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Starting five should be a strength in 2017

For years the mantra of the Rays was “pitching and defense.” Those two elements played a huge part in their success for most of the tenure of Joe Maddon. Here we are, year three of Kevin Cash, and pitching and defense hasn’t been quite what it was before he took over in 2015. The rotation last season saw plenty of struggles including a 19-loss season by it’s ace, Chris Archer. Drew Smyly, now with the Mariners, gave up 32 home runs to lead the team, just two ahead of Archer’s 30. Jake Odorizzi was the most consistent arm of the lot pitching in a career-high 33 games which in turn led to a career-high 187.2 innings on the hill. Blake Snell, a rookie last season, looked dominant at times but also struggled with command at times walking 51 batters in just 89 innings.

After those three, the rest of the starts last season consisted of Matt Moore, who was traded to San Francisco at the deadline, and Matt Andriese, and a returning Alex Cobb in September. Heading into 2017, how will this rotation shape up? Cash said in his spring training press conference in mid-February that he isn’t naming a starter for Opening Day, just yet. Most assume it will be, for the third year in a row, Archer despite Cobb being at full strength this spring. Depending on the work load Archer gets pitching in the World Baseball Classic this month and how he feels heading into April 2nd’s game against the Yankees to kick off the regular – that could affect Cash’s decision on who to go with. Safe to say, though – it will be one of those two arms toeing the mound at Tropicana Field when the Yankees come to town that Sunday afternoon.

Looking at the top four arms, they’re pretty set in stone with just the order in question. Who will lock in that fifth spot? That’s yet to be decided and there are a few players gunning for it once again.

  1. RHP Chris Archer – With all the trade rumors this off-season about Archer being shipped out, that wound up not being the case. The Rays value Archer among any arm in this rotation and they proved it by putting an asking price on him that no team was willing to pay. He’ll get the nod once again and prove 2016 was a fluke year.
  2. RHP Jake Odorizzi – He won his arbitration case coming off a career-year. Nothing says he can’t continue to improve and rise through the ranks of one of the better arms in the AL. Plenty of teams would probably even consider Jake an ace on their own staff.
  3. RHP Alex Cobb – It will be Cobb’s first Opening Day in three years. After returning last season in September from Tommy John he struggled to find his previous dominant form. He’s looked good in the spring so far, here’s hoping he can get back to his 2013-2014 form in 2017.
  4. LHP Blake Snell – First Opening Day at the MLB level for the 24-year old south paw. If he can start to get deeper into ballgames, look out. This kid’s ceiling is as high as any arm on this team at any level.
  5. RHP Chase Whitley – Another guy coming off Tommy John who will make an impact for the Rays this season. He started 16 games in his two seasons in New York before coming to the Rays last year and had success. He wants to be a starter and while he has had success out of the bullpen, I truly believe the Rays see him as a rotation arm, as well.

In the hunt:

6) RHP Matt Andriese – Started 19 games for the Rays last season to help make up for the loss of Cobb. However once moved to the bullpen, he pitched very well in 10 games of relief. His 2.38 ERA as a reliever in 2016 in 22.2 innings is something the Rays may see as more valuable than putting him in the rotation.

7) RHP Jose De Leon – The key piece to the trade that sent Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers has struggled this spring. The Rays are very high on him but it’s doubtful he makes the Opening Day roster. He still has some polishing to do at AAA and that’s most likely where he’ll start the season.

8) RHP Jaime Schultz – Had a solid 2016 at Durham last year starting 27 games and going 5-7 with a 3.58 ERA pitching 130.2 innings while striking out 163 batters. It’s only a matter of time before he’s at MLB level for good.

RHP Jacob Faria is also a name that could be headed to MLB sooner than later. However he only has 13 games under his belt at the AAA level and the Rays may want to see him get a dozen or so more before deciding his ready for the next step.

No matter how the rotation shapes up come Opening Day, this should be a strength for this team, once again in 2017. With young talent waiting in the wings – it should be a strength for many years to come, as well.

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