Results tagged ‘ Chris Archer ’

Tampa Bay Rays Grades For Every Player in July

This past July was a month to remember for the Tampa Bay Rays. They posted a franchise-best 21-5 record in the month, hitting for a 115 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) as a team (3rd in MLB) and combined for seven complete games from four different starters in the rotation.

The Rays’ hot stretch has not only put them into playoff position, but it gives them the second-best record in the AL (best before last night’s loss) entering August.

Let’s take a look at how each player contributed to the Rays’ remarkable July run.

 

The Infielders

James Loney: A

James Loney continues to give the Rays consistent production at first base. He posted an impressive .325/.356/.422 slash line in July while playing terrific defense at first.

Ben Zobrist: A

Zobrist had a huge month offensively in June and didn’t dissappoint in July either. He put up a very strong 119 wRC+ (which equals Loney’s mark) and—like the rest of the team in the past month—was rock solid defensively.

Sean Rodriguez: A-

Rodriguez enjoyed what was the best statistical month of his career in July, batting .326/.383/.419 over 49 plate appearances. The strong numbers from S-Rod are likely nothing more than a fluke (his .467 BABIP is a key indicator), but hopefully it’s a sign of things to come for the Rays’ utility man.

Yunel Escobar: A+

Yunel Escobar has been such a valuable player for the Rays all season, but he has really broken out offensively in the last month. Escobar’s .351 wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) in July is second best amongst all AL shortstops. When it comes to defense I think it’s pretty clear how great Escobar has been this month, as well as all year long.

Evan Longoria: D+

It’s amazing that Tampa Bay managed to go 21-5 in July with their best player slumping the way he was. Longoria hit .194 with just 11 RBI, but the Rays were still somehow able to score plenty of runs. I do, however, think Longo earns a D+ here because of his usual Gold Glove caliber defense at the hot corner.

 

The Outfielders:

Kelly Johnson: A

After an ice cold June, Johnson responded in a big way in July. He had just 57 PA’s, but really made the most out of them, posting a 172 wRC+.

Sam Fuld: D+

I was a pretty unproductive month in what has been a rather unproductive season (-0.3 WAR) for Sam Fuld. He had 30 PA’s in July and hit .250. The game-saving play he made last week in Fenway Park was a memorable one, though.

Desmond Jennings: A

Desmond Jennings’ production at the top of the Rays’ lineup was a huge part of the team’s July success. He hit for a 117 wRC+ and went 7 for 8 in stolen base attempts.

Wil Myers: A+

Wil Myers’ June call-up to the big leagues is really what triggered this great run for the Rays. He leads the league in batting average post All-Star break (.447) and enjoyed an outstanding July, putting up a 166 wRC+ and knocking in 18 runs.

Matt Joyce: D-

Things have gone downhill for Matt Joyce in the second half of the season. His numbers for July aren’t pretty; a .222/.344/.241 line without a single home run and just two RBI.

Luke Scott: A+

Luke Scott’s red-hot bat really carried the Rays earlier in the month and won them a handful of games. Scott posted a 160 wRC+ in July with nine extra-base hits (four home runs).

 

The Starting Rotation

David Price: A+

David Price came off the DL July 2nd looking to return to his 2012 Cy Young form. He appears to be even better now, as he was nothing short of incredible in July. In six starts, he tossed three complete games and five quality starts to go along with a 1.68 ERA, a .199 opponents’ average and an unrealistic 35.00 K/BB rate.

Jeremy Hellickson: B

In his five July starts, Hellickson went 3-1 with a 3.49 ERA and delivered three quality starts. He appeared to lack command in his last three outings, though, combining for seven walks.

Chris Archer: A+

Along with teammate Wil Myers, Chris Archer is making a great case for American League Rookie of the Year. He won all five of his starts in July, pitching two complete-game shutouts (the first two CG’s of his career) and posting a minuscule 0.73 ERA.

Matt Moore: A

Matt Moore also started five games in July, and besides for his last outing in New York, he was fantastic. He finished the month 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA and a 2.72 FIP which included a complete-game shutout in Fenway park. A sore elbow bothered Moore in his latest start, which has landed him on the 15-day DL

Roberto Hernandez: B

With his job in jeopardy—and likely still in jeopardy—from Alex Cobb’s return, Hernandez put together a solid performance in July. He posted a 3.94 ERA in five starts, which included a complete-game win Tuesday night.

 

The Bullpen

Alex Torres: A

Ten scoreless innings for his month of July—can’t ask for much more than that. Torres ERA drops to 0.27 as his innings pitched total reaches 33.0.

Cesar Ramos: D

Ramos pitched just seven innings in July and allowed five earned runs. He only made one appearance that wasn’t low leverage and actually picked up a win in extra innings.

Kyle Farnsworth: D-

The end of Kyle Farnsworth’s 15-season MLB career appears to be very near. Farnsworth pitched only 5.2 innings in July and gave up four earned runs.

Jamey Wright: D-

Wright is another low-leverage reliever in this Rays bullpen who struggled in July. He allowed five runs in just 7.1 IP.

