Chris Archer has already experienced a great deal in baseball.
The right-handed pitcher, coming in at No. 4 on the Rays' Top 10 Prospects list below, has been traded twice since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He attended the Rookie Career Development Program as part of one team and left as part of another. He's pitched for Team USA and earned an award for his effort.
Not bad, considering the 22-year-old has yet to pitch above Double-A.
Archer began his career with the Cleveland Indians, but got dealt in December 2008 to the Cubs as part of the Mark DeRosa deal. Two years later, he was part of another package, this time going from the Cubs to the Rays in return for Matt Garza. The deal became official when Archer was at the rookie program in January.
"It's a little bit bittersweet, but at the end of the day, I know it's a business," Archer said at the time of the trade. "As a Minor Leaguer, that's going to be a part of the business. I'm just happy to be a part of the Rays now and do my best to help that team and help them be successful."
The Rays got Archer on the heels of what was a breakout season. He pitched at two levels and arguably had the best season of any starting pitcher in the Minor Leagues. Archer went 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA, held hitters to a combined .200 batting average and struck out 9.4 per nine innings. Any pitching coach will say success comes with fastball command. Consider Archer a believer now.
"Things started to fall into place for me," Archer said. "Everybody told me once I started commanding my fastball, my breaking stuff is going to be even better. But there are things I do need to work on. My fastball command can get better and my changeup can probably get better, too. There's pros and cons to my season, but I definitely made some strides."
His performance earned him an invite to play for the national team in the Pan Am Qualifying Tournament in October. All Archer did was throw six shutout innings against Cuba, allowing two hits, walking none and striking out 10. Not surprisingly, he was named the winner of the International Performance of the Year Award. In Archer's case, ignorance may have been bliss.
"It was awesome," Archer said. "One of my dreams was to represent my country and play for the U.S. team. I got the chance to do that on a very big stage. At the time, I didn't even know Cuba was the world No. 1 team. I just went out there and did the same thing. I went and threw strikes and competed. It was a good day for me."
One that, perhaps, will only be trumped by making his Major League debut. That day seems closer than ever after his 2010 breakout, even if it does come with his third organization.
Rays' Top 10 Prospects
1. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP: The No. 2 overall prospect on MLB.com's Top 50 list (and No. 1 among all right-handed pitching prospects), 23-year-old Hellickson is ready for the big leagues. The Garza trade now provides him with the opportunity. Hellickson has an outstanding combination of stuff and command, rarely (if ever) hurting himself with walks. He heads into 2011 as the Rays' No. 5 starter, but no one thinks that's where he'll stay in the future.
2. Desmond Jennings, OF: Jennings' prospect status may have taken a little bit of a hit, but he's still No. 11 on the Top 50 and No. 4 on the outfield prospects Top 10. While offseason acquisitions mean Jennings will start the year in Triple-A, there's still hope the 24-year-old will be the long-term replacement for Carl Crawford. He's got plenty of tools to be a leadoff type, with the ability to hit for average, get on base and steal bases. He's also got plus defensive skills in center field, should that need ever arise.
3. Matt Moore, LHP: The No. 27 prospect (No. 7 among left-handed pitchers), Moore is that often-sought commodity -- a hard-throwing left-hander. The 21-year-old has led the Minors in strikeouts two years running and topped 200 K's in 2010. He maintains his velocity deep into starts and uses his fastball, curve and changeup well. He'll have to continue to refine his command as he moves up, but most feel he will be just fine as he gives Double-A a try.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
4. Chris Archer, RHP: Archer came in at No. 47 on the Top 50 list. He's got a terrific fastball with excellent life and a hard slider that also grades out as a plus pitch. His changeup is behind those two, but it's improved a great deal. Command is still an issue, but is getting better as he matures. He could get a nudge up to Triple-A to start the year, waiting for the call. If the Rays need help, he's got the stuff to help out in the bullpen in 2011 as well.
