Spring training has opened finally, with games being played in sunny Florida and Arizona and therefore, it is imperative that we begin the process of analyzing starting pitching rotations before we begin the procedure of drafting our fantasy teams. This series of articles will take an in-depth look at the starting pitching staffs of various teams that have issues heading into the 2018 season, whether due to trades or free agent movement during the off-season, injuries or simply the general shuffling of rotations that takes place at the start of every season. This week, we will turn our focus toward the Tampa Bay Rays.

The first development to discuss is the unfortunate injury that took place early in the spring to promising rookie hurler Brent Honeywell. The 22-year old righthanded pitcher was projected to make the club after splitting time at Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, but a torn UCL has him going under the knife for Tommy John surgery. He obviously should not be on your radar for 2018 but is worth holding onto in dynasty leagues. Despite not featuring a plus-plus pitch, he does possess a fastball that sits in the low-90s, and a plus screwball. You have to love a pitcher whose best offering is the seldom-seen screwball. He also has excellent command and control, and the late movement on his screwball makes him a candidate to dominate opposing hitters, as evidenced by his 11.10 K/9 over 123 and 2/3 innings at Triple-A Durham last season. The injury is an unfortunately development, but this is a young arm to keep an eye on, as he should be back in action sometime in 2019.

The loss of Honeywell does shake up the potential starting rotation going into 2018. The ace of the staff is clearly Chris Archer, and the Rays through their manager, Kevin Cash, have already announced that they will be starting the season with a four-man rotation. This is due to the fact that the Rays have eight scheduled off-days between Opening Day and May 10th, and thus will only need a few spot starts during the course of the opening weeks of the coming season. That leaves just three additional slots open for competition over the spring, and it is anticipated that the other three spots in the rotation will be occupied by Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Faria.  Pitcher Matt Andriese had expected to come into spring competing for a rotation spot he has been informed that he will open the season in the bullpen. Of course, it is early in the pre-season, and things could shake out differently as we approach the opener, but for now, let us examine the four arms that are expected to toe the rubber as the starting pitchers to open the coming campaign for the Rays.

For purposes of these articles, 2017 stat lines (MLB only) are: IP, W-L, K, ERA, WHIP, K/9, BB/9, HR/9 and 2018 MLB projections are: IP, W, K, ERA, WHIP. Average Draft Positions (ADP) are the current Mock Draft Army and NFBC rankings with highest and lowest picks in parenthesis.

Chris Archer RHP

2017 final stats (MLB only): 201.0 IP, 12-10, 249 K, 4.07 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 11.15 K/9, 2.69 BB/9, 1.21 HR/9

2018 projected stats: 205 IP, 14 W, 240 K, 3.54 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

2018 ADP: 55.56 (41/68), 52.37 (34/74)

As noted above, Archer is the ace of the Ray’s staff. He features a mid-90s fastball, which he compliments with a slider that arrives at about seven MPH slower than the heater. His third pitch is a change, but he turns to that offering less than 10% of his time on the mound, making him primarily a two-pitch SP. He was unlucky in 2017, as witnessed by an inflated .325 BABIP, and you can anticipate that will normalize in his favor in the coming months. He is worth selecting as your SP2 and will provide you with a good strikeout base.  He is going in drafts within the top 20 starting pitchers, so you will need to grab him fairly early to have him as part of your fantasy roster.

Blake Snell LPH

2017 final stats: 129.1/5-7/119/4.04/1.33/8.28/4.11/1.04

2018 projected stats: 165/10/150/3.88/1.33

2018 ADP: 237.33 (196/278), 215.05 (139/303)

Snell was a top prospect but has failed to put it all together at the major league level to date. He did improve his control last season, shaving a full walk per nine from his rate (“down” to just over four walks per nine, after an ugly 5.16 K/9 over his 89 innings with the big club in 2016). He has a good mid-90s fastball but struggles with his ability to place it in the strike zone. He also throws a change, slider and curve to keep hitters off-balance, and his second half improvement in both control (his BB/9 was a respectable 2.9 in the second half of 2017) and keeping the ball in the park (his HR/9 ratio fell from 1.21 in the first half of last season to 0.93 in the closing months of 2017) bodes well for continued development by the 25-year old southpaw in his third season in the majors. With an elevated ADP in the early drafts, he is a starting pitcher who could wind up yielding nice value for his price.

Jacob Faria, RHP

2017 final stats: 86.2/5-4/84/3.43/1.18/8.72/3.22/1.14

2018 projected stats: 155.0/10/145/4.09/1.31

2018 ADP: 288.06 (197/415), 235.38 (147/315)

Faria does not possess a blazing fastball and relies on his off-speed offering to keep hitters guessing about what is coming out of his hand next. He has demonstrated an ability to miss bats on a consistent basis, although he has handed out more than his fair share of longballs, more so on the road than at home, at least in 2017 (1.37 HR/9 away from the Trop, as opposed to 0.9 at home). With a four-man rotation to open the season, he will get a fine opportunity to show he can be a middle of the rotation starter in real baseball, and a potential late-round flier to take a chance on in fantasy leagues. Just realize that his 4.16 FIP and .272 BABIP during his 2017 time in Tampa Bay hint that there will be some negative regression from his tempting 2017 statistical production.

Nathan Eovaldi RHP

2017 final stats: Injured-recovering from TJS

2018 projected stats: 151.0/11/120/4.47/1.34

2018 ADP: Undrafted, 566.92 (297/699)

Eovaldi did not throw an inning at any level for the Rays in 2017, coming off Tommy John surgery performed in August 2016. He has had plenty of time to recover and did pitch a couple of rehab stints in the International League championship series, so his velocity should be back in the same 97 MPH range he exhibited prior to his injury. Despite his ability to throw hard, he has not been effective at missing bats and generating strikeout numbers while with the Dodgers, Marlins and Yankees, so that limits his value as a late-round or streaming option for fantasy purposes. If he struggles with his new team, do not look for the Rays to cut him a lot of slack, with Matt Andriese, Jose DeLeon and Anthony Banda (and even Yonny Chirnos) waiting in the wings to take a shot at nailing down a back of the rotation role for the Rays if necessary.

The loss of Honeywell is definitely a disappointing development for the Rays and their ability to offer any quality SP options beyond their ace, Archer, who is a top 20 or better starting pitcher for 2018. Snell could take a step forward if he can limit the dingers and continue to refine his control. Unless you are playing in an extremely deep league, however, neither of the other options projected to open the season in the Tampa Bay rotation, namely Faria and Eovaldi, should generate a lot of interest on draft day.

Questions about starting pitching are always welcome if addressed to ia@fantasyalarm.com.