If you have been hanging around these parts for a while, you know that the model for this site is to tell you what the Rays have done, what they are doing and try to project what they will do, and why. Unlike most team blogs, we do not very often tell you what the Tampa Bay Rays should do. However, for the next 12 days we will step away from the standard, and we present to you 12 “presents” the Tampa Bay Rays should give to their fans.
On the second day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, TWO months in triple-A for David Price…
No matter where you look, everybody is talking about how the Rays will be better in 2009 with the addition of David Price to the rotation. But the more we think about it, the more it seems to us that the best move is to keep King David in Durham for at least the first two months of the season.
The Rays have always made it very clear that, barring injuries at the major league level, the needs of the prospect outweigh the needs of the team. If we consider the needs of Price, starting the season in Durham makes the most sense. And in the end, it may also make more sense for the team.
PRICE STILL HAS VERY LITTLE EXPERIENCE: 2008 was Price’s first professional season, and he missed the first month with a sore elbow. Even though he made a rapid ascension through the system, Price still only has 20 professional starts, and only five above double-A.
Even if we consider his college experience, it is still only 54 starts and 383.2 innings in four seasons since high school. For comparison, James Shields threw 536 innings in the minors with 86 starts and Matt Garza threw 548.2 innings and made 89 starts between college and the minors.
While we saw what Price was capable of in the postseason, when he recorded the final five outs of game 7 against the Red Sox, it seems to us that 10-15 more starts in the minors could be beneficial to Price.
A FULL SEASON IN THE MAJORS COULD BE TOO MUCH STRAIN ON PRICE’S ARM: In 2008, Price logged 129.1 innings including the postseason. If the Rays insert Price into the rotation to begin the season, that number will jump dramatically. Even if he misses a few starts and only averages six innings per start, Price will throw about 180 innings. By comparison, James Shields threw 215 regular season innings in 2008. Even with that conservative estimate, 180 innings would mark a 39.2% increase in the number of innings on his young arm. And we are not even considering the possibility of extra innings thrown in any potential postseason games.
Also consider that Price has a limited off-season this winter. With the Rays winning the American League, Price made his final appearance on October 27. That is a full two months later than most players his age, as minor league seasons end in August. As a result, Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey are likely to limit Price’s workload in the spring. Having never opened a season in the majors, the team will likely see this as not being sufficient to prepare for a spot in the major league rotation.
The Rays could conceivably make Price the fifth starter and just limit his pitch count early in the season, and even skip him in the rotation a few times with off-days. But Joe Maddon has never been one to skip a starting pitcher, preferring to stick with the rotation and give the pitchers an occasional day of rest.
No. It makes more sense to have Price begin the season in triple-A, where a strict pitch count is easier to enforce. The Rays could even limit the number of sliders Price throws if he is in Durham, to lessen the strain on the elbow. Price could be limited to 5 innings per start, with a strict cap on sliders, for the first few weeks and then slowly stretch him out in anticipation of a June or July debut with the Rays.
If the Rays start the season with Price in the rotation, there is a very good chance he will have a tired arm in September and October and they could be risking his health moving forward. On the other hand, if they wait until June or July to promote Price, is is more likely that he will be well-rested for the pennant chase.
PRICE IN THE MINORS GIVES THE RAYS TIME TO EVALUATE JEFF NIEMANN: If the Rays had no other viable options, there would be a better chance of seeing Price in the rotation to start the season. But the Rays do have other options, including Niemann, Mitch Talbot and Jason Hammel.
The best option from that group may be Niemann who is out of minor league options. If the Rays do not trade Niemann before the start of the season, they will have to find a spot for him on the major league roster. With the recent addition of Joe Nelson to the bullpen, there may only be one spot left for Niemann or Hammel (Talbot can be sent to the minors). If Price begins the season in the minors, Niemann could be inserted into the rotation leaving the last spot in the bullpen for Hammel.
In the worst-case scenario, Niemann fails as a starting pitcher and the Rays move him to the bullpen, promoting Price and dropping Hammel from the roster. In the best-case scenario, Niemann takes a big step forward, and proves to be a middle-of-the-rotation major league starting pitcher. The Rays could then decide to stick with Niemann the entire season and use Price in much the same manner that they used him in 2008, out of the bullpen down the stretch. Or they could choose to trade Niemann while his value is high.
With Price in the minors to start the season, it gives the Rays the one thing they always crave: Options and flexibility with the roster. Wait. Maybe that is two things.
On the second day of Raysmas, all Rays fans want is TWO months in triple-A for David Price, and…
ONE impact bat with a bow on top [Day 1]