I spent most of the off-season thinking our starting rotation was pretty much set. I figured Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek and Marc Rzepczynski was the way it was going to go and that spring really wouldn't change much, unless someone got injured or really didn't look good in spring training.
Then I saw Jesse Litsch, here in Calgary, and he looked in great shape and he seemed very positive about his chances. And let's face it, a guy that had ERAs of 3.81 and 3.58 in his first two years in the AL East, before injuries set in, really shouldn't be written off.
Now other doubts are creeping in, so why don't we handicap the race for the last two starting spots. The top 3 are set, barring something bad happening or a trade. Let's list the other guys, in the order of mostly likely to least likely to make the rotation (at least in my mind) and we can update the race as spring goes along:
- Kyle Drabek: I still think he'll get one of the two open spots but I do understand the logic of keeping him in the minors, for a month or two, to hold back his service time. I don't like the idea, but if both Scrabble and Litsch do well this spring, that could be the way it works out. I think this is the season we should be throwing out the young guys so they learn how to succeed in the majors, so that next year and beyond, that can build on that experience. I thought he showed well in his three starts last year. He is the future, let's see him. The neck 'soreness' that pushed back his first spring start is only a worry if you believe the team isn't telling us the truth about it.
- Marc Rzepczynski: A guy I like a lot. He wasn't great in his handful of starts last year, but then he wasn't terrible. It often takes lefties a year or two to figure out how to pitch in the majors. I like that he misses bats. I asked John Farrell about him and John said that he has to learn to trust his sinker, but John seemed to have confidence that he would do well. I think Marc has an option year left and that might work against him.
- Jesse Litsch: He looks like he is totally recovered from the hip injury that he had to have surgery for last year. They say his arm speed is better. He did have 2 good innings in his first spring appearance. ERAs under 4 in his first two seasons shows he can pitch in the AL East. He doesn't strikeout many but gets a lot of ground balls. If he does well this spring it would be tough not to give him a starter spot.
- Zach Stewart: Finished his Double-A season really well. To me, he is really only a half step behind Drabek and, in the long run, might end up the better pitchers. I think he is a long shot because a) his innings pitched will have to be limited again this year and b) he isn't on the 40-man roster and there is no great need to put him on it and, likely, use an option year. But then, if he shows really well this spring, you never know.
- Jo-Jo Reyes: He is out of options, so, if he doesn't make the team, we'd likely lose him. He was a second round draft pick in 2003, so you know there is talent there. He throws hard and gets strikeouts and hasn't walked too many in the minors. Lefties do somethings need a little time to figure out how to get major league hitters out. He didn't help himself out a lot in his first spring appearance, giving up 2 earned runs in his 2 innings, but he wasn't hit hard either. Being out of options, he'll get lots of chances to show what he can do this spring. He could possibly make the bullpen, if he doesn't make the rotation, but we are neck deep in relievers too.
- Scott Richmond: Started the year off so well in 2009, gets strikeouts, if he could figure out a pitch to throw to left-handers, he could be really good. But then he is 31 now and he has options left. Until we signed every available right-handed free agent reliever, I thought he would be a good choice as reliever but we are too deep there now.
- Brad Mills: Another pitcher I like but if he makes the rotation that means several bad things have happened to the guys above him. 27 strikeouts in 30 major league innings looks good, but the 19 walks doesn't look as good. I think if he had time to establish himself, he could become a decent major league starter, but I don't think it happens here.
- Robert Ray: Pitched himself on to the team radar in spring training of 2009, but hasn't done a lot to help his chances since.