Not a bad prediction…

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The Podcess Report 3/13

Jason Collette and Tommy Rancel from The Process Report joined me to discuss Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and other relevant stories on the Rays.

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The Podcess Report

Jason Collette of The Process Report, Sternfan from Dock of the Rays, and I talk some Rays. We discuss how Roberto Hernandez will be used this season, who will be the #5 pitcher, and if the Rays did enough in free agency this offseason.

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I Can’t Believe These Are TV Shows

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Rays 2013 Season Preview: Number Five Pitcher

Baseball season is upon us, and the AL East is as competitive as ever. Any of the five teams could legitimately win 90 or more games, making it the most formidable division in Major League Baseball. I’ll be going position by position on a daily basis, analyzing how the Rays are situated heading into the season, and how they compare to the rest of the division at each spot. Today, lets take a look at the #5 pitcher on the Rays pitching staff.

The final spot in the Rays rotation is the only one up for grabs this Spring. While a number of names are casually thrown into this mix, there are only two pitchers that have a legitimate shot at coming away one of the starters. And even amongst these two pitchers, one has a distinct advantage. Roberto Hernandez has the upside to be a dominant pitcher for the Rays. The problem is that he hasn’t been one in several seasons. There is a good chance he will get a couple starts this season as a fill in, but because of several factors, he won’t leave camp as the Rays #5 starter (barring a trade or injuries).

Jeff Niemann is the clear favorite to become the #5 pitcher for the Rays this season. Niemann has the stuff and pitchability to be a #3 pitcher in most rotations. His main weakness is an inability to stay healthy. In four seasons with the Rays, Niemann has only averaged 132 innings pitched per season. His career high of 180 innings pitched came in his first full season. He suffered a bit of bad luck in 2012, missing a large portion of the season after a line drive fractured his fibula. Once he made his return, shoulder pain shut him down for the remainder of the season.

Outside of remaining healthy, Niemann’s only other major weakness is an inability to pitch deep into games. He will give the Rays around six innings in most starts, but rarely pitches much further into a game than that. Given that he is battling to be the #5 pitcher, six innings while giving up two or three runs will more than suffice, as that is a typical Niemann performance.

Niemann is armed with a fastball that he can run into the mid 90′s, but sits in the low 90′s. Because of his tremendous height, his pitches travel towards the plate at an incredible downward plane that is difficult to square up. When he gets this pitch down in the zone, he is quite effective. His curveball is an above average pitch that has a ton of vertical movement. In recent years, he has moved away from his slider, and depended more on this curveball which is a nice strikeout pitch when finished down in the zone. He continues to mix in a slider, but not as often, and typically when he is looking for a strikeout versus righties. Niemann, also, throws a split finger fastball, which is one of his go to pitches versus lefties.

How do the Rays rank at this position compared to the rest of the American League East?

  1. Ricky Romero Toronto
  2. Jeff Niemann Tampa Bay
  3. Ivan Nova New York
  4. John Lackey Boston
  5. Jair Jurrjens Baltimore

Ricky Romero had a hideous 2012, but go back and look at his seasons prior to last year. He has been one of the better left handed pitchers in baseball, and I’m going out on a limb thinking he will return to that level. Nova burst onto the scene in 2011, contending for the Rookie of the Year award. Unfortunately for him, 2012 was a major step backwards in his progression as a MLB pitcher. John Lackey was one of the better pitchers in baseball, which landed him a big contract with the Red Sox. He’s been terrible ever since, and underwent Tommy John surgery towards the end of 2011. He has upside, but it’s been a long time since he has pitched well. Jurrjens has battled frequent injuries over the past few seasons, including a shoulder injury in 2010 that has led to a decrease in velocity. He, too, has some upside, but quite a bit of risk as well.

Niemann’s success revolves around staying healthy. If he does, expect a strong season out of him. In limited action in 2012, he struck out more hitters and induced more groundballs than he had previously in his career. Was this him maturing as a pitcher, or a blip on the radar? Regardless, he will pitch well this season, when he pitches.

