Spring Training has officially started! Pitchers and catchers have reported and the first game is a little over a week away. The Rays will meet the Oriols on March 3rd. So far the biggest news have been lots of stadium talk, but just the same old talk, the reveal of a new powder blue home jersey and Soriano had to leave the first practice early because of a chest cold. I’m sure more interesting news should start coming in soon.
Until then though, let’s have a look at what is believed to be the opening day pitching rotation. Kazmir is gone but this is still a very strong rotation with a good mix of experience, energy and two very young but very talented arms.
James Shields – 28
Matt Garza – 26
Jeff Niemann – 27
David Price – 24
Wade Davis – 24
*The ranks are among pitchers who pitched at least 120 innings in 2009.
What makes the Rays rotation one of the stronger in the leagues is the depth. There is not one elite pitcher in the group, but there isn’t a weak spot either. As far as a starting pitching rotation goes this is a very young group of guys. I believe they all have the talent to have a complete game on any given day. But especially with Price and Davis you also risk having to take them out by the third inning.
Shields, Garza and Niemann all averaged more than 6 innings per game in 2009. Shields and Niemann have generally been very consistent. Garza has a fire in him that I love to see and helps him most of the time, but does get him into trouble once in a while. Even though the bullpen should be better with Soriano coming in they still shouldn’t rely on it too much. These three guys will have to be consistent and play a lot of innings this year.
I know Price isn’t really a newcomer anymore, especially not with Davis coming in, but I still think he has a little way to go in order to be considered a solid, consistent MLB starter. He’s got all the talent in the world, just need a little more experience under his belt. Same goes for Davis, there is no questioning his talent and he did get a very strong start to his career. But it’s going to be interesting to see how he does going up against major league batters for a full season. On the current official depth chart they have Niemann 3rd, Price 4th and Davis 5th. But that isn’t set in stone yet and I’ve seen a few websites have Price 3rd and Niemann 4th instead. To me it would make a lot of sense to set it up that way. The difference in talent between Niemann and Price isn’t that great so if they expect Davis and Price to be the most inconsistent starters having Niemann in between them could help out the bullpen in the long run.
To touch on something besides consistency for a moment, there is still plenty of room for individual improvements. The ERA’s for all of them are okay but certainly not great. Shields has got a pretty good walks to strikeout ratio and Garza has been doing a good job of getting strikeouts but he has also increased the number of walks a bit. I started out by saying that none of these guys are elite pitchers, and they haven’t been. But four of them are first round draft picks with high expectations attached to them and we should expect them to do just a little bit better each year at this point. Even Garza who is a bit of a veteran in the group really doesn’t have that much experience. It seems like Niemann has been around for a while but he has only started one full season. So I do expect the group as a whole to be better this year than last.