Jake McGee: B-

McGee surrendered three earned runs in 8.2 IP last month. He did post an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 12-2, though.

Joel Peralta: B+

Outside of one lead-blowing three-run homer given up in Houston early in the month, Peralta hasn’t allowed a single run. He also picked up seven holds in July.

Fernando Rodney: A

Things have really come together for Rodney since June. Tampa Bay’s closer was nine-for-nine in save opportunities in July and let up just two runs.

Analyzing the Tampa Bay Rays’ Current Red-Hot Stretch

Things have really come together for the surging Tampa Bay Rays in the past month. With yesterday’s big win in Boston, they’ve won six straight games and a franchise-record 21 of their last 25.

Let’s take a look at how the Rays came from being last place in the AL East to just a half game out of first place and having the third best record in baseball.

The Pitching

Great starting pitching has propelled the Rays into the great position they’re in right now. Despite Alex Cobb’s absence, David Price’s return to ace form, Chris Archer’s impressive pitching and turnarounds from Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson have the Tampa Bay’s rotation looking like its 2012 self.

Rays starting pitching has delivered a remarkable 17 quality starts in its last 19 games.

Price has been terrific since his return from the disabled list, tossing two complete games while posting a stellar 1.97 ERA and allowing just one walk in four starts (32.0 IP). Moore is 6-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his last six starts and Archer is enjoying a very strong rookie year, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.14 ERA in his last nine outings.

It hasn’t just been the starting pitching that has improved in the Rays’ winning stretch. The bullpen, which was the team’s weak spot earlier this season, has been solid as of late, blowing just one lead during the stretch.

The Offense

When you have consistent production from your offense to go along with excellent pitching you’re going to win a lot of games. The Rays have done exactly that, putting up an impressive .282/.351/.436 slash line with a 120 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plusin July as a team.

Over half of the lineup has produced well offensively during the  stretch, but nobody’s been as hot as Desmond Jennings (.378 wOBA in last 30 days) and Luke Scott (.448 wOBA).

The Rays’ offense, which is tied second in all of baseball by wRC+ (112) has been outstanding all season, so we can expect to see this success from the lineup continue as the season progresses. If Jennings can continue to do such a great job of getting on base at the top of the lineup, this offense could soon emerge as baseball’s best.

The Defense

The Rays’ defense this year has probably been the best in team history, which is a big deal considering that it’s a franchise that prides itself on solid defense. Tampa Bay is second in the American League in UZR (26.9) and second in the MLB in fielding percentage (.990).

During the 25-game stretch, the Rays have committed just five errors. They have possibly the best fielding infield in baseball, as well as some great range in the outfield with Desmond Jennings and Sam Fuld.

The Rays are fielding to their potential, and now that they’re pitching like they can it’s clear that they’ve really hit their stride here in July.

Tampa Bay Rays’ Biggest Winners and Losers in the First Half of the Season

As the first half of the 2013 MLB season nears an end, let’s look back at what went right and what went wrong for the Tampa Bay Rays after almost three months of baseball.

It’s been a frustrating first half for the Rays for multiple reasons, but at 42-39, they’re still very much in competition.

Here are the main winners and losers from the first half of the Rays’ season.

Winner: The offense

The Rays’ offense has been amongst the best in all of baseball this season. Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the MLB in wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plusat 109 and ninth in the league in runs (375).

The lineup, which has managed to stay healthy, has really clicked for Joe Maddon’s club. Evan Longoria (.388 wOBA and 47 RBI) has swung the bat very well, along with Matt Joyce (.348 wOBA) and James Loney (.361 wOBA). Ben Zobrist, Kelly Johnson and Desmond Jennings have also been key contributors.

With Wil Myers now in the meat of this impressive lineup, Tampa’s offensive could be even more dangerous in the second half.

Loser: David Price

It’s been a lousy 2013 for David Price coming off a Cy Young award-winning season last year. The Rays’ ace posted a 1-4 record with a 5.24 ERA and 4.03 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) through nine starts before hitting the DL with a tricep strain last month.

Not only have Price’s early-season struggles and injury hurt the Rays, but they haven’t helped out his future trade value much either. On a more positive note, though, he is set to join the rotation this Tuesday.

If one thing’s for sure, the Rays are going to need Price back to to form in the second half if they want to compete in October.

Winner: James Loney

James Loney has enjoyed a nice comeback year with the Rays so far after disappointing 2012 season. Loney’s put up an impressive .314/.367/.474 line with 40 RBI and a 134 wRC+.

He’s been very productive defensively as well, posting a 2.9 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating).

Loser: Jeff Niemann

The Jeff Niemann story is a very unfortunate one. It seems like every time the “Tall Texan” is about to break out into stardom, a big injury ruins his season.

The 30-year-old right-hander won’t throw a single pitch in 2013 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Niemann already lost his spot in the rotation in spring training to veteran Roberto Hernandez, so his future as a starter in Tampa Bay isn’t a very bright one, especially now with the emergence of Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Alex Torres.

