Leading up to the beginning of the 2009 season, Rotographs will look at the top 30 prospects (in no particular order) who enter the season having the best chances to make an impact at the Major League level this year.
It is no secret that the Tampa Bay Rays are counting on David Price to be a regular member of the 2009 starting rotation. His 2008 season, which culminated with a dominating performance in the playoffs, showed that he has the ability to get Major League hitters out. But that was in the bullpen, where he could rely on his two best pitches – his fastball and slider. It remains to be seen if Price, the first-overall selection in the 2007 amateur draft, can remain dominant for an entire six-to-nine-inning stretch every five days. An improved change-up will certainly help, and he needs to use it more than he did in his five Major League games (1.3%).
Price certainly did not have any major problems in the minors during his one and only pro season. He allowed just seven runs in 34.2 innings in High-A ball before pitching very well at Double-A and Triple-A. In total, Price allowed 92 hits in 109.1 innings, with rates of 2.6 BB/9 and 9.00 K/9.
The good news for the Rays is that the club does not need a lot from Price in 2009, as long as the other starting pitchers remain healthy and do not regress too much. The top four members of the starting rotation remain; the fifth starter – Edwin Jackson – was traded to Detroit for outfield depth. Jackson provided 183.1 innings and 14 wins. His FIP was 4.88 and he posted modest rates of 3.78 BB/9 and 5.30 K/9. Price may have trouble meeting the innings total (His almost 130 innings in 2008 was a career high) but all the other numbers should be in reach.
If the left-hander can exceed Jackson’s numbers significantly, then the other pitchers in the rotation will obviously feel less pressure. Scott Kazmir is coming back from arm issues and pitched in just 27 games last season but was arguably the club’s most dominating starter. Andy Sonnanstine is one of the best No. 4 or 5 starters in baseball and pitched 193.1 innings last season. Matt Garza showed flashes of brilliance but needs to be more consistent. James Shields, the only pitcher on the Rays to throw 200 innings, has been consistent during his two full Major League seasons but he’s not a classic No. 1 starter. If Price can reach his ceiling sooner rather than later, it would allow Shields the opportunity to slide back into the No. 2 or 3 hole in the rotation.
Price really does not have any competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. The organization has a number of promising starting pitchers, including Wade Davis (needs polish), Jeff Niemann (likely headed to the pen), Jacob McGee (had Tommy John surgery), Jeremy Hellickson (needs polish) and James Houser (also needs polish), but none of them have both Price’s ceiling nor his MLB-readiness.
Even if he fails to dominate in 2009, which is more likely than not, Price has an excellent shot at making a significant impact on the Rays team, and he is the early favorite for Rookie of the Year in the American League. From a fantasy perspective, you can likely expect 160-180 innings from Price, as well as 12-14 wins and 120-140 strikeouts.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.