From young minor league prospects to rookie big-league talent, Prospect Press will be providing an inside look at baseball's best talent for years to come. Today's Prospect Press focuses on Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer.
Prospect Press: Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Wednesday September 12th, 2012
In 2006, Chris Archer was drafted by the Cleveland Indians with the teams fifth round pick. After spending three years with Cleveland's low-level minor league teams, he was traded to the North Side of Chicago when the Indians acquired Mark DeRosa in the off-season of 2008.
Archer was then traded one more time, to the Tampa Bay Rays, before making his major league debut earlier this season. He made his way to Florida in the deal that landed Chicago Matt Garza. Even though he is playing in his seventh season of professional baseball, with his third different MLB organization, Archer is still only 23 years-old.
Coming straight to the minor leagues from high school, Archer was a work in progress in his early years of professional ball. There were two big reasons the Indians took a chance so early on a raw high school arm - he was signable for a reasonable price and had a plus arm that was already able to throw a very good slider at the young age of 17. Even though he was striking out better than a batter per inning, with a respectable walk rate over his first three seasons with the Indians, he did allow 0.96 hits per inning over that time as well, which put his ERA at a high 5.16 for the period.
After being traded to the Cubs, Archer's development really started to progress quickly. Spending his entire season at Low-A Peoria at age 20 in 2009, the righthander posted a 2.81 ERA, with 119 strikeouts, and 66 walks over 109 innings pitched. The next season he split time between the Cubs High-A and Double-A affiliates, improving his stat line to a 2.34 ERA, with 149 strikeouts, and issuing 65 walks over 142-plus innings pitched. Following the 2010 season, Baseball America named Archer the Cubs number one overall prospect, and 27th best prospect in the game, claiming his slider and fastball were the best in Chicago's system. A lot of Archer's success came from his ability to be dominating at times, but his inconsistency with the strike zone is what kept him from progressing more quickly.
After the Cubs shipped Archer to Tampa Bay in the 2010 off-season, he was placed at Double-A Montgomery to start the 2011 campaign. The Rays really liked his stuff, but his command of the strike zone took a step backwards. His walk rate inflated from a 2010 mark of 4.1 BB/9, to an alarming 5.3 BB/9. Archer also saw a decrease in his strikeout rate, dropping below a strikeout an inning to a 7.9 K/9 mark, his lowest of any professional season. The Rays were hopeful that his strong spring training in 2011 would lead to growth over the season, but instead Archer was not even mentioned as a possible call-up for the Rays last season, and the team turned to rookie Matt Moore for that help instead. Even though 2011 was a step backwards, Baseball America still recognized Archer as the organization's third best prospect, and second best pitching prospect behind the already mentioned Moore.
In 2012, the North Carolina native righted the ship. Starting the season at Triple-A Durham, Archer's strikeout rate bounced back to a 9.8 K/9 mark, he improved his walk rate to 4.4 BB/9, and only allowed 7.0 hits per nine innings pitched (H/9), making his WHIP a much improved 1.26 over 128 innings pitched.
Archer made his major league debut for the Rays against the Washington Nationals back on June 20th this season, filling in for Jeremy Hellickson. He did so well in his debut, allowing only three hits and striking out seven over six innings, that Rays Manager Joe Maddon awarded him with one more start before being demoted back to Triple-A.
After the rosters expanded in September, and Durham's Triple-A season had concluded, Archer got another start for the big league club. He impressed once more, striking out 11 Rangers over seven innings pitched, but it was not good enough to collect his first major league win.
The Rays should continue using Archer through the rest of the season as they try to secure an American League Wild Card bid. The experience he gains in the final weeks of the 2012 season will be invaluable for him and the team moving forward. When he enters the 2013 season at age 24, Archer should be in Tampa's starting five, giving the Rays a very impressive and young rotation. His plus slider now sits in the upper-80's, and was considered one of the best, if not the best, in the minor leagues this past season. Still, at 24, he may encounter some rough spots of inconsistency, but when he is "on" look for dominant performances out of this very talented young arm.
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