Right-hander Chris Archer was already excited about joining the Rays because of their reputation for developing starting pitchers and promoting from within. But he became more pumped after getting an unexpected phone call from ace David Price. Archer, 22, acquired three weeks ago from the Cubs in the eight-player Matt Garza trade, said Price reached out to welcome him, with the AL Cy Young runnerup offering to take him under his wing. "(Price) said, 'I told the clubhouse guy in (Port Charlotte) to put your locker beside mine. We can hang out, and I can show you the ropes,' " said Archer, who had briefly met Price a few years ago training at Vanderbilt. "He didn't have to go out of his way to even think about who I was or remember me. But he did. So that's pretty cool. It's a pretty lasting impression."
The Rays hope Archer will eventually join Price in their rotation, as executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the 6-foot-3 native of Clayton, N.C., "has all the makings to be a good starting pitcher in the American League East."
Archer is coming off a big season, going a combined 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA between Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee before opening eyes in the Pan-Am Games qualifier, shutting down Cuba while pitching for the United States.
"I think he could be a very quality starting pitcher in the major leagues in the very near future," said Dennis Lewallyn, Archer's pitching coach at Double A.
While Archer's array of pitches, his competitiveness and work ethic make him a big-league prospect, those in his hometown of Clayton say he remains the same humble, small-town kid.
"The biggest compliment I could give is, if you could ever have a kid, it'd be ideal to have one like Chris Archer," said Gary Fowler, Clayton High's longtime athletic director and football coach. "You not only got a heck of a pitcher but a heck of a young man to go with that."
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Archer, who was cut from his junior high team, didn't consider a future in baseball until a fateful moment during his freshman year.
That's when his junior varsity coach, Ron Walker, saw the athletic kid had fluid throwing mechanics and encouraged him to try giving pitching a shot.
"He said, 'You could be special if you put in a lot of effort and a lot of work,' " Archer said.
So Archer did just that, going to the gym with Walker at 7 a.m. throughout the summer. The work ethic, he said, came partly from his parents — Ron, who worked for a hardwood company, and Donna. But Archer also credits Walker, whom he considers a brother, for believing in him and taking him to baseball camps as a junior to get him exposure.
"I kind of took off from there," he said.
Fowler said Archer's competitive fire was evident, no matter the sport. Archer, who became the Indians' fifth-round pick in 2006, led the Comets to the state football quarterfinals his senior year as quarterback.
Fowler tried to keep Archer on the sideline during portions of practice, but Archer would sneak on the field to play defensive back for the scout team.
"That was just Chris," Fowler said. "He just always wanted to win, and especially in the business he's in now. They always say it's 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, and Chris Archer, I'll tell you what, he's got the mental part."
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Archer's mental toughness was tested early in his pro career.
He went a combined 1-10 in his first 11 decisions over two seasons with the Indians' rookie-league teams. In January 2009, he was traded to Chicago in the Mark DeRosa deal.
Archer made minor mechanical adjustments in 2009, but he said the main thing — beyond his live fastball, which reaches the mid 90s — was having confidence and being more aggressive with his other pitches, his slider, changeup and curveball.
Lewallyn was impressed with how Archer battled when he didn't have his best stuff and how open he was to learning.
"He's one of those kids that I honestly believe if we had told him to stand on his head and face centerfield and throw the ball through his legs, he'd try it," Lewallyn said. "He was willing to try anything. …
"Success breeds confidence, and vice versa, and he took off from there."
That included October's Pan-Am qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico, where Archer struck out 10 in six shutout innings to lift the United States over Cuba into the semifinals.
"Without a doubt, the best baseball experience I've ever had," Archer said. "I just went in and was confident and said, 'Some of these guys are older, some of these guys will probably be in the major leagues, but in order to show people I can pitch at that level, I have to perform.' "
Whether Archer starts the season at Double-A Montgomery or Triple-A Durham, he's looking forward to a future shot in the majors with the Rays.
"The Rays are known for using their guys," said Archer, listed as the No. 4 prospect in the Rays system by Baseball America. "All five of their starters are homegrown. That's just awesome to know that they're going to use their guys, especially the one they traded Matt Garza for … hopefully."