Rays 2012 Prospect Predictions: Pitchers

With minor league camp set to break in less than a week, it is a good time to look into our crystal ball and try to predict the winners of different pitching statistical categories in 2012. What pitcher will post the most wins? Who will win the strikeout crown? Who will lead the minors in saves? We have all those answers and more inside.

Coming Tomorrow: We post our predictions for hitters.

For Starters

Most Wins: Alexander Colome---Let's face it, wins are extremely hard to predict and many would argue that it is the most useless stat for evaluating pitchers. Still, in the big leagues, hurlers can get big-time salary bonuses for posting certain win totals and useful stat or not, it isn't going anywhere. That said, it would be easy to pick one of the Big Three who will lead the Durham rotation (Alex Cobb, Alex Torres or Christopher Archer) as the win leader. But with one or more likely to get called up at some point this season, we'll go a step down in levels to Double-A and choose Alex Colome. He led the Rays system in innings pitched last season with 157.2, and will be pitching for what looks to be a strong Montgomery team in 2012. He should have plenty of opportunities to earn victories with his ability to pitch deep into games and has the stuff to shut down lineups when he is on. A darkhorse candidate would be someone like Nick Barnese, who also figures to throw a lot of innings in Durham this season.

Lowest ERA: Andrew Bellatti---We could cop-out and select a short season pitcher like Jacob Faria or Blake Snell, but Bellatti is the choice because he has shown remarkable consistency in his young career thus far. He keeps the ball down in the zone (1 HR in 72 IP in 2011) and doesn't walk many hitters (2.5 BB/9 in 3 seasons), and that is an excellent combination for preventing runs from crossing the plate. Last season, for pitchers with more than 10 starts in the system, only Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Andres Gonzalez, Geisel De La Cruz, Wilmer Hernandez, and Roberto Gomez posted lower ERA's than Bellatti. The last four in that list pitched all or part of the season in the DSL or VSL, so with that in mind, Bellatti seems as good of a bet as anyone to win the ERA title.

Most Strikeouts: Enny Romero--- Matt Moore became the first minor league pitcher ever to post back-to-back 200 strikeout seasons in 2011. It's unlikely that anyone in the system will come close to approaching that number in 2012, but Enny Romero is the choice to come the closest. He'll be competing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League and has arguably the best stuff in the system. He should also see a slight uptick in his innings. Those three factors make him a safe bet to take the strikeout crown, but should Alex Torres or Chris Archer spend all season in AAA, they will be in the mix.

Best Walks Per Nine Innings: Matt Torra--- Disqualifying short season pitchers again due to smaller sample sizes, the choice for this title is pretty clear-cut with a couple of sleepers thrown in. Ryan Carpenter showed excellent command in a short stint last season at Hudson Valley, but his college career was mired in inconsistency. Fellow 2011 draftee Grayson Garvin is excellent at repeating his mechanics and because of that generally has good command. He figures to post low walk totals in his pro debut. But 2005 first-rounder Matt Torra has a career 1.9 BB/9 in 7 minor league seasons and his whole game is about staying around the plate and pitching to contact. He should win the title easily pitching at the back-end of Durham's rotation. Kyle Lobstein, C.J. Riefenhauser and Jason McEachern are all pitchers who should post low walk numbers and could be contenders as well.

Breakout Starter: Taylor Guerrieri--- It may seem strange to tab a first-year pro as a breakout candidate, but first-round high school pitchers don't always live up to the hype that usually surrounds them. The 19-year-old has the stuff, mechanics and makeup to succeed right out of the gate and while there are sure to be some rough patches, he is already a very polished pitcher. If Guerreri pitches to his ability (and like he has in spring training thus far), he should have no issues in the Appalachian League this summer and will go into next season battling Enny Romero as the system's top arm.

A lot is expected from right-hander Taylor Guerrieri in 2012. We think he'll deliver.

For Relievers

Most Saves: Lenny Linsky---Tough call here as Linsky and last year's save co-leader, Chris Rearick, both figure to be pitching at Charlotte together for a good chunk of the season. Rearick was excellent as the Hot Rods' closer in 2011, but Linsky was drafted in the second round last year with good reason. His future with the Rays is as a high-leverage reliever and he should get the opportunity to close wherever he pitches. Like wins, saves is a tough category to predict, but Linsky looks like the safest bet with Rearick a close second.. Marquis Fleming and his devastating changeup would be interesting to see in a closing role and if you're looking for a super-sleeper, look no further then 2011 39th-round pick Theron Geith.

Lowest ERA: Shay Crawford---All it takes is one or two bad outings to blow up a reliever's ERA for the season, so this is a tough category to call. Shay Crawford's ERA of 3.14 last season in 28.1 innings doesn't tell the whole story. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was 1.07, by far the best in the system. He also figures to be used primarily as a situational lefty, which should give him a fair amount of favorable match-ups to work with. The aforementioned Theron Geith is another good candidate, as are Linsky, Rearick, Fleming, Kirby Yates and Charlie Cononie.

Most Strikeouts Per Nine Innings: Scott Shuman---Shuman had a ridiculous 15.0 K/9 last season at Charlotte in 51.2 innings. But you take the good with the bad with Shuman, who also had an equally ridiculous 10.3 BB/9. The bottom line is, when Shuman throws strikes his stuff is nearly unhittable. If not for his recent arrest that has effectively ended his Rays career, Matt Bush would have been a candidate here as well. He posted a 13.8 K/9 in 2011 and like Shuman, has electric stuff. Shay Crawford figures to put up high strikeout totals as well, but his K/9 of 13.8 should dip some as he moves up in the system. Fleming and David Kubiak could challenge in this department as well.

Breakout Reliever: Marquis Fleming---Fleming has the best changeup in the system, but could use a little more velocity on his fastball. The Rays have been giving him a long look in major league camp, where for the most part, he has pitched well. That coupled with his being chosen by the franchise to play in the Arizona Fall League, show that the Rays see him as a potential future bullpen piece. Consistent command is the only thing holding Fleming back from a true breakout and with Matt Bush no longer in the mix, he and Lenny Linsky look like the system's best firemen.

To say that Marquis Fleming has a good changeup would be an understatement.

John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.


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