Rays Will not Rush Price
I was sitting here last night re-reading some of the comments made during my blog about the fifth rotation spot for the Tampa Bay Rays basically coming down to two guys, with another having and outside slim chance of maybe slipping if some one implodes and burns on the mound. The fact that Rays tall Texan Jeff Niemann is showing the type of dominance and confidence they saw in him when they drafted him with the fourth pick in the first round years ago. Also the fact I had Jason Hammel’s name tied to this two-some left people blank on him.
Everyone was running David Price’s name across the comment line and wanting, no yearning to see if the Rays would do the right thing and put their “best” guy at their fifth spot. The problem with this scenario is not as simple as we all might want it to be. I am a huge Price fan, and I would love to see him throw from now until October by hook or by crook. But I also see the Rays front office and Ray Manager Joe Maddon’s side of things that we do not hurt the future to keep the present situation par for the course. Come on people, the oldest member of our pitching staff is not even 30 years of age yet.
And our youngest starter is Scott Kazmir, who has several Rays records already at such a young juncture in his Rays career. Kazmir is 25 years old people and has years of experience beyond what Price has right now. The Rays rushed Kazmir to the majors in part because he was the best they had in the system with no one even close to his talent and potential level near the top of the minor league system. If the Rays were competitive when they traded pitcher Victor Zambrano to the New York Mets for Kazmir, he would have started in the minors too. When your system boasts at least 5 of your minor league pitchers as your Top 10 list of prospects in your system, you can take your time and let them mature.
People tend to forget that Price went from Class-A Florida State League Vero Beach Rays to Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, to Triple-A Durham Bulls in less than a season. He started the year on the mend and did not pitch, but still accelerated through the system fast and furious. And he did nor suffer a loss until he hit the Triple-A level in 2008. 4 months, that is the total amount of time he has spent in the minor this year. Around 120 days and we want to rush him up for good? And even there, he had limited starting gigs compared to Wade Davis, Mitch Talbot and Jeff Niemann. For example, Niemann made 24 starts in Durham last years and 2 up with the Rays early in the year. So you would think that if Price has something to work on, and has options, why not use that to your advantage and send him down and let him get ample work without stress or high expectations.
I think the high expectation route will follow him from now on whenever he hits the big time. Because people threw the name “Bob Gibson” out there, he is going to get comparisons to everyone who was ever a left-handed pitcher in the major leagues. Funny, people forgot that Gibson got his start in a little hamlet in Florida when he was a rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals. What was the name of that town again…………Oh, yeah, St. Petersburg, Florida where the Cardinals held their spring training at the Busch complex out on 62nd Ave NE. Price has nothing to prove to Rays fans. He made a prediction that went unnoticed to some people that he wanted to be at the major league level at some point in 2008.
Well, we all know he got here. And where did he get his first professional appearance? Well, he got to give his own personal goodbye to Yankee Stadium when he came in to replace Edwin Jackson in that game and went 5.1/3 innings. He also gave up 3 hits and 2 runs in that relief appearance, which included a solo home run to Derek Jeter. But people focused more on the fact he had 4 strikeouts in that game, and put A Rod and the Yankee hitter on their heels for a bit that day. How many people remember that he did get one start in 2008 against the Baltimore Orioles late in the season while with the Rays. And also who knew that he made 5 total appearances in the 2008 regular season for 14 innings, and gave up 9 hits and struck out 12, plus posted a nifty 1.93 ERA in his short time up with the Rays.
So why is it that the Rays are willing to send down their best right now when he can help them at the start of the season this year? Well, the Rays have always valued a young pitchers arm and have been very protective of their talents. I was reading a recent St Petersburg Times article that stated that the Rays: “did extensive research a few years back and discovered younger pitchers were at greater risk for arm troubles when they had an increase of more than 20 percent in innings pitched from one season to the next. Considering Price’s long-term value, it seems unlikely the Rays will allow him to jump from around 130 innings in 2008 to more than 200 innings this season. They’d probably prefer 170. They might push 180. Anything else is a game of roulette. “
Now it is beginning to make sense right? With the great rotation already in place, why risk a future top of the line guy right now for a few extra innings in April. The best case situation for the Rays is that another team comes sniffing around looking for a starter and either Hammel or Niemann get plucked to make the Rays decision easier. But they still might not put Price right into the rotation based on his possible innings he could throw. He might just slip into the Bullpen like in the later part of 2008 and mature and study the American League hitters. Some pitchers never get that luxury in their careers to sit back and learn by watching other pitchers dissect and manipulate batters. They do not get the top of the line scouting reports and the video breakdowns as consistent in the minor leagues.
Believe me, Price’s day will come. He is not only bound for glory, people have already put him to almost cult status after a few months. Everyone remembers that Game 7 strikeout of J D Drew to seal the Rays trip to the World Series. It made him a star in both leagues and cemented his name in Rays lore for life. But what we fail to remember is that when a guy come out of the Bullpen into a game, he is really concentrating on two pitches to get him through the battle. When Price came up he had a major league level fastball and slider, but lack a consistent third pitch. Relievers can blow people out of the box with well-placed pitches, and most of them only rely on two types. The Rays told Price to put his change-up in his back pocket and concentrate on his big two pitches.
This bring about the biggest reason for him to go down for a short time. He was a reliever in the last part of 2008. It takes a different mindset to be a starter than a reliever. Most people think that is BS, but the preparation is different. He just has to get that rhythm and flow again to start games and last through 5-6 innings. To add some more finesse to his increasingly improved change-up will only further make him a better pitcher. To understand why you need three pitches, let’s go back to Kazmir. For most of 2008 after his injury in early Spring Training, he did not throw his former “out” pitch, his slider. This gave batters more of a chance to guess right on his other two power pitches and he got hammered a little more than usual.
The Rays know that their future is in the left arm of Price. They also know that for him to be a productive member of this staff for a long time will take some delicate moves and maybe baby him through the process for a short time. It might seem to be a waste right now, but in the end, he will be a better pitcher and a more successful Rays player for it. I did some research and found out that the Rays might have Price under control due to his present contract to 2014. With this contract, it looks as if they might not have the arbitration worries I brought up before as a reason to keep him down on the farm. I can admit when I am wrong, and in this case I left one high and hanging over the plate.
Worst case scenario is that he is down in the minors for most of the season. But people also forget that he only had 4 starts at Durham total. And in those 4 starts, he averaged 17.5 pitches per inning. If you really add that up to be a usual 6 inning outing, he was at 105 pitches. Price is the future of the Rays, and with the recent success, they do not need to rush him or themselves to make harsh and hasty decision in 2009. With a 162 game season, the first 5-6 times through the rotation will not Price or the Rays with him up in North Carolina getting stronger and developing that change-up to be a “out” pitch for him. With other options that are not dangers to the club at the fifth rotation, throwing him into the fire would not be to anyone’s advantage. But by bringing him along slow and easy, he can transition perfectly into his major league career and never have to look back or wonder.
photo credits for today’s blog go to: ( James Borcheck)www.stpetersburgtimes.com, www.knucklecurve.com, Dbullsfan@Flickr.com, www.yahoo.sports.com.