Winner: Rookie pitchers

It’s been a good season for the Rays’ talented young crop of prospect pitchers. Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Alex Torres have all received some big league playing time this year thanks to injuries.

Archer, who proved he was Major League ready in 2012, has once again flashed his high potential this season. He owns a 4.40 ERA through six starts.

Colome has been solid in his big league debut this season, allowing just four earned runs in his first three starts with the Rays. He’s pitched 16 innings, striking out 12 batters but also walking nine.

Archer and Colome sure have been exciting, but neither have made as big of a splash as Torres. The 25-year-old southpaw has been ridiculously good out of the bullpen, allowing just one run in 23 innings while striking out 31 and walking seven. If Torres can continue to pitch lights out, he’ll find himself in a bigger role on the team.

Loser: The Bullpen

Tampa Bay’s bullpen has been a huge disappointment this year, blowing countless leads late in games after being nearly flawless last season. Rays relievers have posted a 3.79 ERA, which ranks 17th in the league.

Fernando Rodney has regressed significantly as well in 2012, blowing already five saves in 21 opportunities. However, Rodney—like the rest of the Rays’ bullpen—appears to be turning things around now as the ‘pen seems to be going into the second half on a high note.

Four Biggest Barriers Standing in the Way of Rays Division Title

It’s been a rough start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Anemic offense has been the theme of the first two weeks of the season, which shows in the Rays’ 5-9 last-place record.

But of course, it’s still very early, and anything can happen in the next 149 games. Life in the AL East is never easy, however, as the Rays have plenty obstacles to overcome in duration of the season if they want to be crowned division champs in October.

Without further adieu, here are the four biggest barriers for the Rays standing in the way of a division title.

Heavy Competition

The Rays have their work cut out for them this year, as they compete in what is maybe the toughest divisions in all of sports.

The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are all potential playoff teams in 2013. Each one of them is a definite threat to a division title, but the Rays have a good enough team to compete with all four of these talented clubs.

There are a few things we’ve learned about Tampa Bay’s competitors after the first two weeks of the season. If one thing’s for sure, the Yankees are no team to overlook. Despite having a huge chunk of their roster out with injury, the Yanks stand at a surprising 8-5, as they’ve been finding ways to win ballgames while on the mend.

Once they get the rest of their team back—which includes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Michael Pineda—they should be very dangerous.

The Red Sox didn’t come into the season with high expectations at all, but have started off the season very strongly with a first-place 10-4 record. Boston’s rotation was supposed to be the team’s main weak spot, but has shockingly been outstanding thus far. Their rotation has been by far the best in the division and probably the best in the American League, posting a 2.30 ERA and a 3.45 FIP.

The Orioles have began to prove that their 2012 success was not a fluke. They’ve played solid baseball and appear to have a pretty well-rounded team. The O’s are a team to watch out for if Chris Davis continues to put up big-time numbers at the DH spot.

As for Blue Jays, it’s been a disappointing start for them. As bad as they look right now, they’re a team that can turn things around quickly with that star-studded roster. Jose Reyes’ ankle injury, however, will be a big blow for them until he returns after the All-Star break.

The Offense

The Rays’ offense has been flat-out awful in the first two weeks of the regular season. With a wOBA of .277 and a wRC+ of 77, they are currently the worst hitting team in the American League.

Outside of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Kelly Johnson, who’ve all had solid starts to the year, nobody in the lineup has given the Rays any kind of significant production offensively.

Lack of power is one of the main issues for Tampa Bay, as they’ve posted just a .113 ISO. Another major concern is the how much runners the Rays are stranding on base. They’ve had a very tough time getting the man in, hitting just .192 with RISP.

Although the offense is very worrying for Rays fans at the moment, there is an optimistic way of looking at it: It will more than likely only get better from here.

Designated hitter Luke Scott has been out with a calf injury since spring training and has yet to play this season. Once he gets back, the lineup will surely be more potent with Scott in and Sam Fuld out.

As the season progresses, the Rays will also get a boost from their minor league system. Wil Myers should be terrific addition later in the year, and Brandon Guyer could also contribute.

Injuries 

In 2012, the injury bug was the largest barrier that stood in the way of a third division title for the Rays. Evan Longoria’s hamstring tear highlighted a plethora of injuries suffered by a very banged-up ball club.

So far this season, the Rays have done a pretty good job avoiding the DL. Luke Scott is the only player who has missed any time at all this year due to injury.

For this team to function properly, the entire team is going to have to stay relatively healthy throughout the season. I don’t see the Rays winning the division as a possibility if they’re hit with injury issues again.

Prospect Development

Tampa Bay has a handful of prospects who could be a key part of the team later this season.

Wil Myers, who is arguably baseball’s top hitting prospect, may be the Rays’ X-factor once he’s called up to the majors. He appears to be about ready for The Show, but it’s possible he won’t make his MLB debut until July due to financial reasons.

Whenever he is called up, his immediate impact will be crucial, especially with the lineup as weak as it is.

