Rays have embarrassment of young options after loss of Niemann
Rays likely to have Alex Cobb fill for Jeff Niemann and keep Wade Davis in bullpen
Anthony Rizzo has remained hot in AAA but unlikekly to get call-up to Cubs soon
Trevor Bauer may be too good for Double A, with a 7-1 record and a 1.68 ERA
One man exits, two, or three, men enter. It is good to be the Rays.
Softening the bit of misfortune of having starter Jeff Niemann break his leg on a comebacker, the Rays will be able to tap into an embarrassment of riches as potential replacements: current major league reliever Wade Davis and a pair of top pitching prospects in Chris Archer and Alex Cobb. On many other teams, all three would be occupying rotation spots in the majors. For the Rays, they are merely emergency options.
All are talented, and whomever is picked to start in Niemann's place (read: Cobb, for the reasons stated below) will have value in all fantasy leagues. So, let's weigh the candidates, starting first with the Triple-A prospects Archer and Cobb.
"Both have great arms," manager Joe Maddon told MLB.com. "Different pitchers in a sense. Archer [has] a little bit more dynamic arm, little bit more velocity. Cobb is a little bit like a [Jeremy] Hellickson type -- fastball, change-up kind of guy. Both good makeup.
"Cobb has done it before, did a great job for us last year. Both young with good makeups. We see both of them as being part of our future. They're both very interesting, they are both going to be very good major league pitchers."
Cobb might not be the prospect Archer is, but he has the experience thing going for him. It is likely the Rays rely on what they know, over the unknown in Archer. In nine starts last season for the Rays, Cobb went 3-2 with a respectable 3.45 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, striking 37 in 52 2/3 innings.
Cobb, like Davis, was a candidate to make the rotation out of spring training but a numbers game sent him to Triple A to open the season. Cobb hasn't quite been as dominant there as he was a year ago, when he went 5-1 with a 1.87 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings (just 16 walks). This year, through eight starts, Cobb is just 1-4 with a 4.14 ERA and 18 walks in 41 1/3 innings. He does have 44 strikeouts, though.
If you throw out a few bad starts, Cobb's numbers would look a lot better. They are still better than Archer's right now.
Archer, 23, is the power arm that tends to excite fantasy owners more. It hasn't translated into as many strikeouts as Cobb (Archer has just 40 in 42 innings), and Archer has a bigger issue with walks (a whopping 28 so far this season). Long term, because of his high velocity stuff, Archer is the better prospect than Cobb, but he isn't the better pitcher right now.
Cobb, 24, is good enough to start for the Rays and affect all fantasy leagues immediately. At just 5 percent ownership in CBSSports.com's leagues, he is a huge bargain who will start for a top contender. Pick him up first, unless you play in a keeper league and want the potential of Archer right now.
The Rays' best option to replace Niemann for the six weeks, however, (and perhaps through the All-Star break) is Davis. But Davis has worked himself into the Pitch-22 situation -- the Catch-22 for pitchers -- good enough to start, but too valuable in relief. And Davis isn't stretched out to go five-plus innings every fifth day like Cobb and Archer are.
The Rays are weighing their options to fill the hole in the rotation, but they sure sound like they want to eliminate Davis as one.
"I want to talk to Wade Davis about it because I really like what he's doing in the bullpen right now," Maddon told MLB.com. "We will probably not go in that direction. It's probably going to come from the minor league area."
Davis, who won 12 games in 2010 and 11 in '11, starting a total of 64 games already for the Rays, has taken well to his relief role. He has 16 strikeouts to just six walks, with a 2.06 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 17 2/3 innings.
"Part of it is I really like where he's at in the bullpen,'' Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times. "I think he's doing a great job and he's getting to the point where he and his body are understanding it better, and his arm, to come back a little quicker, what it takes to get ready. I like him. I'm not afraid of him in a hot moment because he's been there before.
"He comes out there with the real slow pulse working. He's understanding what's going on. He gets a righty and a lefty out. He knows how to control the running game. He's a good fielder. He does a lot of things well. Plus, you're starting to see the 93-94(-mph fastball) again.''
Despite the praise, Davis will be relegated to a minimal role and has little fantasy value. His quality and importance to the Rays doesn't match up to that in fantasy.
Cobb is the pickup right now, Archer is the pickup later and Davis might become fantasy viable again if he can work his way into being an option to close down the road.
It's good to have options
Anthony Rizzo just hasn't cooled off. He has six homers in his past eight games, running his Triple A season numbers to .359-13-37-25-2 (.420-.704). Notably, he has also run his average against lefties to .300 (12-for-40) and his strikeout-to-walk rate has improved (7-to-5 in this past 10 games). No, he's not necessarily closer to a call-up to the patient Cubs, but he sure is exciting to track.
And if you think Rizzo is hot, well, look at what the Royals' Wil Myers is doing still in Triple A. The 21-year old had a two-homer game Monday and is now at .343-13-30-32-4 (.414-. 731). It looks like he is hot right now, but April (.349-6-15-18) and May (.333-7-15-14) have been equally good to him. What is clear is he belongs in Triple A, if not the Royals' starting outfield. Interestingly, Myers, a former catcher prospect, played third base in addition to outfield this week. Mike Moustakas (.310-5-16-16-1, .371-.540) won't have to worry, though.
The top four picks of the 2011 draft are all still pitching very well -- Gerrit Cole, Danny Hulzten, Dylan Bundy and Trevor Bauer -- but Bauer is the one that is most exciting in the near fantasy future. Bauer is too good for Double A at 7-1 with a 1.68 ERA, a .192 batting-average against and 60 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings. In his past start on May 11, he allowed no earned runs through seven innings for the second consecutive start. This time, though, he walked just one and struck out nine. The walks might be the only reason Bauer hasn't moved up -- to Triple A or the Diamondbacks' rotation.
Nolan Arenado, the third most-owned minor-leaguer on CBSSports.com -- tied with Rizzo at 27 percent) -- has been a bit underwhelming in the power department in Double A to date. Arenado has just two homers through 141 Double A at-bats. It is a bit of a disappointment for a player many figured would be a potential impact June 1 call-up for fantasy. We need to temper expectations until that power that showed up a year ago comes.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. If you miss his Monday baseball trends, Wednesday prospect report or Friday pitching review, you can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).