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Examining the A.L. East Starting Rotations (Tampa)

Examining the A.L. East Starting Rotations (Tampa)

By Cary Greene

March 10, 2022


4th Best Projected Rotation in AL East: RAYS

Projected WAR: 10.7

Cary’s Rank: 1st (Based on Organizational Depth and Young Starters Ready to Break Out, plus factoring in their use of “Openers”)

2021 ERA+: 106 (-7.6 Below World Series Winners Avg ERA+ of 113.6)

Trade Value of MLB Starters: 118.9, Average Age: 24

Total Payroll for MLB Starters: $17.25 million / Avg Per SP: $2.4 million

AVG Yrs Team Control: 4.3

Trade Value of MiB Starters: 128.8 / One Tier 1 Prospect / Two Tier 2 Prospects /7 Tier 3 Prospects

T1 – Shane Baz MLB

T2 – Taj Bradley A+ / T2 Ian Seymour AAA

Staff Ace: 25 yr-old LHP Shane McClanahan

How did the Rays Build their Projected Rotation? (5 Trades / 3 Draft Picks / 1 Free Agent / 1 International Amateur Signing)

● Drafted Shane McClanahan in 2018, Round 1, pick #31

● Signed Corey Kluber this offseason to a 1 year, $8 million contract

● Traded with Mariners in 2017 for Ryan Yarbrough (also acquired Carlos Vargas and Mallex Smith for Drew Smyly)

● Traded with Brewers in 2021 for Drew Rasmussen (also acquired JP Feyereisen for SS Willy Adames and RHO Trevor Richards

● Traded with Pirates in 2018 for Shane Baz (also acquired Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows for Chris Archer)

● Signed Yonny Chirinos in 2014 as an International Amateur

● Traded with Padres in 2020 for Luis Patiño (also acquired Cole Wilcox, Blake Hunt and Francisco Mejia for Blake Snell)

● Drafted Josh Fleming in 2017, Round 5

● Traded with Mariners in 2018 for Tony Romero (also acquired Andrew Moore for Alex Colome and Denard Span)

● Drafted Brendan McKay in 2017, Round 1, pick #4

Considering how much the Rays rotation has lost a ton over the last two seasons, it’s amazing that they are still in pretty good shape. Imagine losing two aces and a legit number two or three starter in a two year time span and still being the PECOTA favorites to win the American League East outright? The Rays have made masterful trades and have done an excellent job of advancing and translating their pitching prospects.

What the Rays Lost:

Charlie Morton signed with the Braves as a free agent last season and he proceeded to go 14-6 with a 3.34 ERA on the way to a 4.0 WAR season. That hurt! In December of 2020, Tampa also moved ace Blake Snell to the Padres, acquiring right-handed pitcher Luis Patiño, catcher Francisco Mejía, minor league catcher Blake Hunt and minor league right-handed pitcher Cole Wilcox in the process. This left Tampa with Tyler Glasnow poised to become the rotation’s unquestioned ace heading into last season.

However, Tyler Glasnow underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in early August last season to repair his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and flexor strain in his throwing arm. Glasnow is expected to miss most, if not all, of the coming season. There is a chance he could contribute late in the year. Losing that much outstanding front end pitching depth was a bit too much for the Rays to overcome and a team with World Series championship aspirations wound up fallingl a bit short of their goal. Still, the Rays won the American League East and have become the MLB model of low-budget success, smart scouting and excellent player development.

Why the Rotation’s Projected WAR is very Off-Base:

Shane McClanahan is proof positive of the way the Rays roll. He was the 31st overall pick in the 2018 Draft and he rocketed through the Rays system and had an amazingly good first full season last year. McClanahan is presently the ace of the Rays starting rotation and just think, the Yankees selected Anthony Siegler with the 23rd overall pick in 2018! How nice would it be to have McClanahan, a 24 year-old lefty in the Yankee rotation these days, slotting in behind Gerrit Cole?

Player development is something the Rays are very good at and theRays helped McClanahan develop a new pitch, a lethal Slider that he features 35% of the time. He and pitching coach Kyle Snyder refined the pitch back in January of last year in order to differentiate his Curve and his Slurve that he threw during his 2018 debut. Snyder feels the pitch is arguably the best 90-mph slider in the game from velocity and break-value and McClanahan can throw the pitch as hard as 94-mph to as slow as 87-mph.

