Bullish Outlook for Durham Rotation in 2012

If the opening home stand of the 2012 season is any indication, the Durham Bulls have a lot to be excited about in 2012. The Bulls are off to an International League best 5-2 start, mostly due to strong pitching and timely hitting, including multiple walk-off wins. And while the starting rotation hasn't racked up wins, their performances are sure to make Rays fans excited about the future.

Alex Cobb | Right Handed Pitcher | #17

Alex Cobb may not have the prototypical build of a dominant starting pitcher, standing at just 6'1 and tipping the scales at a fit 180 pounds. But over the course of his Minor League and brief Major League career, he has been nothing short of spectacular. While his 34-25 MiLB record doesn't jump off the page, he has actually gotten better has he has gone through the system, lowering his ERA at every stop.

In 2011 he had a quick taste of the Major Leagues, starting nine games, including strong starts against 2011 playoff teams - the Yankees, Rangers and Tigers. In those three starts, he allowed 5ER in 16 IP (2.81 ERA). Cobb features a low 90s fastball, a curveball, sinker and splitter. Watching him pitch draws up images of Diamondbacks ace Ian Kennedy, who won 21 games in 2011.

He has once again gotten off to a hot start in 2012, and his 0-1 record is more due to the lack of run support than any other factor. He has pitched to a 2.25 ERA, striking out 10 and only walking one batter over the course of his first 12 innings.

Alex Torres | Left Handed Pitcher | #21

Torres is another Durham pitcher who lacks the typical size of a Major League starter (5'10, 160), but has more than made up for that size with stuff and moxy. Coming into the 2012 season, over his first 582 MiLB innings, Torres had struck out 605 batters. Torres has added to those numbers in 2012, having struck out 13 hitters over his first 9.1 innings spanning two starts. He has, thus far, pitched to a 2.89 ERA and is 1-0.

However, the issue with Torres has never been his ability to strike hitters out, but rather his command (or lack thereof). In fact, the Venezuela native led AAA in both strikeouts (156) and walks (83) in 2011. The problem seems to be creeping up on Torres once again in 2012, has to his 13 strikeouts, he has also walked seven.

Torres came to the Rays from the Angels in the 2009 trade that sent Scott Kazmir to Los Angeles of Anaheim of California of Earth. The trade did not work out for the Angels, as Kazmir pitched poorly down the stretch in 2009, and made a critical throwing error in game 6 of the 2009 ALCS against New York. Kazmir has since vanished into the abyss of arm trouble. Torres, however, could still be a key pitcher in Tampa Bay's future if he is able to garner his command.

Christopher Archer | Right Handed Pitcher | #15

Chris Archer flat out dominated in his first start of the season for the Bulls, spinning off six innings, allowing two hits, one run, and striking out eight. Archer was part of the Matt Garza trade in early 2011, and the 23 year old right-hander had been nothing short of disappointing in 2011. His ERA skyrocketed from 1.80 with the Cubs to 4.42 in his first season in the Rays system. However, his stuff has never been in question. With a fastball that regularly touches 95-96 mph and a devastating slider, it's all upside for the 23-year-old right-hander.

Archer dominated in a brief stint at AAA last season, allowing one run in 13 innings, possibly showing that his performance at AA may have been a blip on the radar. With his early success in 2012, it is quite possible that Archer could earn a promotion to the big leagues, especially given his power stuff. Is a bullpen role in Tampa Bay out of the question? It seems unlikely, given that Archer has always been a starter in the minor leagues, but many young power pitchers have broken into the Major Leagues as late-season relievers (i.e. David Price).

If the Bulls continue to put up solid pitching from these three key individuals, the season could be a huge success. Not only for the Bulls, but for the Rays, who have already proven to have plenty of pitching at the Major League level…but as the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching.

Derek Levandowski is the Durham Bulls beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow Derek on Twitter at @DereksCurveball.


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