While David Price labored through a loss to the Red Sox on Thursday night, something special was happening with the Rays' Double-A affiliate. Pitching prospect Matt Moore threw a no-hitter, the first complete game of Moore's career and the first no-hitter in Montgomery Biscuits history. It was also the first time all year Moore lasted beyond the sixth inning or cracked 100 pitches thrown.
Take a long, hard look, Rays fans: You are getting a glimpse into the future.
Entering this season, there was only one prospect in the Rays' system that Baseball America rated higher than Moore: Jeremy Hellickson. While Hellickson has flourished in the majors, Moore has been putting on a show down in Double A, striking out a phenomenal 103 batters in only 772/3 innings pitched, or nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings.
This should not be too surprising, as Moore led the minor leagues in strikeouts the past two seasons and has averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings at every level of the minors thus far. But it's one thing to have success in the low minors; it's another thing entirely to continue this dominance in Double A at the age of 21 (before his birthday Saturday).
For comparison, Price averaged around nine strikeouts per nine in Double A, and Jake McGee — who was once the top strikeout machine in the Rays' minors — averaged "only" 10 at that level; Price was 22 years old, while McGee was 23. Moore's level of dominance is unprecedented for the Rays.
Moore is not without his weaknesses. He throws a hard fastball and a plus curve, but he has struggled in the past with his command and with lasting deep into games. After offseason surgery to remove a bone chip from his throwing elbow, Moore has started off this season strong, averaging only 2.7 walks per nine innings.
He still needs to work on pitching deeper into games, but if he keeps up his recent success, he could enter next year ranked as one of the top five prospects in baseball and could reach the major leagues as early as late next season.
The Rays depend on their minor-league pitching depth to keep their major-league team competitive, rotating in top prospects on a yearly basis. It's unclear which starter will be the next to leave — James Shields and Jeff Niemann seem the likeliest candidates — but one thing is clear: The Rays have another ace on the rise.
Steve is the Editor-in-Chief of DRaysBay.com, a blog on the Tampa Bay Rays that specializes in analysis and statistics.