Outfielder Brandon Guyer and middle infielders Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham are other position player prospects who could all see big league action this year. All three have the potential to bolster both the Rays’ offensive and defensive depth down the stretch.

the Rays have probably more pitchers on the verge of breaking into the majors this season than they do hitters. Chris Archer—the organization’s top upper-level pitching prospect—looks to be ready to take over a spot in the rotation once the time comes. This time, he’ll likely stay there for good.

The development of these Triple-A prospects will definitely come to play in this year’s pennant race. They Rays might need as many minor league contributions as they can get in order to win the AL East.

Roberto Hernandez Wins Rotation Battle

The decision for the fifth starter in the Rays’ rotation is finally in. Roberto Hernandez will join Tampa Bay’s starting five and Jeff Niemann will start the season in the bullpen.

Jeff Niemann—who competed well and made this a very tough decision for Joe Maddon—had the better spring. He posted a 2.92 ERA with 17 strikeouts and four walks over 24.2 innings in Grapefruit League play, while Hernandez posted a 5.33 ERA with 14 strikeouts and six walks over 27 innings.

Despite performing better, Niemann lost this job due to lack of velocity during spring training. He didn’t even reach 90 MPH on his fastball once, which obviously concerned the Rays considering his average fastball velocity lifetime is 91.3 MPH.

Another reason why Hernandez got the edge over Niemann is because Maddon, at the moment, believes that the 32-year-old veteran can provide more innings. Getting deep into games is maybe the biggest thing Maddon was looking for out of these two.

Another advantage in Hernandez’s favor is the fact that he does well enticing groundballs, something that he’s had success in throughout his entire career.

Niemann, who will serve as the Rays’ long reliever, has not not been a successful relief pitcher in the past. However, his steady increase in groundballs over the last years could be a positive sign.

Remember, Niemann had a shoulder injury at the end of last season, so he’s not in the same form as he was in the beginning of last year.

♦♦♦

The Rays also announced the order of their rotation this morning:

Hernandez will actually slot in the third spot in the rotation, due to the way things line up from spring training, giving everyone the full-time rest they need.

At the end of the day, this decision is really just a makeshift roster move by the Rays, as prospect Chris Archer will soon be called up to take over the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Unti then, it will be interesting to see if Hernandez will become the next verteran arm to turn his career around with the Rays.

♦♦♦

Here’s Maddon on his choice:

Why the Rays Should Trade Jeff Niemann

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Jeff Niemann has been the subject of a number of trade rumors for years now, and the possibility of the Tall Texan being dealt has resurfaced once again. The Colorado Rockies have recently shown interest in the 30-year-old right-hander:

Niemann is currently battling Roberto Hernandez for the fifth spot in the Tampa’s starting rotation. If he is to lose the battle to Hernandez, the Rays only have two options: Trading him or putting him in the bullpen as a long reliever.

The problem with putting him in the ‘pen is that he simply doesn’t have the knack for it. That being said, if Jeff Niemann—who’s out of options—doesn’t get the No. 5 slot in the rotation, the Rays could find themselves in a bad situation.

This probably won’t be the case, though, as Niemann appears to be in a comfortable lead for the gig. He’s put up a 2.13 ERA in 12.2 innings while Hernandez has posted a 3.60 ERA in 15 innings.

If things continue this way, the Rays will likely just use Hernandez as a groundball specialist/long reliever and Niemann will be in the rotation.

If I was GM Andrew Friedman, I would have other plans.

The Rays’ backup catching role is a huge weakness on the team. The catching position is one that lacks talent in the organization, and the best way to address that issue fast is via trade.

Niemann is probably the best trade piece the Rays have at the moment, in terms of players that they might be willing to trade. He’s a major-league quality pitcher who can boost most rotations in baseball. He also has experience and has proven he can be very good at times.

With great starting pitching depth and awful catching depth, it would make a lot of sense to deal Niemann. With three major-league ready pitchers (Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Hernadez) available to take the fifth spot in the rotation, the Rays could use another quality catcher far more than they could use Niemann.

With pitchers who can replace him and injury issues in all of the past three seasons, Niemann simply isn’t worth $3 million to the Rays. His proneness to injury will obviously hurt his trade value, but Tampa should still be able to boost their roster with possibly someone like Ramon Hernandez or Yorvit Torrealba from Colorado.

Both Hernandez (36-years-old) and Torrealba (34-years-old) are likely both catchers that the Rockies would be willing to trade. The Rockies have four backstops in camp right now (Wilin Rosario is the team’s primary one), and are both desperately in need of starting pitching and interested in Niemann.

They can’t have both Hernandez and Torrealba on their Opening Day roster, and the Rays would take either over the Lobaton/Chirinos/Gimenez trio. Another experienced catcher to back up Jose Molina would be a great addition to the club.

There’s really no reason why a Rays-Rockies Jeff Niemann trade shouldn’t work.

Rays Beat Orioles 4-3, Price and Hellickson Make Minor League Starts

The Rays improved their Grapefruit League record to 12-7 Thursday afternoon, defeating the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 4-3.

