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]

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15 Comments

  1. Robert Rittner says:

    My heart leaps up. Here is one of the reasons I admire your analytical abilities so much. And I particularly like that you see beyond the typical fan reaction that is already labeling Price an ace.

    I agree for all the reasons you give. And I will add that another benefit would be that Price could work on his off-speed pitches which need to be improved. No matter how terrific his fastball and slider, for him to become a true ace he will have to develop an effective off-speed pitch, something he does not yet have.

    Note too that 3 of his 5 appearances in the majors and all his post-season appearances were in relief. He did fine in his two (@5 inning) starts, but not anywhere near as well as he did in his relief outings. As a starter at AAA he was far less impressive than he had been in the lower levels. We really have no idea whether he is ready to start in the majors.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    I totally disagree with the notion of tarting Price in the minors. The Rays have shown an unwillingness to let a guy increase his workload more than 30% from the prior season, and that's appropriate to help minimize injury risk. But putting him in Durham just to limit his pitch count doesn't do nearly enough to make him available for October baseball. He'd still reach that +30% plateau in August or September.

    If he's going to start games in April, he should be pitching for the Rays. If he's going to relieve to cut down on the innings, that can happen either in the bigs or Durham. If the Rays feel there's a developmental need to him to go to Durham, I have no problem with it. But I'd rather see him cut down his innings in the bullpen up here than as an innings-limited starter in Durham. Let him relieve up here, stretch him out, mix in Hammel and/or Niemann for that 5th starter spot, and maybe somebody gets moved at the deadline, and Price pitches his 170 innings and has an impact all year just as he should. The guy earned a spot on the major league roster last fall, and if I were him I'd be absolutely PEEVED if I was riding buses in Durham. He's ready, just not for 200 innings.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Also, a quick note responding to the other comment that he needs to develop an effective 3rd pitch (change)... agreed. And there's no better guy to learn that from than Big Game James, and Shieldsy doesn't pitch in Durham.

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  4. Robert Rittner says:

    I should clarify. I think the professor's reasoning is excellent. I am not quite as certain Price should be in Durham to start, but would not be upset should the Rays decide he ought to be. My guess is they will decide based on their evaluation of what he needs (exactly as the professor suggests is their modus operandi), so that if he is demoted, fans should give them the benefit of the doubt.

    I think the comment on Shields is interesting. I wonder how much established pitchers help younger ones develop their repertoire. I have read many stories about it, and think Kazmir has credited Shields with helping him work on his change-up, but I am not sure how common that is or whether it is the best way to do it. After all, in the minors you can experiment in game conditions; in the majors, you cannot take that chance.

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  5. The Professor says:

    I agree with Robert. I think there is a strong argument to be made for starting Price in the majors and it may very well come down to team needs and how Price performs in spring training.

    and of course, if the Rays want the best 25 guys on the big league roster on opening day, Price will probably be there. But remember, Longoria wasn't last season.

    as for the change up. you could be right, but i can easily counter by saying Shields learned his great change in the minors as did Mitch Talbot. Neither needed a major league mentor.

    Also, the Bulls have a pitching coach in Xavier Hernandez, whom many think will be a great big league pitching coach at some point. Price would be in good hands in Durham.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    The thought of Hammel starting scares the bejesus out of me.

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  7. DirtbagFan says:

    I completely agree with Prof's reasoning, but differ slightly in my opinion.

    I like the idea of starting '09 with Price in the 'pen and Niemann in the 5 spot, but I'm not really sure what that would accomplish anything other than to not offend the kid by demoting him after he earned a spot last season.

    On the same note: in my humble opinion- pitching in relief is more stressful on the arm than pitching as a starter, because at that point of the game every pitch counts... especially if you're relieving Kaz after he walked 'em loaded.

    If I were in charge (God help us all) I'd start Price in Durham, but would call him up after 3-4 minor league starts- then just let Navi know not to call too many sliders. That would help him ease into a higher pitch count, but not leave him down so long as to let the Rays drop too many games in his absence (assuming Niemann doesn't step-up and pitch well, in which case you wait until someone needs a pitcher due to injury and move Jeff to make room for King David).

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  8. Joe D. says:

    I think Price should start Durham. I think in the majors, your starters should be able to work as deep into games as the manager needs them to, and the catcher needs to be able to dial up whatever pitch he thinks is the best at the time.

    The Rays don't need a starter at the major league level that isn't allowed to throw more than 95 pitches and can only throw 10-15 sliders in a game. That's what you have a Farm system for.

    It's not as if we don't have some other very capable arms that have thrown more innings. Talbot threw about 170IP last year, Niemann about 145 IP and Hammel prior to being a long bullpen guy has thrown in the neighborhood of 150 to 160 IP per season. Niemann I worry about if he's asked to throw a whole season as starter at the ML level simply because he's had so many injury stricken seasons, and has never pitched over 150 innings in a season.

    Let's also not forget that Hammel is much better as a starter then he has been as a long reliever/spot starter.

    Barring injuries The Rays defiantly have options while they let David Price develop.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    I disagree with starting Price in the bullpen with the Rays rather than starting in Durham. There is a distinct difference in mentality and physicality between a reliever and a starter. To groom Price as a reliever only to expect him to excel as a starter with little or no time to adjust is as nonsensical as taking a lifelong starter, thrusting him into a relief position and expecting him to excel from the offset. As seen with Hammel, it takes a while not only to adjust ones mental game but the physical as well.

