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Rays' Minor League Opening Day Starters & Notes

Tonight marks the start of the minor league season. The opening day starting pitchers for the four full season teams are as follows:

AAA Durham Bulls: Jeremy Hellickson

I profiled Hellickson in depth last season upon his promotion to Durham. Hellickson did not disappoint in his 57.3 AAA innings striking out 31.8% of the batters he faced including a whiff rate of 15%. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was a scintillating 4.67. Hellickson minor-league starts are a joy to follow as the statistics tend to get rather cartoon-ish. He could be a late-season call-up and barring any setback should be penciled in to the 2011 Rays' rotation. Happy 23rd birthday Jeremy!

The rest of the Bulls rotation will feature the Quad-A all-stars LHP Heath Phillips, RHP Jeff Bennett, LHP Carlos Hernandez, and the newly-acquired Virgil Vasquez.


AA Montgomery Biscuits: Alex Torres

The 22 year-old diminutive left-hander was acquired as part of the Scott Kazmir package. Statistically, it would be nice to see his walk rate decline from the 4.6 per-nine-innings he posted in A+ ball and 5+ in AA last year, but scouts rave about his stuff. Per Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (paywall), scouts were enamored with Torres in the 2010 Grapefruit League:

"He's a little guy, and you watch him take the mound and you think he's just some extra guy in a trade," said one scout. "You don't expect much, and then he comes out touching 95 mph with an above curve."

"I had no idea what to expect," said another talent evaluator, "but he's got an above-average fastball and this real hammer curve that he's throwing strikes with. He really knows what he's doing out there, and my eyes were opened."

The Biscuits rotation will also feature RHP Aneury Rodriguez, LHP Jake McGee, LHP David Newmann, and RHP Jeremy Hall.


A+ Charlotte Stone Crabs: Matt Moore

The 20 year-old southpaw Moore led all of the minor leagues in strikeout rate at 12.9 per-nine-innings in 2009 in Class A Bowling Green. He features a low 90's fastball with a plus-curveball that generates an abundance of whiffs. His changeup has a lot of movement, but command is still an issue.Moore's walks-per-nine started the year in the 7-8 range for the first two months before settling down in the 3.5-4 range over the final two months. It will be interesting to see how the more advanced A+ hitters fare vs. Moore in terms of strikeouts and walks. A complete scouting report from this Spring can be found here by Project Prospect's Denny Foster.

 Pitchers 2-4 will feature HP Nick Barnese, RHP Joseph Cruz, and LHP Frank De Los Santos.

A Bowling Green Hot Rods: Alex Colome

The 21 year-old Colome is a powerful right-hander and the most visible fruit of the Rays' efforts to expand international scouting. Colome had 93 strikeouts and 32 walks in  78 Class A- Hudson Valley in 2009 where he was able to overpower hitters with his mid-90s fastball with movement. His secondary offerings need to be developed, but include a power curveball and infrequently used changeup.

Pitchers 2-4 will include LHP Kyle Lobstein, RHP Wilking Rodriguez, and RHP Jason McEachern. This should be a top notch front four.

Other Notes:

-25 year-old left-handed pitcher Darin Downs will be working out of the bullpen for Montgomery. Downs was named the MVP of the 2009 A+ Charlotte Stone Crabs after compiling a record of 12-4 with an Florida State League best ERA of 2.00. His FIP of 3.22 leads us to discover an unsustainable 85% strand rate. Downs season was ended shortly after being promoted to Montgomery when he was struck in the head with a line drive, fracturing his skull in the process. The conversion to the pen could point to a potential future as a LOOGY. Downs induced 67% ground balls versus lefties in 2009 while striking out 8.8 per nine and walking 1.1. He allowed one home run to a lefty finishing with a FIP vs. LHB of 2.34.

-According to Wade Davis via Stacy Long, Jake McGee may be in Montgomery for as little as a month before being promoted to Durham. The Rays want him working on his curve as he continues to recover from Tommy John Surgery. This could re-open a spot for Downs in the rotation if the Rays so choose.

-Catcher Nevin Ashley will miss opening day for Montgomery following a death in his family.