Jeff Niemann was pretty sharp in his outing, allowing just one run on four hits and three walks in his 4 1/3 innings of work.

His velocity was down (didn’t throw a single pitch over 88 MPH), but it was nothing to be concerned about. Both Joe Maddon and Niemann said after the game that he was just working on movement.

Juan Sandoval and Josh Lueke came on in relief following Niemann. Sandoval continued to struggle, allowing two runs (off a Matt Wieters) home run in 1 2/3 inning. Lueke, on the other hand, continued his excellent spring tossing two scoreless innings.

The Rays’ four runs were scored an Evan Longoria RBI double, a Luke Scott two-run homer and a Tim Beckham RBI single. Wil Myers also had a double Thursday in his only at bat.

On the injury front, Beckham (face) returned yesterday but Sam Fuld (hamstring) remains out. He could return in the next few days.

Here’s a complete boxscore of Thursday’s game.

Rays News and Notes:

  • The Rays optioned down Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Torres to Triple-A Durham in their latest round of cuts Tuesday.
  • David Price pitched five scoreless inning in a minor-league spring training game against the Orioles’ Class A squad Wednesday. He allowed just four singles while striking out six and walking none.
  • Jeremy Hellickson also had a minor-league start this week, but it didn’t go nearly as well for him. He gave up two runs on four hits, four walks (and a HBP) and three strikeouts through 3 1/3 innings pitched. He pitched 70 pitches, just 41 of them strikes.
  • Here’s Price on being named the Opening Day starter earlier this week.
  • More David Price: could special K-9 seating when Price starts be a thing this year for the Rays?
  • The United States lost 3-1 to the Dominican Republic Thursday night and are now on the brink of elimination. Fernando Rodney collected his fourth save (out of four opportunities) of the World Baseball Classic, continuing what has been a terrific tournament for him thus far. Ben Zobrist also appeared in this game, striking out in his only at bat.

Ranking the Rays’ New-Look Rotation in the Tough AL East

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Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by great starting pitching over the past few years. Although the rotation has had a bit of a different look each season, the overall result has been positive year after year.

The secret to the Rays’ starting pitching success is homegrown talent, which is the reason why many are expecting the Rays’ rotation to have yet another excellent season in 2013. No organization develops young pitchers into quality major league starters like the Rays do.

In 2013, Tampa is faced with a new challenge: Replacing James Shields—an ace who provides the team with over 200 innings.

With Shields, the Rays had the best rotation in all of baseball last season. Without him, it’ll be very tough to be as dominant.

The starting five will be led by Cy Young Award winner David Price, followed by Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. The fifth spot in the rotation will be competed for by four pitchers—Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona), Jeff Niemann, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi.

The Rays have eight starters in the mix that would make the starting rotation on almost all MLB clubs, and not many teams—if any—can say that.

Tampa Bay is not the only team in the AL East that’ll show off their arms in 2013, though, as the division will only get tougher this year. There are some exciting new starting pitching additions—most notably on the Blue Jays—that aren’t going to make Rays hitters’ lives any easier.

Without further delay, here’s my ranking of the five AL East rotations.

5. Boston Red Sox

Starting pitching has been by far Boston’s biggest weakness in recent years. They struggled mightily in the department last year, posting a 5.19 ERA and a 4.69 FIP.

The rotation will have to make up for the key loss of Josh Beckett, but will get some help from offseason acquisition Ryan Dempster. The Red Sox will also be without Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook this season, so starting pitching depth will probably be just as bad as it was last year.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) Jon Lester

2) Clay Buchholz

3) Ryan Dempster

4) Felix Doubront

5) John Lackey

As you can see, there’s a pretty wide range between this rotation’s ceiling and floor of potential.

If the front three pitch to their potential with some sort of consistency, the Sox could have a pretty good trio of starters. On the other hand, none of these starters had a good season in 2012 besides for Dempster, and even he fell apart after being traded to Texas mid-season and making his American League debut.

In addition, Boston’s rotation is an injury or two away from being in a very difficult situation due to their shallowness in the organization starting pitching wise.

The Red Sox really did not due enough this offseason to address their starting pitching issues. The only starter they signed is 35 years old, and is a lot more likely to go on a decline rather than improve.

If I’m GM Ben Cherington right now, I’m making a serious run at veteran Kyle Lohse, who still remains on the free agent market. Another option is trading away a bat for some young starting pitching talent.

4. New York Yankees

Like the Red Sox, starting pitching has been far from a strong point for the Yankees in the past years.

However, they have a great one-two punch in ace C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, who both had excellent seasons last year. Both do a great job eating up innings (posting 200+ each in 2012) and racking up wins (combined for 31 in 2012).

Andy Pettitte joined the staff later in the season, and did a nice job putting up a 2.87 ERA through 75.1 innings pitched.

The Yanks didn’t get much production from Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, though.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) C.C. Sabathia

2) Hiroki Kuroda

3) Andy Pettitte

4) Phil Hughes

5) Ivan Nova

The only two pitchers in this rotation that Yankees fans can really expect to have good years are Sabathia and Kuroda. Pettitte was very impressive in his comeback last season, but his age and recent injury history make him a big question mark.

