The full squad of the 2014 Tampa Bay Rays has finally reported to Port Charlotte, ushering in the best Spring Training speculation and storylines.
The off-season that featured a three-team trade, David Price rumors, and a Grant Balfour homecoming, among other things, was an eventful few months for the Rays. While the team did address a number of concerns and weaknesses during the off-season, there's still plenty of drama and storylines left to follow heading into Spring Training.
1) Competition for No. 5 pitcher
News broke on Feb. 3 that Jeremy Hellickson would be out 6-8 weeks after having minor arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies in his throwing elbow. The 6-8 week time frame positions Hellickson for a early or mid-May return, giving ample time to a few young pitchers to win over that vacant spot in the rotation and leave their mark.
As we've already written, obvious candidates to fill the void are Jake Odorizzi, Enny Romero and Alex Colome. All three pitchers spent time up in the majors in 2013, but Odorizzi seems like the favorite to win the job going into camp. Colome put up more impressive statistics during his time up, but Odorizzi's control as well as his two years of experience in Triple-A gives him the current edge over the other two pitchers.
Instead of pushing Chris Archer up to the major-league rotation after Spring Training in 2013, the Rays gave the final spot to veteran "innings eater" Roberto Hernandez. This season, LHP Erik Bedard could fill that role when the team breaks for the camp. The 34-year old veteran signed a minor league contract with the Rays last week in what seems to a move to bolster their pitching depth more than anything. Bedard showed flashes of brilliance with the Astros last season (2.79 ERA in 29 innings from May 11-June 3), but finished with a measly 4-12 record and 4.59 ERA.
With three viable options at the AAA level, Bedard seems unlikely to replace Hellickson unless he finds a groove during March. The competition between Odorizzi, Colome, Romero and Bedard will certainly be something to watch over the next month or so.
2) Will David Price be traded?
Ask any Rays fan before the off-season and the trading of David Price for a handful of prospects seemed almost inevitable. And why wouldn't it? History had shown that Price was probably on his way out. Nevertheless, the Rays defied the odds and have retained Price to this point.
There's still a possibility that the Rays could work out a deal to trade Price during Spring Training; however, I see it coming more from another team swooping in and making an "offer they can't refuse" rather than the Rays making the first move. There's no question that Price is the anchor of this rotation and chances are he stays with the team, but his $14 million salary is the highest one-year salary ever given out by the Rays and it could provide enough financial pressure to move him before the start of the season.
3) Matt Moore's Velocity Issues
As the Rays begin Spring Training this year, Matt Moore's velocity could be a significant indicator of how successful of a season he'll have in 2014..
There has been considerable change in Moore's velocity when it comes to his fastball from his prior years. For example, here's a snippet of Moore's scouting report from back in April 2012:
Scouts love him as much as the numbers do. Moore has a strong-and-athletic body at 6-2, 200. His mechanics are clean and consistent. His fastball is consistently in the 93-95 MPH range and he can reach back for more when he needs it. He relies heavily on locating the fastball, but his breaking ball is outstanding and his changeup highly-deceptive, giving him three plus pitches. His makeup is first-class, he has a strong feel for his craft, and has never had a serious injury.
Per brooksbaseball.net, during his first appearances as a major-leaguer in 2011, Moore's fastball was topping out at 97 MPH with an average fastball coming in at 95.57 MPH. The 2012 season saw a slight dip in velocity as his average fastball fell to 94.26 MPH (a -1.31 change).
His fastball velocity suffered again in 2013, dropping even further to an average of 92.10 MPH (a -2.16 difference from 2012; a -3.47 difference from 2011). If Moore's velocity continues to trend downward, it could mean ugly results for the once No.1 prospect in the Rays organization. Moore's calling card is his electric fastball. It not only overpowers MLB hitters, but it is essential for him in getting hitters to swing out in front of his deceptive changeup.
Rays ace David Price has also had some velocity issues, but Moore (4.5 BB/9 in 2013) does not have the same control as Price (1.3 BB/9) to fall back on when he's losing velocity on his pitches. Combine the lack of control with declining velocity and hitters will be eager to step in the batters' box against Moore.
Reports have surfaced that Moore has returned to his old workout regiment in hopes of gaining a few MPH back on his pitches, but the question of whether Moore can achieve that will be something to watch out for in this first month.