My prediction for Jeff Niemann in 2013: 13-6 3.75ERA 170IP 145K 50BB

 

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Matt Joyce: Trade Bait?

Something to keep an eye on this Spring is where Joe Maddon has Matt Joyce playing in the field. Rays fans are accustomed to seeing Joyce in Right Field, as he has started 216 games at that position as a Rays player. With the addition of Kelly Johnson, Joyce may see more time in Left Field, where he has only started 32 games in a Rays uniform.

Based on numerous media reports, Ben Zobrist appears that he will be getting more playing time in Right Field in 2013. Free Agent acquisition Kelly Johnson would get a majority of the reps at Second Base versus right handed pitchers under this scenario, with Joyce moving to Left Field. Expect to see Joyce out of the lineup versus most lefties, with Johnson moving to Left Field in these situations.

The question then becomes, what happens when Wil Myers gets called up to the Big League squad? Someone will be left out of the lineup, and Kelly Johnson would appear to be that “someone”. But if Johnson is hitting like he did in 2010, and Myers is raking at Durham, the Rays could have an interesting dilemma on their hands.

Joyce heads into his second year of arbitration in 2014, meaning he will start to get more expensive.  Joyce’s previous representation had attempted to get him signed to an extension. Did this lead to Joyce’s switching of agents to ACES, a powerful sports agent group? Does this mean Joyce could be dangled as trade bait at some point? It’s certainly something to keep an eye on through this season, and into next offseason.

 

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Rays 2013 Season Preview: Number Four Pitcher

Baseball season is upon us, and the AL East is as competitive as ever. Any of the five teams could legitimately win 90 or more games, making it the most formidable division in Major League Baseball. I’ll be going position by position on a daily basis, analyzing how the Rays are situated heading into the season, and how they compare to the rest of the division at each spot. Today, lets take a look at the #4 pitcher on the Rays pitching staff.

For many teams it is a luxury to be able to have four legitimate starting pitchers. The Rays have 7-8 pitchers that could slide into the rotation and not look out of place. Alex Cobb doesn’t get much respect from the Rays fanbase, but he certainly does from the Rays organization, as they have already made it clear his spot in the rotation is safe. Cobb reminds me of James Shields earlier in his career based on his repertoire.

Cobb features a fringe-average fastball in terms of velocity. He doesn’t need to be pinpoint with his fastball, as long as he can keep it down in the zone. Cobb generates strong sink action on his fastball, which leads to an excellent groundball rate. Strong groundball rates lead to less extra base hits, and better run prevention. His bread and butter is a “swing and miss” changeup. This is an excellent pitch that keeps hitters off balance and allows Cobb to maintain a solid strikeout rate. Cobb’s curveball is a nice offering, as it shows sharp downward bite. It is an underrated part of his arsenal, but is one more pitch a hitter must be concerned with.

For all the talk of Chris Archer, Cobb has a better resume throughout his minor league career. At the AA level, Cobb had 18% more strikeouts with 50% less walks when compared to Archer. In AAA, they had roughly the same strikeout rate, but with 35% less walks. Clearly, Archer has better pure stuff, but Cobb has outperformed him at every level. While Archer’s “ceiling” may be higher, Cobb has a higher “likely performance”. Cobb’s success didn’t stop in the minor leagues.

With an ERA of 3.86 in 189 innings pitched at the MLB level, Cobb has shown he belongs in the Rays rotation. Cobb battled offseason surgery and some bad luck in 2012. His LOB%, as well as some other peripheral stats, indicate he could be prime for a bounce back season.

How do the Rays rank at this position compared to the rest of the American League East?

