So far this offseason, there has been much talk of the Rays moving Matt Garza and even possibly James Shields. With the big losses of Carl Crawford to Boston and Carlos Pena to Chicago, Rafael Soriano's pending signing with a new squad, along with Jason Bartlett having been dealt to San Diego, it's easy to expect a drop off from a Rays team that won the division just a year ago. However, it is not time to consider moving two of their top pitchers when they have so much dynamic talent coming up from the system soon.
The fact is that the Rays have players coming up through the system that will be able to replace the big names lost so far this winter, and together form one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball.
At the top of the list, and cream of the crop, is OF Desmond Jennings. Reading a scouting report on Jennings makes one think immediately of Carl Crawford: blazing speed, low strike out rates, and enough power to get by as a prototypical lead off hitter. He should be able to step in and come close to replacing Crawford's numbers after a few years' experience in the majors.
After moving Bartlett, the SS position is currently open. However, there is no shortage of talent at this position in the system either. Reid Brignac, who has already seen solid major league time could very well be handed the reins to the SS position this season, and he could be productive enough to get by for a season or two. Ben Zobrist has also seen time at SS, although he seems to be locked into RF for the time being.
But the real prize is still in the minor leagues. Tim Beckham, first round pick from two years ago, was once thought to be a sure fire major leaguer who would shoot up through the system to become the Rays' next great SS, but he has had some troubles.
Most recently, he has seen declines at the plate and struggles in the field, but the kid is only two years removed from high school ball. He has a tremendous skill set that has seen him be described as a "Five Tool Player" in the majors, and that talent has not dissipated. A couple more years in the minors should give him time to adjust to the pro game and get back on the major league track. It is much too soon to even begin to think about giving up on such a talent.
The Rays also own the most talented collection of arms coming up to the majors.
Jeremy Hellickson excelled in his first major league stint, to say the least. His short time in the majors saw him go 4-0 while striking out 33 and walking only eight over 36.1 innings. He had both the Rays organization and Rays fans salivating over what he could do given a full year in the majors. His time in Tampa was only a microcosm of his season in Triple A Durham, however. For the Bulls, he went 12-3 with 123 K's in 117.2 innings, to go along with a WHIP of 1.173. He also saw tremendous ratios of 9.4 K/9 while allowing only 2.7 BB/9. He has often been compared to Roy Oswalt.
Wade Davis is yet another long time stalwart of the Rays' talented minor league system. He has seen some extensive time at the major league level, going 12-10 and finishing 4th in the A.L. Rookie of the Year voting last season. Given some more time to develop at the pro level, Davis, along with Hellickson and Price, could very well anchor the rotation for years to come.
Left hander Matt Moore is yet another of Tampa's elite level arms who could see major league time in the near future. Last season for A level Charlotte, Moore struck out an impressive 208 batters in just 144.2 innings, a ratio of 12.9 per 9 innings. While control has been a bit of an issue for Moore (he walked 4.4 per 9 to go along with those 208 K's), he has plenty of time and the talent to be able to correct his issues with wildness. Despite those walks, Moore did also have a very impressive 1.175 WHIP a year ago. Moore's potential is out of this world and as a premier lefty, he will be given every shot available to excel at the major league level.
A possible rotation of Garza, Shields, David Price, Hellickson and Davis in the near future is one that is loaded with talent and has the potential to be one of the league's best. If either Davis or Hellickson should falter, or if Garza does indeed end up being traded or leaving via free agency, Matt Moore could easily step in to fill that spot and be a dominant pitcher in the majors.
The bottom line is that it is not time for Tampa Bay to panic. Now that the team has become accustomed to winning baseball and has been able to compete in the rugged A.L. East, 90 win seasons have come to be the expected norm for the squad.
However, 2011 may be a bridge year for Tampa. While 85-90 wins could still be on the horizon (the team is still loaded with talent in Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, Zobrist and the aforementioned starting rotation), a much improved Boston team and a New York team that won 95 games a year ago and hasn't changed a bit, should make it difficult for the Rays to challenge for the division crown after losing the players that they have.
However, patience should be key for the Rays, who have a plethora of young help coming soon. It is not time to blow up what they already have and what is their strong point, the rotation, just for one bridge year.
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