A rival scout sizes up the Rays
This is the best team I saw this spring. It's all about the starting pitching. One through five, this is the best rotation in the AL. They're just loaded with high-end guys, none of whom have reached their potential.... The difference for James Shields is that he's been able to refine his off-speed stuff—he's throwing changeups to both righthanders and lefthanders.... David Price was every bit as good last year, when he went 12--13, as he was when he won 19 games in 2010.... When Price came up, he had a fastball but otherwise was a work in progress. Matt Moore is the whole package. He's got the presence of a top-of-the-rotation guy.... The Cubs made a mistake when they traded Chris Archer for Matt Garza. Archer was throwing 95 in his first spring outing. He has the chance to be a difference-maker down the stretch. They'll break him in like they broke in Price and Moore, in the bullpen.... Every year we say there are doubts about the bullpen, and every year they have a good one. That's all Joe Maddon. He's a magician at putting a solid team on the field every day and maximizing everyone's ability.... They have a chance to hit a lot of home runs, with Evan Longoria, Carlos Pe√±a and Luke Scott.... Desmond Jennings can fly—he could be Rickey Henderson. Their biggest weakness is behind the plate. Jose Molina should be a backup, but he's going to catch an awful lot of games.... The biggest question is B.J. Upton. He's never grown into what he can be. If he puts it together, it will be very difficult to stop them.
With 2011 Statistics
MANAGER JOE MADDON
7th season with Rays
NEW ACQUISITION (R) ROOKIE
Pickoffs by Rays pitchers last season, tying them with the White Sox for the most in the majors. Most of those were courtesy of James Shields, the first righthander since 1993 (Jack McDowell) to reach 13. Rays catchers, however, only threw out 24.1% of base stealers, tied for second-lowest in the AL.
One piece the Rays didn't have last year was a multi-inning reliever: Manager Joe Maddon ran a matchup bullpen filled with short relievers, so everyone who made at least 15 relief appearances averaged fewer than one inning per outing. While it worked—Tampa Bay won the AL wild-card spot—a team breaking in a rookie starter (Matt Moore) may need an option that can go longer. Rather than choose their long man based on who loses the rotation battle, though, how about deciding which from the pair of Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann actually fits best in a multi-inning role? Niemann has had more of his success the first two times through a team's lineup: in his career he has held opponents to a .704 OPS the first time through and .667 the second time, but has gotten pounded when he sees hitters a third time (.825). Davis is at his worst the first time through (.787 OPS allowed) and gets progressively better. Niemann gets rocked after 75 pitches; Davis shows no such pattern. Based on that data, Niemann is better suited to throwing multiple innings out of the bullpen. The Rays should make him their long man and leave Davis in the rotation.
BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS (JENNINGS)
TROY TAORMINA/US PRESSWIRE (NIEMANN)