  1. Mark Buehrle Toronto
  2. Alex Cobb Tampa Bay
  3. Miguel Gonzalez Baltimore
  4. Phil Hughes Yankees
  5. Felix Doubront Red Sox

Mark Buehrle returns from a year hiatus from the American League, and is still, strikingly, the same pitcher he has been throughout his career. Buehrle is a workhorse that will give you 200+ innings pitched and an ERA between 3.50 and 4.00. Those pitchers are quite valuable, especially when you can slot them #4 in your rotation. How will the AL East and age treat him this season? Miguel Gonzalez burst onto the scene for the Orioles in 2012. Although he only threw 105 innings, he finished 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA. If the Orioles want to compete again this season, they’ll need more where that came from. Phil Hughes was an All Star in 2010, but since then he has battled injuries and ineffectiveness. With all of the question marks surrounding the Yankees, they will need Hughes to revert back to 2010 form. Felix Doubront fit in well with the 2012 Red Sox. High expectations and he crashed and burned.

I’m a big believer in Alex Cobb. What’s not to like? He generates a ton of groundballs and strikes out his fair share of batters. He must stay healthy, as 2012 was by far a career high in innings pitched. It will be interesting to see if Cobb has toyed with a cutter, as every other Rays pitcher has done in recent years. Cobb is entering Stage Three of his progression as a professional pitcher, and he would benefit greatly from this step.

My prediction for Alex Cobb in 2013: 16-9 3.65ERA 190IP 145K 55BB

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Why Wil Myers Starts The Season In Durham

I was unfortunate enough to have caught some disturbing conversation on local sports talk radio the other day. The discussion involved whether the Rays should start Wil Myers in Durham or in St Petersburg to begin the season. Rational people can disagree on this, but the “expert” on the radio lacked the basic facts to even put forth a reasonable argument.

It is, actually, quite simple. The Rays should send Myers to Durham, then call him back up on April 12th. He would only miss 9 games. By doing this, the Rays would be able to keep control of Wil Myers for seven seasons, as opposed to six. The MLB season is approximately 183 days long, but a player must be active on the 25 man roster for 172 days in order to register a complete season. This is a no brainer as it relates to Wil Myers.

At a minimum, Myers will begin the season in Durham so the Rays can gain that extra year of control. The real question becomes, will the Rays wait to call him up so he avoids “Super 2″ status. The top 22% of players with between two and three years of MLB service qualify for an extra year of arbitration. David Price was a super 2 player, and if Myers becomes one, it could cost the Rays many millions of dollars.

In 2012, the cutoff date for Super 2 status was 2 years and 139 days. If the same number applies this season (it could vary by a couple days), then May 15th would be the cutoff date. Depending on Myers progress at AAA, and the performance at the Big League level of whoever is taking his roster spot, the Rays will have to decide if they can wait until mid May. But you can take it to the bank he will spend the first two weeks of the season in Durham.

UPDATE: An earlier version of article listed a date in August as Super 2 cutoff. 

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Rays 2013 Season Preview: Number Three Pitcher

Baseball season is upon us, and the AL East is as competitive as ever. Any of the five teams could legitimately win 90 or more games, making it the most formidable division in Major League Baseball. I’ll be going position by position on a daily basis, analyzing how the Rays are situated heading into the season, and how they compare to the rest of the division at each spot. Today, lets take a look at the #3 pitcher on the Rays pitching staff.

There has been a lot of talk as to who will “replace” James Shields in 2013 for the Rays. With the abundance of pitching talent on the Rays roster, it isn’t as much about replacing James Shields performance, as it is replacing the innings he threw. Having said that, the Rays rotation could be even better in 2013. Much of that hinges on the growth of Matt Moore.

Yesterday, I highlighted Jeremy Hellickson as the Rays #2 pitcher heading into 2013. While Hellickson gets the nod for that spot in the rotation now, Moore has the talent to surpass Hellickson this season. There has been some discussion recently as to which of these two pitchers has the better prospects down the road. I’m not sure how this is even an argument at this point, as every GM in baseball would prefer to have Moore over Hellickson if a choice had to be made.