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  10. Jerry Tucker says:

    I am in disagreement with your logic. If Price is healthy then he should be pitching day 1 in the Major League's. The Rays need to learn that when you have an all star get him to the show and he will perform. It makes no sense to save this guy in the minor leagues, because in about 5 years we will not be able to afford him and he will be pitching somewhere else. Put the thoroughbred on the track and let him run. They pulled this crab with Longoria last year and he should have been on the team from the start. This man is a rookie of the year candidate, let him go.

    I also could never understand the logic that you can learn more at Durham than you can here, most teams have their experts at the major league level, we all agree this guy is a major leaguer, turn him loose and make the adjustments. He has proven he can pitch here in the toughest environment, the playoffs and the World Series.

    Regarding Niemann he either has it or he don't, the balls in his court. Want to play in the big leagues, prove it. It's show time baby!!!! The Rays are going to have to move about 4 or 5 players or loose them due to options or next year in the rule 5 draft. It makes sense to me take 2 or 3 players and make a trade for a solid right handed hitter and a left handed pitcher for the bull pin.

    We know the Rays capabilities, they have a cash problem, so therefore they need to get as much use out of these guys as they can when they can, after all we are training most of these guys for somebody else with the bucks>>figure it out.

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  11. Robert Rittner says:

    Players need to learn in the minor leagues because there is less pressure to win games there. Young players can experiment with new pitches, can build up their arms under less stressful conditions, can mature under the eyes of teaching coaches. In the majors, coaches expect players to be pretty much complete and needing only occasional adjustments, not teaching so much.

    As for losing players to free agency, I keep wondering why fans always fear that. There is not one case in the entire history of the franchise when the team has lost a developing player because of expense. I repeat, not one instance. On the contrary, in every case that the Rays have had a young talent they have extended him: Crawford, Baldelli, Kazmir, Shields, Longoria.

    Nobody can name even one counter example. Now, it may happen. Upton seems intent on testing free agency when his time comes. We don't know yet if the Rays will be able to extend Garza, Sonnanstine, Price or Navarro when their time nears, but there is no evidence they won't. On the other hand, as the Joyce deal demonstrates, they have found ways to replenish their young talent and keep them for a long time.

    The primary flaw in your thinking is the assumption that Price is ready to be a regular starter in the majors. He may be ready, in which case the Rays will put him in the rotation. But if they don't, it is because in their judgment he needs more seasoning, and we fans should respect their judgment in the matter.

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  12. Rory says:

    Great discussion about a tough up coming decision. I think I would favor the idea of starting Price at AAA and build his stamina while sharpening that third pitch. I would give Hammel one more shot at the rotation -- I agree with an earlier commenter that he does better as a starter. Pump up his trade value through good play or expose him to be picked up by another club if he fails. I would use Nieman as my long reliever due to his fragile make up that likely never will support 200+innings of MLB work. Once Hammel has a month or two under his belt, he will have made a decision for the club himself based on how he has performed and management can then look to make room for a Price call-up.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    Price is BETTER than Niemann and he should be in the STARTING ROTATION at the begining of the 2009 season.As all your points are valid,I think Price was convicing enough tome to start.Anyways we need another lefty in the pen not another righty.And also what about Wade Davis?He could also compete.Or why not just trade Sonny and have both Price and Niemann/Davis in the rotation?

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  14. Robert Rittner says:

    You are basing your conclusion on a total of 19.2 major league innings, just 10.2 innings as a starter. That is a meaningless sample.

    In his 14 regular season innings his numbers are excellent, and he did well in the 5.2 post season innings although he also walked 4 men when facing post-season teams, almost one per inning.

    If you are also considering your personal observations, it should have been obvious that he was not willing to use any off-speed stuff in the majors, something he will have to do as a starter. Every report I have read says his off-speed stuff is unreliable.

    In the minors, he has had one season (really partial season due to an early injury) of 109.2 IP. Again, the results were excellent, but note too that as he moved up the ladder, his BB rate climbed and his K rate declined. At AAA his ERA was 4.5 with 22 hits and 9 BBs allowed in just 18 innings for a 1.72 WHIP. Overall, his K rates were good but not outstanding for a 22 year old in the minors. Again, too small a sample to make definitive statements, but certainly not impressive enough to be so certain he is a major leaguer yet.

    I think Price has a good chance to be an ace also. I also think he may indeed be ready for the majors-as a starter. But I also think that fans need to contain our enthusiasm a bit and allow the organization to determine just how ready he is and evaluate the possibility that he would be better served with more seasoning at AAA.

    This organization does not rush prospects, and with good reason. The best talent can be ruined if too much is expected too soon, and while the opposite is also true, I hardly think that a few more months and innings at AAA would make Price stagnate. Not many prospects, regardless of talent, are fully ready after one year and just over 100 innings.

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  15. Flava Dave says:

    I agree with letting him start in Durham. Wont that also help out the contract situation and give us another year of control? Major League starters (especially those you consider as aces) have 3-4 pitches...not 2. Give him some time and just because ESPN annoints him something shouldnt alter our plans

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