We're a little more than a month away from minor league spring training, and that means it's time to guess what full-season affiliate rotations might look like when minor league baseball kicks off on April 3rd. The organization is going to have some tough choices to make with more than five starters, whether they're prospects or organizational soldiers, ready to pitch at each level.
Triple-A Durham Bulls
Jake Odorizzi (24 Y.O.; 2013 at AAA/MLB)
Enny Romero (23 Y.O.; 2013 at AA/AAA/MLB)
Alex Colome (25 Y.O.; 2013 at AAA/MLB)
Mike Montgomery (24 Y.O.; 2013 at AAA/AFL)
Merrill Kelly (25 Y.O.; 2013 at AA/AAA/AFL)
At this point, it certainly seems like David Price will be playing 2014 with the Rays, and Durham will benefit with three of the organization's top 10 prospects returning to the Bulls. Not only is this rotation prospect-laden, they're experienced too; these five combine for 762.1 career innings at this level.
Two prospect-ish arms looking to advance up from Montgomery, Victor Mateo and Jake Thompson, came up short. I gave Kelly the edge with more experience at this level already, and the Rays must think a little of him if they sent him to the Arizona Fall League. Thompson could benefit from a move to the bullpen, and the 24 year old Mateo just loses a numbers game.
The conventional wisdom is that Colome will move to the bullpen in his career because of his command issues and injury history, but I don't think it's going to happen yet. Even if his future is in relief a la Alex Torres, they'll want him to get the innings in the rotation and only move him to relief when it becomes necessary. Montgomery could be headed down this road too.
Double-A Montgomery Biscuits
There were a number of other candidates for the end of this rotation: Thompson, Albert Suarez and Mike Colla. All three have experience at this level. but I gave the edge to Mateo for having a solid (if not a bit fluky) season with the Biscuits last year. Suarez missed almost all of last year with an injury, and his track record of ending up on the DL could land him in the bullpen.
Floro and Garvin may not be quite ready, but Floro's college experience and polish should have him prepared well enough. Elbow surgery limited Garvin's innings the last two years, but he went to the AFL over the off-season and pitched well. Had he stayed healthy, he'd be at this level or maybe higher.
At the top of the rotation, the Biscuits will have two players that are likely top 20 prospects in the organization. Both Hahn and Rivero will advance one level after spending last season in Charlotte, and both will be looking to prove their durability in 2014. Rivero added just 14 innings compared to his 2013 workload, but he did remain in the rotation the entire season. Hahn's career high in innings is 69.
Class A-Advanced Charlotte Stone Crabs
Ryne Stanek (22 Y.O.; 2013 at NCAA)
Jeff Ames (23 Y.O.; 2013 at A)
Roberto Gomez (24 Y.O.; 2013 at A+)
Reinaldo Lopez (23 Y.O.; 2013 at A)
Leonel Santiago (24 Y.O.; 2013 at A/A+)
Stanek is obviously the big name here. They could probably put him at Bowling Green since he didn't pitch professionally last year. On the other hand, talent-wise, Double-A isn't out of the picture. Splitting the difference with Charlotte is a good fit though. Other college starters taken early in the draft have started at this level with the Rays.
Santiago is probably a name that stands out as unfamiliar. He's one of three minor league free agents the Rays signed from the Royals this off-season. I probably shouldn't pencil in a new player to the organization into a rotation, but he started with KC and throws strikes. There are a lot of other options.
Those include former top 30 prospect Parker Markel. The Rays might want to give one more shot to the 23 year old Markel, but with his injury last year combined with his mixed results in the rotation, maybe a move to the bullpen isn't a bad idea. A pair of college arms from last year's draft could pitch here too, but I placed them more conservatively.
Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods
Blake Snell (21 Y.O.; 2013 at A)
Jake Faria (20 Y.O.; 2013 at R-Princeton)
Austin Pruitt (24 Y.O.; 2013 at A-/A)
Aaron Griffin (23 Y.O.; 2013 at A-)
Jorge Rodriguez (22 Y.O.; 2013 at R-Princeton)
Those two college arms are Pruitt and Griffin, the Rays' ninth and 10th rounders respectively. There's no clear pattern in where the Rays assign college pitchers drafted in this range; some go right to Charlotte, some don't. Pruitt is already 24 and was very good in his debut last year, so he could definitely replace Santiago one level higher. Griffin was also very good, and he's nearly two years younger than Pruitt.
Snell may not repeat, but with his problems throwing strikes last year and his young age, it wouldn't be a bad idea. Faria's another young arm with promise, and the Rays would have to make the bold move to skip him over Hudson Valley after his success last year in the Appy League.
Choosing the fifth player was surprisingly difficult. I settled on Rodriguez because he pitched well last year, and since he's one of the older candidates I had, I chose him. Christopher Kirsch and D.J. Slaton were also in the mix here. Since Slaton was a 37th rounder last year, I'm assuming getting him innings is probably a lower priority for the team.
There were four younger pitchers under consideration too: Jose Alonzo (R-GCL), Andres Gonzalez (R-GCL), German Marquez (R-Princeton) and Hunter Wood (R-Princeton). Both Marquez and Gonzalez got pretty sizable signing bonuses, and the Rays thought enough of Marquez to skip him right from the Venezuelan Summer League to Princeton. Overall, I think the Rays will defer to one of the older arms to start the season.
Those young players will make a nice core in the short-season rotations, along with a few others. Recent higher picks like Nolan Gannon and Damion Carroll will join them, as well as their pair of big bonus Venezuelans,and Jose Mujica.