Moore is armed with one of the most electric fastballs in the game. It combines elite velocity with tremendous movement. His command of this pitch is improving, but is currently average at best. His changeup is a well above average pitch that he uses frequently versus right handed batters. His curveball is not as consistent as you would like, but it has excellent break when he gets it down in the zone. In total, he has three offerings that range from good to elite, with all three having the potential to be elite. Here is some video from his 2011 ALDS performance to refresh your memory as to how nasty his stuff is.

Moore had an excellent rookie campaign. But with the weight of expectations that were quite high, some viewed his 2012 season as a disappointment. Moore pitched to a 3.81 ERA in 177 innings pitched. He struck out 175 batters, which is impressive. Even better news is that Moore improved significantly as the season progressed. He went 9-3 with a 2.90 ERA from June through August.

For some perspective, lets look at David Price’s age 23 season. He started the year in Durham, making 8 starts before getting called up to the Rays. In 128+ innings he had an ERA of 4.42.  Moore had almost 20% more strikeouts per 9 innings, while walking almost 8% more batters than Price at the same age. Moore already has a better changeup and curveball than Price. The biggest difference, and most important, is that Price has made huge strides in the command of his fastball. That will be the key for Matt Moore, if he can improve his fastball command.

How do the Rays rank at this position compared to the rest of the American League East?

  1. Brandon Morrow
  2. Matt Moore
  3. Andy Pettitte
  4. Chris Tillman
  5. Clay Buchholz

Matt Moore is positioned nicely in this group, and it would surprise few if he wasn’t the best of the bunch by season’s end. Brandon Morrow had a terrific season in 2012, although he only threw 124 innings. It was his first taste of success, and the question is will he be able to repeat it. Andy Pettitte, amazingly, still gets strong results when healthy. That is the caveat for Pettitte, as he isn’t getting any younger, and injury concerns, along with age must be a concern for Yankees fans. Chris Tillman looked good in limited action, while Clay Buchholz will be looking to bounce back from a horrid 2012 (are we blaming Bobby Valentine for this also?).

Lets face it, Moore had a nice rookie season in 2012. He showed off his filthy stuff, but at times ran into high pitch counts and questionable pitch selection. Considering his pedigree, expectations should once again be high for Moore. If he is able to improve upon his fastball command, he has all the makings of a #1 pitcher. Historically, he has gotten off to slow starts, so keep an eye on that.

My prediction for Matt Moore in 2013: 13-8 3.45ERA 190IP 200K 75BB

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The Legend of Wil Myers Begins

Yesterday, Wil Myers took batting practice with the Rays for the first time. As one might expect, many were interested to catch a glimpse of the young phenom in a Rays uniform. Apparently, Myers put on quite a show:

 

Derek Shelton watched the session, and the Rays hitting coach spoke glowingly of the coveted prospect.

“It was impressive,” said Shelton, who saw Myers hit during winter “a little bit.”

“The thing that’s the most impressive is the bat speed,” Shelton said. “The way the ball comes off his bat. You can see it not only when he’s hitting on the field, but when he’s hitting off a tee. You don’t see very many people who generate that kind of bat speed. First day, yeah, it’s exciting to see.”

Then…

“It’s a different sound,” Shelton said. “You see that when you see the bat speed or the torque he creates. It’s loud. You don’t hear many guys that can create that sound.”

Where does Myers’ bat speed rank with some of the guys on the team right now?

“It’s near the top,” Shelton said.

I’m as excited about Wil Myers as anyone. But this is the type of glowing Spring Training report that must be taken with a grain of salt. Baseball history is littered with players that are “Batting Practice All-Americans” or “5 o’clock hitters”. Baseball season is just beginning, and fans are looking for any insight and news they can find. I get it. But just remember, hitting the tar off the ball in batting practice means absolutely nothing.

Next thing you know, we’ll be hearing how “Player X” is in the best shape of his career. A Spring Training classic.

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