Continuing on our list of the Top-20 prospects in team history, we have our first prospect who was not drafted by the Rays. In fact, a majority of his minor league innings came with two other organizations.
18. RHP Chris Archer
Acquired: Traded by Cubs (2011)
Baseball America Top-100 rankings: 27 (2010*), 36 (2012), 89 (2011)
Organization Top-30 ranks: 1 (2010*), 2 (2012), 3 (2011), 15 (2009*)
League Top-20 ranks: 2 (2010 Florida State League), 3 (2012 International League), 4 (2013 IL), 9 (2010 Southern League), 11 (2011 SL), 16 (2009 Midwest League)
Organizational best tools: Best fastball (2010*), Best slider (2010*, 2011, 2012)
Archer actually peaked as a prospect with the Cubs, but he still had a very good showing after his second season in the Rays organization.
In his first season in the organization, control problems that plagued Archer for much of his career to that point came back. His 86 walks were fifth in the minors. It was the second time in his career he walked over 80 batters in a season.
He wasn’t hopeless, though. He still finished that season ranked in Baseball America’s Top-100. Although he had a 4.42 ERA with Montgomery, his second season in the Southern League, and continued to walk batters throughout the entire season, his results did improve after the first couple months of the season. Including two starts with Durham to finish the season, he had a 3.04 ERA over his last 16 starts.
In 2012, he recaptured the form that made him such a key piece in the Jan. 2011 trade that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs. He showed progress with a reduced walk rate, his strikeout rate was higher than it had ever been, and he was no longer allowing a hit per inning. He earned his first taste of major league action, first in June when Jeremy Hellickson went on the disabled list, and then again in September.
The improvements Archer made did not go unnoticed by BA, which moved him up 53 places in its Top-100 list, just a few spots shy of where he was after his breakout 2010 season. A particular note in his scouting report hit on something crucial: “Archer’s mechanics are fine, which leaves most observers to believe his command issues result from his inconsistent focus and mental approach.” His trouble throwing strikes at times in his career wasn’t an irreparable problem, and we clearly saw that as he blossomed into an All-Star.
Unlike most of the players who will be on this list, Archer was not a top draft pick, nor was he highly touted as soon as the ink dried on his first professional contract. Entering the 2006 draft, BA ranked him as the No. 65 player available, and he wasn’t actually drafted until Cleveland got him in the fifth round with the 161st pick.
Part of the pre-draft scouting report is clearly the pitcher fans love today — “Archer's best pitch is a sharp slider,” and his “impressive confidence without a hint of arrogance.”
Other parts, though, are not and show what makes pitcher development so interesting. “His fastball sits in the 90-92 mph range,” and his slider velocity was a reported 78-71 mph. Back then, he was listed at a slight 165 pounds. Today, he’s 195.
For the first few years of his career, Archer was entirely unremarkable. He spent the majority of his first 1 1⁄2 professional seasons in the Gulf Coast League, where he did not pitch particularly well. In 73 2⁄3 innings with the GCL Indians, he owned a 6.23 ERA with 39 walks, although he did strike out 70.
He did move up to full-season ball on a full-time basis in 2008, where he struck out 106 but walked 84 in 115 1⁄3 innings. The 4.29 ERA was mediocre, but the Cubs wanted Archer and got him in a December trade that sent Mark DeRosa to Cleveland.
Something clicked for Archer in that 2009 season. He still walked 66 in 109 innings, but he struck out 119 and somehow did not allow a home run. It was the 20 year old’s second straight season at the Class-A level, but it was an impressive season nonetheless. It earned him his first recognition as a prospect, ranking 15th in the Cubs’ system following the season.
Batters were able to manage six homers off Archer a season later, but he dominated, carving up the Florida State League before finishing the season in the Southern League. He wasn’t charged with an earned run in 12 of his 27 appearances. By this time in his career, he had gotten stronger, and his fastball and slider velocities were both up significantly compared to when he was a young amateur just four years earlier.
Archer may not have been a superstar prospect from the moment he first picked up a glove, but he did show why teams are always going to take chances on athletic, projectable pitchers. In his case, it took some patience early in his career and a few stops along the way before he became the pitcher he is today.