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What might the Rays’ minor league rotations look like?

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As minor league season nears, speculation about affiliate rosters increases

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game
Brent Honeywell’s Opening Day assignment will be one of the organization’s most interesting decisions
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the news that Austin Pruitt has made the Rays’ Opening Day roster and Jaime Schultz and Chase Whitley were optioned to the minors, the potential shape of minor league rotations is becoming clearer. Here are our guesses with the affiliates set to open in less than a week. Starters are in bold, other potential pitchers on the staff are listed below. This is not quite a full preview because I couldn’t even pretend to assign seven-plus relievers to each team.

Minor league pitching

Triple-A Durham Double-A Montgomery Class A-Advanced Charlotte Class-A Bowling Green
Triple-A Durham Double-A Montgomery Class A-Advanced Charlotte Class-A Bowling Green
Jose De Leon Yonny Chirinos Blake Bivens Peter Bayer
Jacob Faria Greg Harris Genesis Cabrera Brock Burke
Taylor Guerrieri Brent Honeywell Henry Centeno Spencer Moran
Chih-Wei Hu Benton Moss Jose Mujica Travis Ott
Ryan Yarbrough Hunter Wood Michael Santos Cameron Varga
Chase Whitley Kyle Bird Jose Alvarado J.D. Busfield
Jaime Schultz Diego Castillo Eduar Lopez Ethan Clark
Ryne Stanek Chris Kirsch Willy Ortiz
Andrew Kittredge Brandon Koch Alexis Tapia
Justin Marks Hector Lopez
Diego Moreno Adrian Navas
Noel Rodriguez

Obviously, the upper-level affiliates are stacked, and someone probably won’t be happy with his assignment, whether it’s moving to the bullpen or going back to Double-A Montgomery. Jose De Leon has extensive Triple-A experience already and has also pitched in the majors. Jacob Faria also spent much of 2016 with Durham.

That leaves Chase Whitley, Taylor Guerrieri, Chih-Wei Hu, Ryan Yarbrough, and Brent Honeywell. Whitley I picture as the veteran swingman, so there are still three spots with the Bulls left. Guerrieri has 182 innings at the two upper levels. Hu has 153 13. Yarbrough has 128 1/3. Honeywell has 59 1/3. Obviously, there are factors that go into those decisions besides innings pitched, but I’m just trying to guess what happens.

Schultz, Ryne Stanek and Andrew Kittredge could be among the relievers riding the shuttle between the minors and majors if needed.

Honeywell would team up with Yonny Chirinos and Hunter Wood to form the backbone of a pretty experienced Montgomery rotation. Greg Harris, coming off a breakout 2016 season that included a spot start with Durham, will join them, as could Benton Moss. Aside from one poor month, he pitched pretty well for Charlotte last season.

Chris Kirsch would make some spot starts with Brandon Koch, Diego Castillo and Kyle Bird pitching out of the bullpen.

In Charlotte, Henry Centeno is the only starter with experience at that level already. I found the two lower levels were tougher to predict. Genesis Cabrera and Jose Mujica pitched well and led Bowling Green in innings last season, so they can both move up. I think Blake Bivens (2.52 ERA, 96 strikeouts and 34 walks in 93 innings) as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League flew under the radar a bit. Michael Santos, acquired in the Matt Moore trade but never pitched for the organization due to a head injury, is probably ready to move up as well.

Eduar Lopez (Kevin Jepsen trade) could factor into that rotation as well. Jose Alvarado will want to throw more strikes.

Bowling Green is tough. After Travis Ott set the all-time record for minor league innings pitched, he may finally be allowed to play in full-season ball. Spencer Moran and Brock Burke should inch along from Hudson Valley with him. The Rays hope Cameron Varga is healthy, and Peter Bayer was really good in his pro debut last season.

There are some players I personally don’t believe will be assigned to Bowling Green just yet— Austin Franklin, Easton McGee and Resly Linares. That’s my expectation based on how slowly the Rays tend to move young pitchers. Maybe some things change.

There are a lot of candidates for those rotation spots. J.D. Busfield is the only certain reliever listed there, and a six-man rotation certainly can’t be ruled out for the Hot Rods. The Rays have done it before.