Imagine a team winning the American League East while paying your starters only $2.4 million each and competing against teams like the Red Sox ($9.8 million average) and the Yankees ($8.4 million average)? It would seem impossible to do that, but Tampa’s average starter makes $2.4 million and the Rays have a seemingly endless supply of cost-effective pitchers.

This season it will be no different and projected WAR may not matter too much to the Rays overall pitching. Also factor in that the Rays have an emerging ace in Tier-1 prospect Shane Baz who is likely to open the season as a part of the rotation. Tampa acquired Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Baz from the Pirates for Chris Archer in the 2018 Deadline blockbuster that may yet go down as the best trade in the last 20 Years.

McClanahan, who is projecting to have a 2.4 WAR season, is expected to head a rotation that will also include the aforementioned Baz, newly signed Corey Kluber, Ryan Yarborough and Drew Rasmussen. Swing-men Yonny Chirinos and Luis Patino will spot-start and provide depth for Kevin Cash, who is an expert at creating matchups and managing bullpens.

More than likely, McClanahan will be significantly better than projections. Baz could become an ace this year as well and if he truly emerges and if Kluber can become dominant and avoid injuries, the Rays rotation will be much better than it was last season because not only does high-upside exist at the top of the rotation, but the depth is excellent. Yarborough is very solid, Rasmussen is good and Patino is just beginning to show how good he can become.

The WAR projections (10.2) aren’t scary, but make no mistake, the Tampa rotation is potentially very scary and it seems like the PECOTA projections know it because they forecast the Rays to win the Division by 9 games and finish with 100 wins.

Kevin Cash also loves to go to his bullpen early in games and the Rays have massed a horde of hungry, filthy relievers which will make Tampa pretty difficult to overcome this season in the division. This “swarm-like” approach isn’t really measured in WAR and judging from the overall Trade Value between their projected Major League Starters (118.9) and the Minor League Starters in the Rays system (128.8), the Rays clearly have by far the most desirable collection of starting pitching in the American League East and it’s not close.

Providing a steady supply of extremely good pitching talent, the Rays Minor League System is expected to crank out several helpful pieces this year. In fact, from a Trade Value perspective, no team in the American League East is even close to the Rays in terms of organizational value. Tampa’s top 13 pitching prospects trump every team in the Division. They have the high end pieces, the mid-tier prospects and the depth. It is this pitching depth that makes the Rays my pick to not only win the Division, but to become the class of the American League for years to come.

Besides Baz (who is a legit Tier-1 prospect), the Rays have two Tier-2 prospects. 21 year-old righty Taj Bradley is the most highly rated and he’ll likely begin the season in Double-A, having looked downright filthy between Low-A and High-A ball last season. Bradley pitched 103.1 innings last year with a 1.83 ERA, and per-9-innings ratios of 10.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. The control is legit and when batters do make contact, he keeps 46.% of batted balls on the ground. Bradley could become a #2 front-of-the-rotation Starter for Tampa as soon as 2023.

Another legit Tier-2 prospect is Ian Seymour who rocketed through the Rays system last year after dealing with an elbow injury and made it all the way to Triple-A ball. With three years of NCAA experience at Virginia Tech under his belt, Tampa wisely moved him along after dominant starts at every level. Seymour sported a 1.95 ERA last year along with a gaudy 14.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 stat line that was just plain frighteningly good across the entire Rays system. 47.1 of all batted balls against Seymour are ground-balls. I expect the Rays to have Seymour open the season at Triple-A and I would think he’d be called up during the first half of the year. Cash will utilize Seymour’s left-handedness out of the gate and he’ll be put into situations where success will be likely, but down the road, Seymour is projected as a front of the rotation ace.

Spelling bad news for the rest of the Division, the Rays also have two other Tier-3 prospects, Tony Romero and Brendan McKay, who are expected to both factor into the mix for the Rays this season and Tampa also has six more Tier-3 prospects they are developing in their system’s lower levels. They have 13 very good pitching prospects moving through their system – that’s a downright scary level of organizational pitching depth that includes one Tier-1 Prospect and two Tier-2 prospects.


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