The Other Members of Montgomery’s Stacked Rotation | The Process Report

The Other Members of Montgomery’s Stacked Rotation

About a week and a half ago, I wrote about Matthew Moore and Chris Archer. The pair have since been moved to Double-A Montgomery to form arguably the best minor league rotation in baseball alongside Nick Barnese and Joseph Cruz. The last piece of the rotation is unknown at this point, but I could see it being David Newmann, who Ryan Glass mentioned to me during discussion. That’s two of the Rays’ top five prospects, four of their top 25 or so, and maybe five of the top 30-to-35 depending on the fifth starter.

Only two minor league rotations from the Rays’ history that stand out to me as comparable. In 2007, the big league club had two-fifths of a workable rotation through May, while the Durham Bulls had Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot, and Andy Sonnanstine working in tandem. Then, a year later, David Price, Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and James Houser were all considered prospects for Montgomery. Price would move on relatively quickly and (I believe) Jeremy Hellickson replaced him. Rotations like this 2011 Biscuits’ one just don’t come around all that often, even with the kind of pitching depth the Rays have, so let’s pay respect to the other half of the known Biscuits trio and look at Barnese and Cruz.

Barnese (pronounced exactly as it looks) was the Rays third round selection in 2007. For a few seasons there, Barnese snuck comfortably into the Rays’ top 10 prospect lists, but Kevin Goldstein left him out of the Rays’ top 20 entirely this season. The reason lies within Baseball Prospectus annual, as Barnese’s arm issues –including shoulder tendinitis—slowed his fastball from the 91-93 range down to 89-91. The heater has been regarded as his finest offering since draft day, particularly because of its late movement. Still, there’s enough to like here that Barnese shouldn’t be discarded or labeled irrelevant. His curveball is plus and he just turned 22 in January, so time is on his side. The thinking is that he is now more of a middle of the rotation guy instead of a frontline starter.

Cruz, meanwhile, was the 30th round pick by the Rays in the draft, joining Price, Barnese, Moore, and Newmann to form an impressive class of pitching talent from a single draft. Goldstein ranked him as the Rays’ 16th best prospect on his most recent list, adding that he could move up the list with a strong showing on Montgomery. The knocks on Cruz are his iffy mechanics and secondary offerings, although his fastball sits in the low-90s and can perk up when needed and his slow curveball has the makings of a legit backup plan. Cruz is a soldier of fortune and victim of circumstance. The Indians chose Talbot over him in the Kelly Shoppach deal, but in any other organization he’d more highly regarded. Instead, he’s the fifth or sixth best starting pitching prospect the Rays have in the higher minors. It seems like Cruz could be destined for the bullpen, although he could just as easily serve as trade bait.

Since Barnese and Cruz both signed at age 18 or younger, this will be the final season they can go without being placed on the 40-man roster, otherwise they will be Rule 5 eligible. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which the team leaves either unprotected.



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