Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price is very good now — but expects be better

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KANSAS CITY, Mo.

Success, sometimes, can be defined by the company you keep.

Monday afternoon, Rays pitcher David Price looked out from behind his table and over a gaggle of microphones, digital recorders and cameras at the All-Star Game media session to see Josh Hamilton to his right, Prince Fielder across the aisle and Miguel Cabrera to his left. Derek Jeter was nearby. Joe Mauer. David Ortiz.

The view, Price acknowledged, was pretty good.

"When you look around and see all these nameplates out here, these are the guys you see just about every night on ESPN doing something good," Price said.

"It's awesome being in this room with these guys. These are the best players in baseball right now. To be a part of that group is very special."

Price, though, should feel comfortable being there by now.

Though he's only in his third full season in the big leagues and though he's only 26, this is the third consecutive year he has been named an All-Star.

"(Sunday) night, looking through the media guide, it kind of hit me," Price said. "I didn't see a lot of 3s — All-Star selections, 3. That was a good feeling. There were a lot of big-name guys that had 1 and had 2, and some of them had 3. It makes you feel good. It puts things in perspective."

Price has certainly earned his way since unleashing the lightning in his left arm, going 52-30 with a 3.31 ERA in 106 starts. And there was plenty of praise flowing from his fellow All-Stars.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the league," Yankees lefty CC Sabathia said.

"At the top," Baltimore centerfielder Adam Jones offered.

"One of the greatest," added Giants, and former Yankees and Royals, outfielder Melky Cabrera.

"He's a guy," Yankees centerfielder Curtis Granderson said, "that if I had to win one game, I'd start him to win it."

But there's a theory — "a really scary" one, as Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey calls it — that Price can become even better. And Price is the first to endorse it.

"I completely agree," Price said, ticking off a to-do list of improvements including having better control of his cutter, being more consistent with his changeup and eliminating the occasional bad starts that still skew his seasons and foul his mood.

"I'm not there yet," Price said. "I know I'm nowhere near being a finished product right now. And when I do (get there), I would love to watch the results."

So, how much better?

"I don't think he's halfway there yet," ESPN analyst and former big-leaguer Rick Sutcliffe said.

"Considerably better," Hickey said. "And I mean considerably better. Like the best-pitcher-in-the-league-for-10-years better."

"As long as he stays healthy," teammate James Shields said, "he definitely could be a Hall of Fame-type pitcher."

Rays manager Joe Maddon said Price's development can be broken into three stages.

"At the beginning, I always talked about fastball command, and now he's got a lot better with that," Maddon said. "And then it was development of other pitches, and he's done that.

"Now I think it's the understanding of when to use his pitches. That's the next level. And when that comes together, that's when he's going to get really as good as he can become."

Which is?

"Not unlike what a Sabathia has grown into," Maddon said. "Not unlike what a (Justin) Verlander has grown into. I think he's slowly arriving at that level. Or maybe quickly."

Incorporation of the other pitches to complement his fastball and slider has been the biggest development this season. And his colleagues have noticed.

"He has some of the best stuff in the game, no doubt about it," said ace Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw. "And from the look of it this year, he's kind of using everything a little more; not just blowing people away all the time, though he could still do that obviously."

Granderson said he and Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez were just discussing that exact thing during their series last weekend.

"We were talking about how he's not just throwing hard the whole time, how he can go ahead and keep you off-balance by changing speeds, getting a little bit of movement and deception," Granderson said. "Oh yeah, and he's still got 96-97 (mph) whenever he needs it."

Take the talent and add in Price's age, health, competitiveness, desire and work ethic. The possibilities are staggering.

"David showed us right away that he has an electric arm and wants the ball in big moments," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "And since then, we've seen him improve steadily in terms of his fastball command and the development of all of his secondary pitches.

"David demands so much of himself, and because of that, the sky is the limit to what he can do. He is already elite, and I don't think anyone would question that he has the ability to be the best pitcher in the game on an annual basis. With his drive and commitment, we fully expect that he'll continue to improve."

In that case, he'll be the one in the room everyone else wants to see.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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