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The Rays Rotation

The Rays tend to field pitchers who have a multitude of fantasy uses. In recent seasons, they’ve featured aces, mid-draft talent, and undervalued prospects. It’s shaping up to be more of the same in 2014, although the specifics have yet to be ironed out. Some spring position battles could substantially affect which players have value, but owners who are drafting soon will need to gamble.

On Lockdown
David Price
Alex Cobb
Matt Moore

Price was supposed to be traded this winter, but it hasn’t happened yet. This close to spring, it probably won’t happen, although executives continue to speculate that it will over on the pages of MLB Trade Rumors. Regardless of where he ends up, he’ll have plenty of value in 2014.

Statistically, 2013 was a strange season for Price. His average velocity declined by two mph and his strikeout rate fell four percent. On the plus side, his whiff rate barely declined and his walk rate dropped to a Cliff Lee-like 3.7 percent. The velocity loss may be permanent – that just happens with pitchers as they age – but it’s not immediately apparent what we should expect from strikeouts or walks. If things break right, he could be a Lee clone. If they shake out in the other direction, we’re looking at someone more like Jordan Zimmermann.

Cobb had a very strong season after his whiff rate took a leap forward. That led to more strikeouts – enough that he was a borderline fantasy ace. The only thing that held him back was a line drive off the face, which certainly qualifies as a fluky injury. He’s a ground ball heavy pitcher who strikes out enough batters to help that category. His wins, ERA, and WHIP will probably also be solid categories.

In my early mocks, I get the impression that the experts expect heavy regression, but I feel pretty bullish about a repeat. The strikeouts may decline slightly, but anytime a pitcher rolls 55 percent ground balls and over eight strikeouts per nine, I’m buying. My only concern besides the usual injury risk is that he may tire out near the end of the season. It’s a small concern.

I’m actually wary of Moore. He has huge breakout potential due to great stuff, but until he takes that step forward, he looks like a 4.00 ERA pitcher. I want more than 8.5 strikeouts per nine if I’m going to absorb that kind of ERA. Last season, a .259 BABIP and 79 percent strand rate allowed Moore to out-pitch his FIP considerably. I won’t be gambling on a repeat. He’s shown a tendency towards walks in the majors, which has led to a lot of patience from opposing hitters. He may fall in some leagues where owners are well aware of BABIP and LOB%.

Presumed To Start
Chris Archer
Jake Odorizzi

Archer probably could have gone in the lockdown section, but he still has options and crazier things have happened. However, he was impressively solid in 2013 over 23 starts, featuring a 95 mph fastball and good command. His strikeout rate was disappointing, but a nine percent whiff rate hints at the potential for more growth. Like Moore, a low 3’s ERA is probably too much to ask for, but there is breakout potential if he can take a step forward in generating strikeouts.

A few months ago, Odorizzi was expected to be the sixth starter, but now he has the inside track on the fifth starter job. He profiles as a durable, innings eater who will keep the Rays in games, but probably won’t help fantasy owners. He’ll be best used as a waiver wire starter.

Down the Depth Chart
Erik Bedard
Alex Colome
Enny Romero
Nate Karns
Matt Andriese

The Rays recently signed Bedard to compete for a rotation job. The oft-injured veteran is a viable starter, but may need some help from an injury or poor performance to make the club. For fantasy purposes, Bedard is risky because he walks too many batters, but he strikes out enough to be a useful $1 flier.

Karns was acquired in the Jose Lobaton trade with the Nationals. He’s posted some exciting numbers in the Nationals’ farm system, but the Rays tend to move slowly with their prospects. If he remains a starter, he will probably spend most of the season in Triple-A. He might get converted to pen work where his 94 mph fastball could play up.

Colome is near major league readiness, but he needs to develop a better breaking ball before he becomes a mid-rotation contributor. He features a fastball that lives around 95 mph, so he’s another candidate for pen work.

The left-handed Romero has shaky control that he’ll need to conquer in Triple-A before the Rays let him out to play. Once again, a move to the pen could accelerate his time table.

Andriese is a spring training invitee. He’s a command and control righty out of the Padres minor league system. There are a ton of players ahead of him, but he’s probably the closest to his ceiling of the group. In case of injury, I have to think he’s one of the first choices. For fantasy purposes, he looks like a waiver starter with a low strikeout and walk rate.

Don’t Forget
Jeremy Hellickson

Hellickson is hurt, but he won’t be out forever. He’s not a reliable fantasy option unless you really like to gamble. His best seasons were achieved by outperforming his peripherals. He may find himself in a reduced role when he returns, but further injuries will probably open up a spot for him.