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Spring Juice: Tampa Bay Starting Rotation Looking Good
Cody Crosby, FantasyJuice.com

We're off to the races for opening-day roster positions. One of the most heated and anticipated battles is for the final two Tampa Bay Rays starting rotation spots.

The Rays have one of the deepest pitching staffs in all of baseball with uber-prospects biding time in the minors, nipping at the heels of those in the majors.

James Shields, the leader of the bunch, has already been named the opening day starter. He's secure in his role as the ace of the staff. Though he doesn't put up dominating numbers, Shields is a high-quality pitcher who has put up over 215 innings the last three seasons.

Matt Garza is slotted as the number two after posting his most impressive season in 2009. He's quickly developing his game and could be the ace of the staff after next season. If he can near 215 innings, expect close to 195 K's.

The highly touted David Price is the firm number three starter heading into the season. Though he hasn't put up the numbers expected of a college-conditioned, #1 draft pick, he'll be given time to mature this season. Don't expect spectacular numbers in 2010 but be confident in taking Price in the later rounds of your draft. He could even be on the waiver wire in some leagues.

Jeff Niemann secured the fourth spot in the rotation with a decent 2009. His 13 wins and 3.94 ERA weren't unexpected but still showed the amazing depth of the Rays pitching. His ERA and WHIP will hover around last season's numbers but the increase in innings will, obviously, bring more K's and Wins.

The number five starter was up for grabs toward the end of 2009. With Wade Davis' impressive short stint toward the end of last season, the Rays believe they have the rotation rounded out. I claimed earlier that Davis is a 2010 Sleeper, and believe he will hold his spot over Niemann in 2010.

As for the rest of the young studs filling up the Rays farm system, Jeremy Hellickson and Jake McGee are the top two prospects making noise in the minors.

Hellickson isn't the biggest of human beings, but his control and efficiency are what attracts most fantasy buzz. Through nine starts in AAA last season, he posted an ERA of 2.51 with a 0.80 WHIP and K/9 ratio of 11.0. Pitching coach Jim Hickey said during the Spring, "If Jeremy Hellickson had to step into the rotation on Day No. 1, that wouldn't be an ideal situation, but I would be pretty comfortable with that." Don't be surprised to see Hellickson up at some point this season.

As for McGee, he's probably stuck in the minors in 2010 and doesn't project as a top of the rotation pitcher like Hellickson. His stuff is good enough to be a #3 or #4 starter but won't wow you with his command. Expect him to post similar numbersin the future to what we'll see from J.A. Happ in 2010.

Below are the Spring Training stats as of March 14th of the projected Rays starting five and their closest competition:

IP Ks ERA WHIP
James Shields 3.2 2 0.00 1.64
Matt Garza 10 10 2.70 1.00
David Price 2.2 3 6.75 1.88
Jeff Niemann 9.2 8 2.79 0.62
Wade Davis 3.2 6 14.73 3.00
Andy Sonnanstine 5 3 3.60 1.20
Jeremy Hellickson 2.2 6 0.00 0.37
Jake McGee 4.1 6 0.00 0.46


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