The biggest concern for the Yankees regarding starting pitching is their depth, which is scary shallow. The only pitcher backing up the starting five is David Phelps, and they don’t have any good farm talent that can help them in the near future.

Michael Pineda would be a big part part of this rotation, but he won’t join the team until later in the year due to the same injury that shelved him for the entire 2012 season.

3. Baltimore Orioles

Starting pitching was definitely not one of the Baltimore’s strong suits during their Cinderella 2012 season. They depended heavily on their outstanding bullpen, which managed to get the job done when the rotation didn’t.

This year the Orioles’ staff could see an upgrade with the acquisition of Jair Jurrjens.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) Jason Hammel

2) Wei-Yin Chen

3) Chris Tillman

4) Miguel Gonzalez

5) Jair Jurrjens

The Orioles have a rotation that could have five solid starters. All of the front four above posted an ERA south of four last year.

As for the fifth spot, it will be competed for by seven different pitchers, and I’m predicting that Jiar Jurrjens wins the job. Jurrjens didn’t play much in 2012 due to injury, but we all saw the kind of damage he’s capable of doing after an ace-like 2011 campaign.

If he returns to full health this season, AL East hitters could be facing yet another menace on the mound.

Depth-wise, the O’s are actually in a pretty good state. Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter could all fill in case someone in the starting five gets hurt or struggles. Phenom prospect Dylan Bundy could also contribute later in the season if needed.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays did more than any team in baseball to bolster their pitching staff this offseason, adding three big-name pitchers in Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.

Toronto fans have to be excited about their rotation this season, especially after having such a weak one last year. The Jays’ rotation was the AL East’s worst in 2012, finishing the year with a 4.82 ERA.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) R.A. Dickey

2) Brandon Morrow

3) Mark Buehrle

4) Josh Johnson

5) Ricky Romero

What Toronto has is a rotation of four pitchers (Dickey, Buehrle, Johnson and Romero) who have all been stars at some point in their career not so long ago. Even Brandon Morrow has shown he has star potential, and seems to be heading in that direction after an impressive 2012 season.

The front four of the starting five are expected to be solid in 2013, with Ricky Romero probably being the biggest question mark. Romero came into the 2012 season with sky-high expectations as the team’s ace, but ended up having an atrocious year going 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA (MLB worst for starters with 20-plus starts).

If he can return even close to his 2011 form, nobody should be surprised to see the Jays emerge as the new Beasts of the East.

The Blue Jays’ rotation does have some depth to it as well, with J.A. Happ, Brett Cecil and Brad Lincoln serving as security starters.

1) Tampa Bay Rays

Numbers really tell the story of the Rays’ starting rotation in 2012. Tampa’s staff led the league in ERA (3.34), strikeouts (900) and opponents’ average (.234).

Projected Starting Rotation

1) David Price

2) Jeremy Hellickson

3) Matt Moore

4) Alex Cobb

5) Jeff Niemann/Roberto Hernandez

As I said before, it’s going to be tough for the Rays’ rotation to repeat their amazing performance from last season, especially without James Shields.

Although they may not have their workhorse anymore, what the Rays do have now is Chris Archer, Roberto Hernandez and Jake Odorizzi—who are all major league quality starters that they didn’t have in the beginning of last season.

With such great depth, Tampa Bay should be able to make up for the loss of Shields, and will likely put out one of the league’s best rotations once again.

Projections for the Rays’ Opening Day Roster

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With spring training now in full swing and the first games nearing, the Rays’ 2013 roster appears to be coming together.

Tampa Bay has made their share of roster moves and put their final touches on signings this month. Now all that remains are spring training battles that will take place next month before Opening Day.

If one thing’s for sure, skipper Joe Maddon will likely have some tough choices to make when deciding who makes the cut.

Without further delay, here’s my prediction of what the Rays’ Opening Day roster will look like.

Starting Lineup

C: Jose Molina
1B: James Loney
2B: Kelly Johnson
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Yunel Escobar
LF: Matt Joyce
CF: Desmond Jennings
RF: Ben Zobrist
DH: Luke Scott

Barring any injuries, this will more than likely be the Rays’ starting nine for Opening Day. There aren’t really any battles for starting spots in the lineup.

The 2013 lineup will feature a few changes. James Loney will be replacing Carlos Pena at first, and recently-signed Kelly Johnson will take over second instead of Ben Zobrist who will start in right field. Also, the Rays will finally have an everyday shortstop with Yunel Escobar in lineup.

Another thing worth noting is key loss of B.J. Upton, who will be replaced in centerfield by Desmond Jennings.

Bench

C Jose Lobaton
INF Sean Rodriguez
UTIL Ryan Roberts
OF Sam Fuld

Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton making the roster seem to be sure locks for the Opening Day lineup, but it will be interesting to see who wins the battle for the backup outfielder spot.

Sam Fuld, prospect Brandon Guyer and veteran slugger Shelley Duncan will all vie for the job this spring.

