Another summer in Tampa, FL is in its closing months. Senior golfers are stowing away their clubs and bringing out their cribbage sets and bottom-shelf gin, prepping for the chilling 70 degree winter weather. And wouldn’t you know it, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has his team on the path to the post-season once again. Yes, it is business as usual on Florida’s west coast.
As of Monday, the Rays are second in the AL East, trailing the New York Yankees by 4.5 games, and they lead the AL Wild Card by 1.5 games over division rival Baltimore. Should the Rays make the playoffs, it will be their third consecutive berth, and the third consecutive season in which their pitching has carried the Rays to October baseball.
Through 121 regular season games, the Rays carry a team batting average of .236, good for 28th in the majors. They rank 23rd in OPS, 18th in runs scored, and 19th in long balls. The Rays all-world third baseman, Evan Longoria, has served as a better clubhouse attendant than power hitter in 2012, having missed 86 games with a left hamstring injury. Rays center fielder and perennial underperformer B.J. Upton leads the team in homeruns (15) and runs batted in (54), good for an overall T72 and T79, respectively.
In short, Tampa’s offense alone would not suggest this team is playoff bound for a third straight year.
The Rays success in 2012 can once again be attributed to their championship caliber pitching staff. With 41 games remaining in the regular season, Tampa is second in the majors in ERA (3.33) and BAA (.234), T2 in shut outs (12), and third in strikeouts (1001). Staff ace David Price is enjoying another Cy Young-type campaign, leading the American League with 16 wins and a 2.39 ERA. Fellow starters James Shields and Matt Moore both have added double-digit wins and impressive strikeout numbers. And, in the rare occasion the Rays don’t get a quality start out of their rotation, their top seven relievers have maintained a sub-3.50 ERA, and lead the AL in Save %.
Tampa has been among the best in the majors at developing young, talented arms for nearly the last decade. Since 2005, the Rays have introduced Scott Kazmir, James Shields, David Price, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson to their starting rotation, resulting in three playoff appearances, and one World Series campaign. And their farm talent, even with the recent call-ups of Moore, Hellickson, and more recently Alex Cobb, is not yet close to depleted. Let’s take a look at three prospects that could join Tampa’s stellar rotation in the next few years.
Chris Archer (Durham Bulls):
Of all Tampa pitching prospects projected to make the leap to the bigs in the next few years, it is rather easy to say Chris Archer is the closest to his promotion. He was already called up to pitch with the Rays for a two game stint in 2012, compiling an 0-2 record and a 3.86 ERA. Archer is a power arm, with a fastball that can touch the mid to upper-90s, and a slider that, put conservatively, is his go-to strikeout pitch. Like any young power arm, Archer struggles with control. Through 114.2 innings with the Rays AAA affiliate the Durham Bulls, Archer averages about a walk every two innings. You take the bad with the good in his case, and the good includes a strikeout per inning over his five year minor league career, two plus pitches, and major league experience at the age of 23. Expect Archer to join the Rays rotation as early as 2013.
Taylor Guerrieri (Hudson Valley Renegades):
Lighting up radar guns in the New York-Penn league is 19 year-old righty Taylor Guerrieri. Scouts have clocked Guerrieri’s fastball up to 97 mph, a pitch he complements with a 12-to-6 curve. He has used this arsenal to keep opponents off balance in his first nine starts with the Rays’ Class A Hudson Valley Renegades. Since his debut on June 20th, he has thrown 37 innings over those nine starts, and has walked only two batters and allowed only five earned runs, showing impressive command at a young age.
Because the Rays’ rotation is still incredibly young, Guerrieri may have to wait in the wings for a few years before he gets the call. However, Tampa loves this guy, and should he continue to show the poise he has through two months in the minors, his ascent to the majors may be faster than many think.
Enny Romero (Charlotte Stone Crabs):
Though 21 year-old lefty Enny Romero may be less touted a prospect than Guerrieri at the moment, he shows all the same promise. Another overpowering arm, Romero is in his second full season as a starter in the Rays system. He started 26 games for the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods in 2011, and has 21 starts thus far for the Class A Advanced Charlotte Stone Crabs in 2012.
Romero features a mid-90s fastball with good tail, with two off-speed secondary pitches that lag behind the heater in quality. From 2011 to 2012, Romero has shaved nearly a full point off his ERA, and a quarter of a point off his WHIP. The improved WHIP is the more encouraging statistic for Romero, as he was extremely wild for Bowling Green in 2011. Any youngster with the velocity Romero has tends to struggle with control early in their minor league career. However, the decrease in ratios from last year to this year suggest Romero is coming into his own, not overthrowing, and approaching batters more methodically. His strikeout numbers are down from last year, and he is going deeper into games for the Stone Crabs (117 IP in 21 starts in 2012, compared to 114 IP in 26 starts in 2011). Perhaps that is a result of Romero realizing he has a defense behind him, and that pitching to contact can be effective.
This power lefty still needs some seasoning before the Rays toss him on the grill, but he has clearly started his maturation process, and could find himself in Tampa in the next two or three years.