Rays officials talk constantly about the importance of organizational depth, and the first two months of this season have again shown why, specifically in terms of having major-league quality arms at Triple A.
Twice they've had to summon relievers, first Brandon Gomes (to replace Jeff Niemann), then when Gomes was hurt, Josh Lueke. (And that doesn't count the cameos by Alex Torres and Jeff Beliveau.)
Even more significant were the number of options they had when left-hander David Price went on the disabled list. And they may factor in again when/if the Rays decide they have seen enough of struggling starter Roberto Hernandez and either move him to the bullpen (perhaps in place of also struggling Kyle Farnsworth?) or, less likely, cut Hernandez loose.
Jake Odorizzi was the initial choice to replace Price, and after an okay Rays debut he'll make his second start Monday. But they could have opted for Torres or Alex Colome or, had the timing been different, top prospect Chris Archer, who is just about back to full strength after being restricted for a few starts due to missed time.
"Compared to other organizations, there is a tremendous amount of depth," said Odorizzi, acquired from the Royals and previously with the Brewers. "The whole Triple-A pitching staff (the fifth is one-time elite prospect Mike Montgomery) has the ability to be here. You usually don't see that with an entire staff at the upper levels."
That's exactly the way the Rays plan it, rather than depleting their surplus in trades (remember, they dealt James Shields and Wade Davis in December) or stocking the Triple-A roster with below-replacement level journeymen.
"I think if you look at years past we've always had some pitching depth, but I would contend this is our most impressive group," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We talk about it ad nauseam how important pitching depth is, and if we ever have to go to market to fill out numerous spots in our rotation, we're pretty much doomed. So it's something that's in the forefront of our mind in basically anything and everything we do."
And knowing the front office is so vigilant is comforting to manager Joe Maddon.
"They do a wonderful job looking in the crystal ball future-wise knowing that things are going to happen and we have to be ready for them," he said. "And we're not going to purchase them, so they have to be pretty much in-house."