I predict Fuld edges out Guyer and Duncan, and there are a couple reasons. He has the most experience with the Rays out of the three, and Maddon likes the plus speed and defense he brings to the team—two things Guyer and Duncan can’t offer.

Starting Rotation

1. LHP David Price
2. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
3. LHP Matt Moore
4. RHP Alex Cobb
5. RHP Jeff Niemann

Joe Maddon has already made it clear that David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will all be in the rotation to start the season.

The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will without a doubt be the fiercest spring training competition in Port Charlotte. Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi will all fight for the spot.

It’ll be a difficult decision for Maddon, and it’s really going to come down to spring training performance.

Bullpen

Closer: RHP Fernando Rodney
Set-Up Man: RHP Joel Peralta
Middle Relief: LHP Jake McGee
Middle Relief: RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Long/Middle Reliever: RHP Roberto Hernandez
Lefty Specialist: LHP Cesar Ramos
Groundball Specialist: RHP Jamey Wright

Besides for Jamey Wright, we can expect to see all the names above in the ‘pen for Opening Day.

With right-handers Josh Lueke and Brandon Gomes also looking for a spot on the roster, Wright will likely have to pitch pretty well this spring to make the cut.

Another notable name in my bullpen projection is Roberto Hernadez. The 32-year-old veteran, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, would serve as a long/middle reliever if he were to lose the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospect Rankings 2013

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Last year on The Rays Rant, I evaluated the Tampa Bay Rays’ top 20 prospects based on MLB.com’s annual rankings. This year, I’m giving my own rankings on the organization’s top prospects.

The logic of the rankings are based off of the prospects’ tools and potential, as well as previous performance in the minors leagues.

Because most of the prospects on this list are at different stages of development, future upside was a large factor in putting together these rankings.

Without further ado, here’s a look at my top 10 Rays prospects heading into spring training.

1. Wil Myers

Wil Myers was the top prize in the four-prospect trade package that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City. After putting together an outstanding 2012 season in Class AA and Class AAA ball, the 22-year-old has become arguably the best hitting prospect in all of baseball.

Myers batted .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI last year, earning him both the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year award.

As you can see from the numbers, Myers’ main forte is his impressive raw power. He also has great bat speed and the ability to hit well for power and get on base proficiently. On the base pads, he’s an average runner with decent speed.

Myers’ main weakness overall is his plate discipline. The exciting power does come with some swing-and-miss tendency, as he struck out 140 times in 134 games last season. Hopefully, Myers will be able to fix the holes in his swing as he matures overall as a ballplayer.

Defensively, Myers is nothing special but nothing below average either. He played centerfield, right field and some third base in 2012, but right field will most likely be his main position in the majors. With a plus arm and average range, he should manage pretty well there.

Barring an injury, Myers will most likely get his first taste of the big leagues this season with Tampa Bay. The only question is how early. If he goes on a tear this spring he could even make the Opening Day roster.

2. Taylor Guerrieri

Drafted by the Rays in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft, 20-year-old right hander Taylor Guerrieri didn’t hesitate at all to open eyes in his professional debut with Class A- Hudson Valley last year. Guerrieri posted an impressive 1.04 ERA through 12 starts (52 innings) with 7.9 K/9 and 9.0 K/BB.

He has a good feel for four pitches, including a two-seam fastball with excellent late sinking action and a plus curveball. He’s also in the process of developing a changeup which could also transform into an above-average pitch.

Guerrieri’s fastball reaches up into the mid-upper 90′s and he still has plenty of room to grow into his six-foot-three, 195 pound frame to build up velocity in the future.

Besides for having great stuff, Guerrieri has also displayed advanced control and command with the ability to pound the strike zone. He only walked five batters throughout the entire 2012 season.

3. Chris Archer

Chris Archer has been one of the top prospects among the Rays’ plethora of young arms for a while now, and it looks like his minor league days could be coming to the end as spring training rolls in.

Archer made his MLB debut last season, making four starts as a replacement in the rotation. He posted a 4.60 ERA through four starts (29.1 innings), but continued to show a bright ray of light with an outstanding 11.0 K/9 ratio.

The 24-year-old right-hander has great stuff, including a fantastic fastball that reaches velocities in the upper-90′s range along with great live movement. He also has a very good slider, giving him a nice two-pitch combination with the fastball. His changeup is still lagging behind, but it does seem to be improving.

Command and control are by far the biggest issues for Archer. He’s struggled throwing strikes in both the majors and minors, and it’s been holding him back from a breakout season.

With such a terrific arsenal, the sky is the limit for Archer. His big league future can be anything from a middle reliever to an All-Star starter. If he can just improve his command enough, the Rays are going to have yet another dangerous starter in their rotation.

4. Jake Odorizzi

Jake Odorizzi was another highly-ranked prospect acquired from Kansas City in this winter’s blockbuster trade. The Rays may have lost two talented starting pitchers in that deal, but they did gain one back in Odorizzi.

The 22-year-old right-hander had a very productive 2012 season, going 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 8.4 K/9 through 145.1 IP.

