball to reach the upper-90’s. Add in Colome’s secondary pitches playing up in relief, and he could easily emerge as a late-inning option. Colome remains in the rotation for now, but as soon as the Rays get a starter or two back from the DL, he should be looking at a move to the bullpen, which might be a good thing with regards to his long-term success in the major leagues.

Chris Archer

Archer has been outstanding so far in 2015. His first 10 starts have been extremely impressive and he currently sports a 2.40 ERA (2.77 xFIP) in 60 innings with a 10.50 K/9 rate a 3.00 BB/9 rate. He has currently pitched like the ace the Rays desperately needed this season and is under team control through the 2021 season. Archer will look to continue to be one of the Rays’ best starters and a mainstay in the rotation for years to come.

Jake Odorizzi

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us how well Jake Odorizzi has been so far in 2015. His 1.7 WAR is the highest among any starter on the Rays so far in 2015 and his 2.57 FIP is among the top 10 of all starting pitchers in baseball right now. The key to his success might be on his aggressive approach and his 1.52 BB/9 shows that his control has been excellent as well. If there was any doubt about whether Odorizzi had a spot locked down in the Rays’ rotation for years to come, there definitely isn’t now.

Odorizzi is here to stay, and despite projections describing him as a number three or four starter in an average rotation, he has pitched like a front-of-the-rotation starter so far in 2015 and will look to keep improving. He is making a strong case to be the next Rays starter signed to a long-term deal, but the Rays control for four more seasons after 2015 even if they don’t.

Nate Karns

Karns began the year as the de facto number 3 starter in the Rays’ rotation despite his limited big league experience and so far the results have been pretty good. The Rays needed him to be one the guys to fill the void of all the early injuries and he has given them 51 innings with a 3.71 ERA (xFIP 4.14) and a K/9 of 8.12. His BB/9 of 3.88 is a bit concerning as Karns has always had control issues, but he appears to be effectively wild at times while starting. His 47.2% GB rate has been another nice indicator of his success when he has been around the plate.

Karns will likely have a spot in the rotation for the rest of 2015, but beyond this year is a question. The good news for him is that his fate is in his own hands–if he pitches well, a rotation spot could easily be his. Karns has pitched well so far and could continue to be a factor in the Rays’ plans for the future if he keeps improving his command and changeup.

Erasmo Ramirez

Ramirez was acquired from Seattle just before the beginning of the season to be a depth piece for the Rays’ rotation and bullpen. When Smyly went back on the DL, he needed to become the fifth starter again, and he has done a pretty good job of filling in. His 6.44 ERA looks terrible, but it was mainly due to his first two outings being horrendous and his xFIP of 4.04 is more favorable. He has a strong 2.25 ERA in his last 9 outings, although he has usually been shielded from facing the lineup more than twice when he has started.

Ramirez has been able to give the Rays around five good innings when he starts which isn’t bad for a fifth starter. He will likely last in the rotation until Matt Moore comes back, and then he will have a role as a long reliever/spot-starter or even a higher-pressure middle reliever if the Rays decide that they don’t need the length. He will be needed in some capacity for 2015, but his future with the team past this season is murky.

Pitching prospects like Blake Snell, Brent Honeywell, Ryne Stanek, and Taylor Guerrieri are making their way through the system, but the names mentioned above and possibly Matt Andriese will likely make up the rotation for the foreseeable future. Snell is the one pitcher was a chance to shake that up, although we know that the Rays like being careful with their pitching prospects when they get the chance.

The exact compositions of the Tampa Bay Rays’ rotations for the rest of 2015 and 2016 are unclear, but the talent is there for the Rays to have excellent starting fives without the need for any acquisitions, especially if Smyly can return this season. The starting rotation has been the Rays’ backbone for years, and there is reason for optimism that the team’s current pitchers can keep that going.

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