5. Jake McGee, LHP: A starter for most of his career, including when he first returned from Tommy John surgery in 2009, 24-year-old McGee made the switch to a relief role last year, and it suited him well. He'll stick with it in 2011, and his fastball-power curve combination is ready for a full-time big league role. He's said he wants to close games for the Rays, and while that might not happen immediately, he could get a shot at some point during this season.
6. Josh Sale, OF: The No. 17 overall pick in last June's Draft, 19-year-old Sale excites scouts with his big raw power. His approach at the plate should help him tap into that power and be a good overall hitter. While his bat stands out, his other tools don't nearly as much, so most see him as a left fielder who will have to hit his way up. There's confidence he'll get to do that eventually, though his progress was slowed a bit during his first Spring Training. Sale hurt his wrist diving for a ball in Spring Training, but it's not expected to cause any long-term problems.
7. Alex Torres, LHP: The Rays don't only build via the Draft and international signings, they do a good job in trades as well. They got 23-year-old Torres from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir deal, and in his first full season in the system, he was a Southern League All-Star and Futures Game participant. He pitched very well in Venezuela over the winter as he prepared to move up to Triple-A to pitch in a very good rotation with Archer. Torres has command issues, something he'll have to refine if he wants to start in the big leagues, though he looked good in big league camp.
8. Hak-Ju Lee, SS: Another part of the Garza deal, Lee was a Midwest League All-Star and Futures Game player with the Cubs in 2010. While he has no real power, he's got good plate discipline and excellent speed, the kind of tools that might play well at the top of a lineup. Like many young shortstops, the 20-year-old can get careless defensively, but it's believed he will be an above-average to plus defender in the future. He should move up to Class A Advanced Charlotte in 2011.
9. Justin O'Conner, C: When O'Conner moved behind the plate in 2010, he exponentially helped his draft stock and the Indiana high schooler snuck into the end of the first round. The 18-year-old has a very strong arm and moves well, though he's still got a lot to learn about his craft. He's also got big-time raw power, though there are some holes in his swing and approach that will need to be addressed so he can tap into that power and become a decent all-around hitter. It may take a while for it to come together, but the Rays are patient.
10. Alex Colome, RHP: Colome made his full-season debut in his fourth summer with the Rays, but it looks like the wait might be worth it. A Midwest League All-Star, he finished with a 3.89 ERA, 9.6 K/9 ratio and a .237 BAA (including one start with Charlotte). The 22-year-old has an above-average to plus fastball, a curve that's plus at times and a changeup that's improving. Like with many young pitchers, he struggles with command at times, but he's got the stuff to be a frontline starter. It will be interesting to see what progress he makes in Charlotte this season.
Under the Radar
Matt Bush, RHP: Yes, that Matt Bush, the No. 1 overall pick back in 2004. Of course, he was a shortstop back then and how he's a right-handed pitcher. He's had his troubles in the past, both on and off the field, and missed all of the 2008 season following Tommy John surgery. The Rays are his third organization and likely his last chance. They took it slowly with him in 2010, wanting to be sure he was OK, both physically and mentally. But he was added to the 40-man roster this offseason and threw fairly well in big league camp. He was done and forgotten, but now has a chance to salvage his career at the age of 25.
Alex Cobb, RHP: With all the power arms in the system, it's nice to mix it up with a guy who's more about command and mixing pitches. Twenty-three-year-old Cobb has made a one stop at a time climb through the system since being a fourth-round pick in 2006. In 2010, he pitched in Double-A and finished fourth in the Southern League in ERA. He also struck out 9.5 per nine innings, led the organization in ERA and finished fourth in strikeouts. He was added to the 40-man roster this offseason and should be part of a really good Durham rotation.
Hitter of the Year -- Lee
Jennings could have a splendid year in Durham, but he also could spend a good amount of time in St. Petersburg. So we'll go with Lee, who will continue to hit for average, get on base and could compete for the stolen base title in the system.
Pitcher of the Year -- Moore
The lefty will continue to show progress and have no problems with the jump to Double-A. Make it strikeout crown No. 3 in a row for Moore in 2011.