Tampa Bay Rays: Projecting the Opening Day Pitchers

Tampa Bay Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 30: Charlie Morton #50 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins at Tropicana Field on May 30, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

With opening day now put on hold due to the Coronavirus, eventually, it will be business as usual for all 30 teams. The previous article discussed the position players but now it’s time to project what the Tampa Bay Rays pitching will look like? Will it be the traditional five man rotation or will the “opener” continue to be a thing in 2020. Who are the bullpen arms? Assuming the Rays go with an even split of pitchers and hitters, here is what we can expect to see from the Rays pitching when that day finally comes.

Starting Pitchers

Locks (3):  Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow

The Tampa Bay Rays pitching strategy is definitely not conventional when it comes to their starters. All that aside, this could be a year where they fall back to the customary five-man rotation.

Charlie Morton will get the ball on opening day for many reasons with the biggest one being is because he deserves it. Morton went 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA and was a CY Young finalist in 2019. He has also hinted that this could be his farewell season. Both things considered, he will likely get the ball when the season starts.

Following Morton should be Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow.  Both have ace type stuff and when healthy should push Morton in every pitching category.

Assuming Blake Snell’s rehab and elbow are ready to go, he should get the day two nod.  He threw an inning on March 9th and his health was much better than his results. He is hungry to get back into the elite discussion with a bounce-back season in 2020.

Tyler Glasnow was 5-0 and a top candidate to start the American League for the all-star game when he went down with an arm injury in May. Heading into 2020, he looks stronger than ever.  He’s seen the mound several times in spring training and is pumping his fastball up to triple digits.

Inside track (2): Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos

If the Tampa Bay Rays are to go with five traditional starters then Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos are the betting favorites to get those spots. They both have made many starts for the Rays last few seasons and have proven plenty capable of rounding out the rotation.

Ryan Yarbrough is your typical soft throwing lefty who has the ball cutting, running, sinking, and missing bats. He has benefited in the win column the last two seasons with the “bulk role” behind the opener. It will be interesting to see how he can do with the ball in his left hand every 5th day.

Yonny Chirinos is a great choice to round out the five-man rotation. He entered spring training in the best shape of his life and is determined to be a part of the starting staff. His 18 starts last year were third on the team for true starters. That has a chance to be higher in 2020.

Outside Looking In (3): Trevor Richards, Jalen Beeks, Brendan Mckay

These three guys have made starts with the Rays but are likely to be fighting for long relief or starting in Triple-A Durham.

Brendan McKay is the most intriguing one as he is a two-way player with an electric young arm. The Rays number two prospect made 11 starts last year but will be likely be monitored a bit this year. His innings and workload were higher than they may have wanted in his first season.  After having shoulder soreness, many expect he will start in Durham and held back a bit.

Trevor Richards and Jalen Beeks are both “feel” type pitchers who can provide length as a starter and long relief role. An opening day roster spot just may not be easily attainable for either one.

Bullpen

Locks (5): Nick Anderson, Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Oliver Drake, Chaz Roe

Emilio Pagan who was the closer last year was just traded and the Rays will likely not name a closer any time soon.  With that being said, Nick Anderson should get that chance. Anderson possesses the hard fastball, a big breaking ball, and strike-throwing ability that any team would welcome in the 9th inning.

Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo are the same player who throw from the left and right side respectively.

Alvarado will need to get back on track early and often to be relied on fully in the late innings role. When throwing strikes, he can be an electric southpaw in the late innings.

Castillo, however, might just have the best “stuff” out of the pen. His 100 mph fastball isn’t straight and his wipeout slider gets plenty of empty swings. Don’t be surprised to see him get some “opening” starts as well as saves when Anderson needs a night off.

With the three batter minimum, specialists are more of a thing in the past. But we know the Rays don’t do things like others. Chaz Roe with his frisbee slider proved he can do more than get one right-handed bat out at a time. He’s also a ground ball pitcher who has the skill of getting two outs with one pitch.

Oliver Drake is a right-handed pitcher who gets lefties out more. This is due to his nasty split that fades away from left-handed hitters.

Inside Track (2)  Andrew Kittredge, Peter Fairbanks

Andrew Kittredge is an arm that every team needs to have. Kittredge was an “opener” at times and is a prime candidate to do it again if that’s the desired path of the Tampa Bay Rays. He can also go multiple innings out of the pen in case of injury or quick outing by a starter. He is also really tough against righties.

Peter Fairbanks could be one who makes the biggest stride this season. Fairbanks came over late last season and his speed was on display. His fastball sits in the high 90’s and has a great breaking ball to complement it. He has the potential to be just like Nick Anderson with his tall body and power stuff.

True Position Battle (4): Colin Poche, Anthony Banda, Aaron Loup, Shane McClanahan

The last spot could come down to a left-handed middle reliever. There is a great mixed bag in this group.

Colin Poche was close to a lock heading into spring but has struggled with both command and results. Poche’s 2019 was up and down and it’s purely based on his fastball command. He is a true one-trick pony with an average fastball that hitters just can’t seem to see well.  He has worked on a secondary pitch but so far, the guys in the mirror are closer than he wants them to be.

A feel good story is Anthony Banda. He came over a couple of years back in the Steven Souza Jr. trade. Since then, he has shown great stuff but limited due to Tommy John surgery and rehab. He is also the most versatile as he can both start or come out of the pen.

Aaron Loup has lost a lot of his appeal due to the three batter minimum.  That hasn’t slowed him down as he had a very good spring. If Chaz Roe can do it from the right side, why not Loup from the left?

Shane McClanahan will likely not be considered to crack the opening day roster but the number seven prospect has really opened some eyes this spring. The local college player is a pro star in the making. A tall lefty who lights up the radar gun will be on the roster soon than later.

No matter how many pitchers the Rays go with, you can expect to see most if not all of these guys in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform sometime in 2020.

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