He has four pitches in his arsenal, including a solid fastball that reaches the mid-90′s and a plus curveball and slider. His changeup is still a work in progress, but he has displayed excellent command over all his pitches for a pitcher at such a young age.

Odorizzi already made his big-league debut last year, making two starts with the Royals, and will be fighting for a spot in the rotation this spring. If he stays on the path he’s on he’ll eventually make it, and should be exciting to watch with a very high ceiling to be a frontline starter in Tampa Bay.

5. Hak-Ju Lee

Like Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee was acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade back in 2011. Ever since, Lee’s appeared in two MLB Futures Games and rised to be the organization’s best position player prospect until the Wil Myers trade this offseason.

The 22-year-old Korean native posted an underachieving .261/.336/.360 line with 37 RBI and stolen bases last year in Class AA ball. He failed to make much progress and unfortunately didn’t even get the call for Triple-A Durham.

The main concern with Lee is hitting, which is really the only thing holding him back in Double-A. He has no power, so getting on-base is crucial for him, and he’s going to have to do a better job of that this season if he wants to break into the big leagues.

On the other hand, Lee’s strong points are fielding and speed. He’s a very good shortstop with both great range and a good arm, and definitely has high upside defensively at the position at the major league level.

6. Alex Colome

Alex Colome is definitely a name to watch for in the minor leagues in 2013. The 24-year-old right-hander went 8-4 with a 3.44 ERA and 8.8 K/9 through 17 starts last year in both Double-A and Triple-A.

What makes Colome such an exciting prospect is his electric stuff, making him one of the higher upside prospects in the entire organization.

Colome’s arsenal is highlighted by a great fastball which he throws up to 97 MPH with plenty of live action. He also throws a pretty good curve, along with a slider and changeup which are still developing.

Like many talented hard-throwers in the Rays’ farm system over the years, the team has done a nice job gradually transforming Colome from a thrower into a pitcher. His command—which is his main weakness—is slowly but surely improving as he moves up the ranks.

7. Richie Shaffer

The Rays drafted Richie Shaffer 25th overall in last summer’s draft, adding a talented bat to Tampa Bay’s farm system.

After a succesful college career with the Clemson Tigers, Shaffer made his pro debut with Short-Season Hudson Valley. There he hit .308/.406/.487 with four homers and through 33 games.

Shaffer—a right-handed bat—is a very good hitter overall, with big-time power and a nice plate approach. He does have holes in his swing and tends to strikeout often because of them, but he has his whole minor league career ahead of him to work on it.

Defensively, the 21-year-old’s main position is third base. Although his strong arm profiles well for the position, lack of range makes his future at third a question mark. Both first base and/or right field could be possibilities for him long term.

8. Blake Snell

Blake Snell is another pitching prospect on this top 10 list with the tools to become a frontline starter in the major leagues.

Selected by the Rays in the first round of the 2011 Draft, Snell shined in the Appalachian League last season being named Pitcher of the Year. He went 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA and 10.1 K/9 through 11 starts (47.1 IP).

The 20-year-old lefty has four pitches in his arsenal. He throws a low-90′s fastball that touches the mid-90′s, and with such a lanky physique the Rays can expect Snell to gain velocity as he matures.

Snell also throws a plus changeup, which leads his two other secondary pitches; the slider and curveball. The slider—which he developed last year—could serve as a good pitch for him down the road. The curve is also a work in progress and lacks sharpness a bit.

One thing to like about Snell is his command, which is pretty impressive for such a young pitcher. He does well throwing strikes, and is able to entice groundballs by throwing low in the zone.

9. Enny Romero

Another electric arm in the Rays’ system with very high upside, Enny Romero has steadily moved up the farm over the past five years level by level.

Romero spent the entire 2012 season with Class A+ Charlotte, going 5-7 with a 3.93 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and a .201 opponent’s batting average.

The 22-year-old southpaw throws a powerful fastball in the mid-to-upper 90′s, along with a hard curveball with very high potential as his secondary pitch. He also throws a changeup, but there’s still plenty of refining needed to be done there.

Unsurprisingly, Romero’s main area that needs improvement is his command and control. Throwing strikes and pitch location has frequent issue with the flame-throwing MLB Future Gamer.

Romero could also use good share of work on his mechanics, which has caused inconsistency in pitches.

10. Drew Vettleson

The Rays have an intriguing bat to keep an eye on with 21-year-old Drew Vettleson emerging in their farm system.

Vettleson had a solid 2012 season with Single-A Bowling Green after being drafted 42nd overall in the 2010 Draft, hitting .275/.340/.432 with 69 RBI, 15 homers and 20 stolen bases.

What I like about Vettleson is that he’s a very well-rounded player. His excellent swing and terrific bat speed provide him with both the capability to hit for average and for power.

He’s also a good baserunner, and has above-average speed which should help him continue to steal bases throughout his career.

Defensively, he fields well at both corner outfield positions. With a good arm (was a rare ambidextrous pitcher in high school) and good range, he should be able to play right field.

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