The Rays are a solid 8 deep in starting pitchers, so look for them to perhaps deal Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann before the season starts. Here is a look at how the rotation stands right now heading into 2012:
#1: James Shields: 30-year old righty James Shields turned into the ace of the staff last year. He started 33 games for the Rays last year and he was 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Shields finished 3rd in the voting for the A.L. Cy Young Award last year and he made the All-Star team. Shields is a horse who loves to pitch deep into ballgames. He has now pitched in 185 games (184 starts) in his first six years with the Rays and he is 72-63 with a 3.96 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. It will be interesting to see if Shields can repeat his success of 2011 as it kind of came out of the blue.
#2: David Price: 26-year old lefty David Price actually improved as a pitcher last year as he upped his strikeouts while cutting down his walks. He pitched in 34 games (all starts) for the Rays last year and he was 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. He has now pitched in 94 games (89 starts) in his first four years with the Rays and he is 41-26 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. Price has made the last two American League All-Star teams. I think this will be the year that Price puts everything together.
#3: Jeremy Hellickson: 24-year old righty Jeremy Hellickson won the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award in 2011. He pitched in 29 games (all starts) for the Rays last year and he was 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. Hellickson is a pure pitcher as he changes speeds and locations, making his stuff look at lot better than it is. His fastball comes in at the low 90’s, his changeup in the low 80’s and his curveball in the low 70’s which makes it hard for opposing batters to guess at the plate. Hellickson has now pitched in 39 games (33 starts) in his first two years in the majors and he is 17-10 with a 3.04 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.
#4: Matt Moore: 22-year old lefty Matt Moore was a dominating pitcher in the majors, playoffs and minors last year. He is going to enter spring training as the Rays’ #4 starter, but nothing is going to be given to him. Moore pitched in 3 games (1 start) for the Rays during the regular season and he was 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. He whiffed 15 batters in only 9 1/3 innings during the regular season which is pretty darn impressive. Moore also pitched in 27 games (all starts) in AA+AAA-ball last year and he was 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. He only gave up 101 hits in 155 innings in the minors while whiffing 210 batters, which shows just how nasty he can be. Moore also beat the Rangers in his first career start in the playoffs and he looked great doing it. Moore has the potential to be the best starter the Rays have in 2012, and that is saying something.
#5: Wade Davis: 26-year old righty Wade Davis could win the #5 job in the Rays’ rotation, work out of the bullpen where he was dominating in the playoffs or get traded for position players. Davis played in 29 games (all starts) for the Rays last year and he was 11-10 with a 4.45 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. He has now pitched in 64 games (all starts) in his first three years with the Rays and he is 25-22 with a 4.22 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. If stuff is the deciding factor, Davis is going to win this job.
Jeff Niemann: 28-year old righty Jeff Niemann will either win the #5 job in the Rays’ rotation or they are going to deal him because he doesn’t get ready to quickly in the bullpen. Niemann pitched in 23 games (all starts) for the Rays last year and he was 11-7 with a 4.06 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. He has now pitched in 89 games (84 starts) in his first four years with the Rays and he is 38-23 with a 4.16 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Niemann beat out Wade Davis for the #5 job this spring.
Alex Cobb: 24-year old righty Alex Cobb pitched really well for the Rays while Jeff Niemann was out of action. But, an injury cut his season short. If healthy, Cobb is going to get a shot to win the #5 job in the Rays’ rotation. Cobb pitched in 9 games (all starts) for the Rays last year and he was 3-2 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. He also pitched in 12 games (all starts) in AAA-ball last year and he was 5-1 with a 1.87 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Cobb has a nice upside.
Alex Torres: 24-year old lefty Alex Torres came to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir deal of a couple of years ago. He pitched in 4 games (0 starts) for the Rays last year and he was 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.88 WHIP. Torres also pitched in 27 games (all starts) in AAA-ball last year and he was 9-7 with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. Torres is a big time longshot to make the Rays’ starting rotation when they break camp, but he could help them at some point in 2012.
PROJECTED GRADE FOR THE STARTING ROTATION IN 2012: A+