1. Rays

Rays Tales: There’s something familiar about that guy on the mound

Rays' pitching pipeline runs deep.
David Price tips his cap to the crowd after being relieved during one of his games with the Rays. [Times files]
Published Apr. 28, 2018
Updated Apr. 28, 2018

The first few weeks of the new season have given the Rays a lot of reminders of their past.

Alex Cobb is the newest headliner in the club, the group of starting pitchers signed and raised by the Rays who moved on — or in some cases, were moved on — to pitch elsewhere.

Already, the Rays have seen four of them standing on the mound pitching against them — David Price (Red Sox), James Shields (White Sox), Matt Moore (Rangers) and Cobb (Orioles).

Others pitching elsewhere include Jeremy Hellickson (Nationals), Jason Hammel (Royals), traded-as-prospects German Marquez (Rockies) and Jesse Hahn (Royals, DL) and even released-from-Class-A Ryan Carpenter (Tigers).

"It's unfortunately part of your upbringing in that organization is that you're used to seeing familiar faces in other organizations,'' Cobb said. "That weirdness, that's baseball. It's an odd feeling.''

One way to look at it is to lament what could have been had the Rays not decided, whether for financial or baseball reasons, to move some of them.

But another is to applaud the job they did — in scouting and player development — in getting so many pitchers to the majors, and in position to have impact.

There have been more games started in the majors this season by pitchers who were originally Rays than any other organization: 45 of 722 through Thursday, per Dan Hirsch of SABR.

That includes Blake Snell, whose early-season showing for the Rays suggests he could be shooting up that list of the most successful, along with current teammates Yonny Chirinos and Jake Faria, plus those mentioned above who now have ex-Ray vision. Next in line, per Hirsch — the Angels, Yankees and Nationals.

Plus, there are pitchers who came up as starters with the Rays and were converted to impact relievers, including their current closer, Alex Colome, plus Pittsburgh's Felipe Rivero (now Vazquez), Colorado's Wade Davis and Jake McGee and, previously, Dan Wheeler, among a few others.

Here's our list of the five best starting pitchers who were first signed by the Rays (stats through Friday):

1. LHP David Price, Red Sox
Career numbers: 82-47, 3.33 ERA, 21.3 WAR
Joined Rays: No. 1 overall pick 2007
Left Rays: Traded to Tigers July 2014 (for LHP Drew Smyly, INF Nick Franklin, INF Willy Adames)

2. RHP James Shields, White Sox
Career numbers: 87-73, 3.89 ERA, 19.7 WAR
Joined Rays: 16th-round pick 2000
Left Rays: Traded to Royals in December 2012 (with RHP Wade Davis and INF Elliot Johnson for OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery, INF Patrick Leonard)

3. RHP Alex Cobb, Orioles
Career numbers: 48-35, 3.50 ERA, 10.8 WAR
Joined Rays: 4th-round pick 2006
Left Rays: Free agent after 2017 (Rays get No. 31 pick in 2018 draft)

4. LHP Matt Moore, Rangers
Career numbers: 39-28, 3.88 ERA, 5.5 WAR
Joined Rays: 8th-round pick 2007
Left Rays: Traded to Giants in August 2016 (for INF Matt Duffy, INF Lucius Fox, RHP Michael Santos)

5. RHP Jeremy Hellickson, Nationals
Career numbers: 40-36, 3.78 ERA, 7.2 WAR
Joined Rays: 4th-round pick 2005
Left Rays: Traded to D-backs in November 2014 (for OF Justin Williams, INF Andrew Velazquez)

And five more to consider:

RHP Jeff Niemann: 40-26, 4.08 ERA, 4.4 WAR
RHP Rolando Arrojo*: 21-24, 4.23, 6.7 WAR
LHP Joe Kennedy: 18-31, 4.98 ERA, 7.4 WAR
LHP Blake Snell: 15-16, 3.65 ERA, 2.8 WAR
RHP Andy Sonnanstine: 28-31, 5.26 ERA, -0.1 WAR

* Signed as a free agent from Cuba

 Secondary market

The Rays also work often as middle men, acquiring starters in trade (sometimes as prospects in deals for the arms they trade), getting them to the majors or giving them greater opportunity, and then after a couple years flipping them. That list includes Jake Odorizzi (now with Twins), Scott Kazmir (unsigned), Matt Garza (unsigned), Edwin Jackson (Nats Triple-A), Nathan Karns (Royals DL), Drew Smyly (Cubs DL) and Erasmo Ramirez (Mariners).

Short stops

  * Leaning left: Bringing LHP Jonny Venters back to the majors for the first time since 2012 is indeed a heart-warming story. But from a pure baseball standpoint, it was an acknowledgement 20 games in that the bullpen needed a second lefty short reliever. Kind of like Dan Jennings, who was released late spring and caught on with Milwaukee, where he is 2-1, 1.46 in 14 games.

   * Commitment: LHP Jonny Venters had a June 1 out-clause in his minor-league contract, but last week's promotion was earned, and a reward for both parties for the mutual commitment since he first signed a minor-league deal in March 2015. "I simply cannot give enough credit to the Rays for sticking with him on this journey,'' agent B.B. Abbott said. "No other team would have done this.''

Rays rumblings

Releasing Dan Jennings didn't look so bad since the White Sox just dropped 1B Casey Gillaspie, the 2014 first-rounder the Rays gave up to get him. … Asking for a friend, right now who would you start in a one-game playoff?  … SS Adeiny Hechavarria was pleased to get the team shortstop record for consecutive errorless chances but has a much bigger goal in mind: a Gold Glove. … Encouraging news to hear that ex-Rays reliever RHP Danny Farquhar has progressed enough in his recovery from a brain aneurysm to be up and walking. … Class A Stone Crabs OF Jesus Sanchez deservedly had a spot on Jim Bowden's The Athletic list of 15 prospects turning heads as "one of the best hitting prospects in baseball thanks to special hand-eye coordination, strong wrists and forearms and consistent sweet spot contact with the plate discipline to match.'' …  A new ESPN list of MLB's most team-friendly contracts had RHP Chris Archer eighth, with him getting $33.75 million for 2018-2021.  … Triple-A Durham's Athletic Park was sixth on Baseball America's latest ranking of top minor-league stadiums, with special mention of the snorting bull atop the outfield wall. … In calculating the Rays to have the second cheapest "Fan Cost Index" in the majors, Team Marketing Report used an average ticket price of $21.60; $5 beers, soft drinks and hot dogs; $10 caps and free parking. … UCF is bringing new football coach Josh Heupel and AD Danny White to the Trop June 11 as part of its Charge On Tour.  Might be a good day to celebrate a World Series championship.