Looking Forward to the Rays Next Great Starting Rotation

Feb 21, 2016; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer (22) pitches at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2016; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer (22) pitches at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tampa Bay Rays seemingly have an unending stable of pitching prospects, and the next group looks just as impressive as the last.

The Tampa Bay Rays have always had a strong starting rotation. Whether the rotation has been anchored by David Price and James Shields, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore or Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, Rays starting pitching has been the hallmark of their many successful seasons. What does the rotation look like going forward? It’s all positive and let’s take a look at why.

The 2016 rotation will feature Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly and Erasmus Ramirez. Archer, Odorizzi and Ramirez anchored the staff last year and Moore and Smyly contributed when healthy. All five should start the season healthy and the Rays hope they will stay that way. As solid backup, former #1 starter Alex Cobb should be back on the mound after the All Star break. This combination should put the Rays near the top of the AL East for starting pitching.

Not only is that great for 2015 but four of the six starters are under team control through at least 2019. Staff ace Chris Archer’s contract extends through 2021 and is very affordable. Cobb and Smyly are free agents in 2018 and should offer the Rays some value on the trading market. As a bonus, the Rays’ depth of minor league starters is even more impressive. Here are four reasons why:

Blake Snell. After a slow start to his career, Snell developed into the minor league pitcher of the year in 2015. He has a fast ball that reaches 97 mph and a lights out change up. Throw in a sharp breaking slider and a developing curve ball and he has the full arsenal to become at least a number two starter. Finishing last year at Durham, Snell has thrown 422 minor league innings and the Rays like to see their starters throw at least 500 innings. Look for Snell to start the season at Durham with the chance of getting a call up at any time and joining the rotation in 2017.

Brent Honeywell. Honeywell is young and loaded with upside. He throws a ninety-five mph explosive fastball, a quality change and curveball and, in addition, a throwback screwball that is nasty. Honeywell has good command of all four pitches. He’s just 20 years of age and in two years in the Rays organization, has already advanced to High A ball. Already a quality pitcher, Honeywell has only thrown 162 innings and has plenty of time to develop further at the minor league level. Look for him to start 2016 at High A with a target date of joining the Rays rotation in 2019.

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Taylor Guerrieri. A former first round draft choice, Guerrieri’s career got off to a rough start with Tommy John Surgery and a 50 game suspension for recreational drugs. However, when he has been on the field, it has been electric with a 1.61 era and a 178k/38w ratio in 206 minor league innings. He has a sinking fastball in the low 90’s, a decent curve and slider and a vastly improved changeup. Guerrieri finished last year at AA and should return to Montgomery for the start of 2016. He profiles as a #3 starter and look for him in the Rays rotation in 2019.

Jacob Faria. Faria is the sleeper of this foursome. A 10th round draft choice, he started slowly and spent three seasons in short season ball before moving up to Bowling Green in 2014. However, last season he broke out going 17-4 with a 1.92 era, a 1.04 whip and 159 strikeouts over 149 innings. It was one of the best overall seasons for anyone in minor league baseball. Throwing from a high three quarters arm slot, Faria has a 95mph fastball and an excellent changeup. He has thrown 389 innings but needs work on a breaking pitch. If he develops one next season, he could reach the majors in 2018 as a number four or five starter.

It’s not hard to see how the Rays could trade Cobb and Smyly for position player and/or prospects, add Snell and still end up with a outstanding five man rotation in 2017and 2018 seasons. That would still leave them with three quality minor league starters as Odorizzi, Moore and Ramirez approach their 2019 contract year. It’s a nice position to be in and the only way for a small market team to stay competitive in the American League East.