If one thing's for sure, the Rays have one of the most talented starting rotations in all of baseball. Last season, the Rays had arguably the best rotation in the league, and this year it's expected to get even better.
Phenom rookie Matt Moore is the newest addition to Tampa's pitching staff, and will likely find a spot in the Opening Day rotation. However, the Matt Moore hype is not the biggest topic amongst the Rays' starters this spring.
All eyes will be watching the battle between Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis for the fifth spot in the rotation. Having a rotation that's six starters deep is a great problem to have for any team, and will provide the Rays will security throughout the season. The winner of the battle between Niemann and Davis will probably come down to whoever preforms better during spring training.
Although exhibition games have not yet started, my early prediction goes to Niemann here. Both hurlers are qualified for the job, but better numbers and more experience will likely give Niemann the edge in this competition. Also, Davis may suit the long reliever role better than Niemann. Davis doesn't eat up inning like Niemann does, and Niemann hasn't had much success throwing out of the bullpen in the past.
Now let's take a look at the guys in front of the fifth starter. It may just be the best starting quartet in the MLB, as the Rays feature a lineup of four All Star caliber pitchers.
James Shields, who had a career year last season, will likely be the Opening Day starter. It's hard not to award him with the #1 spot after the ridiculous numbers he put up in 2011. "Big Game James" finished third in the Cy Young voting after posting a 2.82 ERA with 16 wins and 11 complete games. It's hard to except those kind of numbers out of Shields in 2012, but you can still count on him to have another good season.
Fellow All Star David Price will likely follow Shields in the rotation. The 26-year-old southpaw had an off-year last season, finishing with a below .500 record and a 3.49 ERA. Price has already proved he's an ace-type pitcher, and I wouldn't be surprised if he explodes with a huge season in 2012.
We can expect to see Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson in the #3 hole to start the season, which really shows just how scary the Rays' rotation actually is. Hellickson quickly established himself as one of the top pitchers in the league in just his first full big league season, posting a 2.95 ERA through 189 innings pitched. This season's ROY winner could very possibly pitching right after him, as Matt Moore seems like a likely fit for the fourth spot. Of course, we all remember Moore's big league success during his brief stint in the majors last year.
Starting Pitching in the Organization
The Rays are stacked with arms down in their farm system. There are three starters that could make a big league splash this season; Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, and Chris Archer.
Cobb already proved he can be an effective starter at the Major League level, when he started nine games replacing the injured Jeff Niemann. Cobb went 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in his rookie year. He's never been considered a top prospect, but I think he's a bit underrated by scouts.
Alex Torres, on the other hand, is a pretty high ranked prospect, as he's a member of the Rays' top 10 prospect list. With the crowded rotation, Torres hasn't really got his chance with the Rays yet, but he does have eight innings pitched out of the bullpen under his belt. There isn't any good chances that Torres will start games in 2012, but he'll probably contribute to the 'pen during the season.
Chris Archer, the organization's #3 prospect (according to MLB.com), could also pitch out the bullpen by the end of the 2012 season. Archer is still developing in the minors, in hopes to become a frontline starter type pitcher in the majors. However, it doesn't look like it's going to happen in the near future, as the Rays simply don't have a spot for him in the rotation.
Still, his excellent fastball-slider combo could make him an effective reliever, and give the Rays a huge boost in the late innings.