If someone four years ago learned of how David Price would emergence as one of the best pitchers in major league baseball, it would probably come as no surprise to them. David Price was widely regarded as the top pitching prospect in the minors, a relatively safe bet to ascend to stardom. Baseball America went as far as to say "Price rates off the charts with his stuff, athleticism and disposition, a package that should make him one of the premier pitchers in the majors." When it comes to prospects, very rarely is it said that a prospect "should" succeed, let alone become a top pitcher in the major leagues.
Price possessed everything needed to become an ace. In the same report, Baseball America raved about his pure stuff, saying the following:
He has two plus-plus pitches with a mid-90s fastball and a biting slider. His fastball has outstanding movement with late armside run. His slider is reminiscent of John Smoltz's with its depth and 87-88 mph velocity. He blew away the Red Sox with both pitches in the ALCS clincher, generating several awkward swings. His changeup also can be an above-average offering with impressive deception and fade.
While those lines surely drew most of the fan's attention, the next line, so far in David Price's career, has proved far more important.
He receives as much praise for his makeup and humility as he does for his pitching, which is saying a lot.
They also noted he was "Extremely goal oriented."
While Price quickly went from the top pitching prospect to one of baseball's best pitchers, the transition was not seamless. The 2009 season turned out to be a major hiccup in Price's development. Amidst ridiculous expectations, Price pitched poorly. In his 128.1 innings, he pitched to a 4.42 ERA, a 4.59 FIP, and a 4.43 xFIP, good for 1.3 WAR. His struck out 7.15 batters per nine while walking 3.79. For as criticized as Matt Moore's rookie year was, at least he managed to strike out batters at a very high rate.
The most concerning aspect of his season was his (lack of) stuff. For whatever reason, he completely lost his feel for his plus-plus slider. To this very day, he has yet to use if effectively in a major league game again. While his fastball still registered in the mid-90's, he did not throw it with the blistering speed that he does now (94.22 compared to 96.55). He struggled with the changeup and added a slow sinker (91.15 mph) sinker to his mix of pitches. Later in the year, he picked up a curveball that showed potential, but lacked consistency. Without any effective offspeed pitches, he resorted to throwing his fastball and sinker a combined 75% of the time.
Skepticism at this point in his career was certainly warranted. He still threw very hard for a southpaw, but his stuff had declined and he lacked the plus command to compensate.
In his progression to an ace level pitcher, Price has overcame these obstacles because of his remarkable work ethic. In 2010, his breakout year, he increased his fastball and sinker velocity (both by about 2 mph), ditched his slider, and turned his curveball into a weapon. In 2011, he cut down his walk rate (3.41 BB/9 to 2.53 BB/9) while prioritizing and drastically improving his changeup. The usage of his sinker, which now was thrown as fast as his fastball, overtook the usage of his traditional fourseam fastball. This past year, Price added a cutter en route to becoming more trustworthy of his offspeed pitches. He now threw his fastball/sinker harder than any major league starting pitcher, averaging 96.55 mph on the fastball and 96.23 mph on the sinker. With these adjustments, Price has statistically improved each year. Every year in his major league career, he has lowered his FIP while increasing his WAR.
It is not out of the question that Price could continuing improving. While he now has his five pitch mix, he is still understanding when and how often he should throw each pitch. Last year is an example of how he improved his pitch usage. As he became more comfortable and knowledgeable about his assortment of pitches, the results improved. After posting a 3.45 FIP and 2.82 ERA in the first half, he lowered them to 2.59 and 2.27 in the second half.
These consistent improvements, direct results of his determination and sheer desire to succeed, give Rays fans every reason to believe that David Price will anchor the Rays rotation in 2013.