As the Tampa Bay Rays wait with bated breath for an update on the left hamstring of Evan Longoria, the team was dealt another blow on Tuesday when Jeremy Hellickson was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder fatigue. Hellickson becomes the ninth Rays’ player currently on the DL and the 13th overall this season. He is the seventh member of the opening roster to hit the DL.
Spending time on the disabled list is ever a good thing; however, the Rays and Hellickson maintain the move is precautionary. Hellickson said he felt a little weak and tired in recent bullpen sessions which led the team to shut him down – at least temporarily. Luckily for all parties involved, there is no structural damage to the shoulder, and the 25-year-old is adamant about making a return to the rotation before the month of June is finished.
Coming into the season, Tampa Bay’s starting pitching depth was an organizational strength. Missing Hellickson, as well as Jeff Niemann (broken leg), will test that depth. But as we have seen from Alex Cobb, the pitching pipeline runs deep from St. Petersburg to Durham, NC.
Taking Hellickson’s spot in the rotation will be right-hander Chris Archer. The 23-year-old was acquired by the Rays from the Chicago Cubs as part of the trade involving Matt Garza. Prior to the 2012 season, Archer was ranked as Tampa Bay’s third best prospect by Baseball America as well as ESPN.com’s Keith Law. Baseball America also rated his slider as the best in the organization. In March, I named him as my upper-level breakout on Raysprospects.com
Listed at 6-foot-3, Archer is blessed with a fantastic arm; however, like most young, hard-throwing starters, his command and control is still a work in progress. Meanwhile, he has begun to show improvement in that area. In his last five starts, he has a 41:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 innings of work.
Archer’s four-seam fastball lives in the 92-94 MPH range, however, can reach the high-90s when needed. The heater has a lot of movement which makes it a legitimate plus-pitch, but has not necessarily helped him in the command and control department. This spring, Archer worked on his two-seamer in an effort to induce more groundball outs and vary the look on the fastball.
Aside from the fastball, Archer features a devastating slider; a pitch that some prospect experts describe as the best in the minor leagues. Generally thrown in the mid-80s, the slider is a legitimate, major-league out-pitch with steep downward movement and sharp lateral break. If there is a negative with the slider, it would be he sometimes becomes too dependent on the slider or tries to throw the perfect pitch instead of letting the breaking ball do its thing.
Bringing up the rear of his arsenal is the changeup. The off-speed pitch is the clear third selection for Archer, but has improved since joining the Rays’ organization. Thrown with a circle-change grip, the pitch comes in a good 10-12 MPH below his fastball. The development of the changeup will be a key to Archer’s future role. With an average changeup, he could be a three-pitch starter in the big leagues. Meanwhile, without a third offering, he could end up as a two-pitch, late-inning reliever.
With Hellickson confident that he will miss just two turns through the rotation, Archer’s first call-up may be a brief one. That said, the Rays are counting on him becoming an impact arm in the near future. Although his long-term role is to be determined, he could find himself following the path of David Price and Matt Moore: a starting pitching prospect turned short reliever as the calendar turns toward September and into the post season. And with some improved control and development of a third offering, he may follow them right into the 2013 rotation.