As a fantasy baseball owner or a fan of Tampa Bay, you might not trust the Rays to be able to afford their best players. But you have to trust their ability to draft starting pitchers.
Heading into the 2011 season, the Rays' all-home-grown starting rotation will lead off with David Price, the top overall choice in 2007 who was 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA last season. Next up is James Shields, a 16th-round selection by Tampa in 2000 who was effective in 2007 and '08 (going a combined 26-16) before tailing off the last two seasons (a combined 24-27).
The Rays' No. 3 starter will be Wade Davis, who was picked in the third round in 2004 and was 12-10 in 2010. Their fifth starter is Jeff Niemann, a first-round draft pick in 2004 who is 25-14 the last two seasons.
Tampa's No. 4 starter is the No. 4 player in our breakdown of the top 10 prospects from a fantasy baseball perspective -- Jeremy Hellickson. He and the Reds' Aroldis Chapman are the most major-league ready players in the top 10, and we think Hellickson will turn out to be the best starting pitcher of the group.
As we wrote in the debut piece on Lonnie Chisenhall, we started this project with three rules of thumb: 1. Each player must be under 24 years old. 2. A position player has to have fewer than 100 at-bats in the majors, and a pitcher must have thrown fewer than 40 innings in the bigs. 3. The top 10 are ranked according to how effective we think they will be in fantasy baseball. The 2011 season would be nice, but we're more focused on how they will perform in the future and their staying power.
Up next, the pitcher David Price believes is better than David Price.
4. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays
- Height, weight: 6-1, 185
- Bats/throws: Right/right
- Born: April 8, 1987 (23 on opening day)
- Rank on Baseball America's top 100 for 2011: 6
Two quotes to remember
- "I feel like he's a better pitcher than I am. He uses more stuff in different spots. he's going to throw a 3-and-1 changeup. He's going to keep hitters a lot more off-balance than I am throwing fastball after fastball." Price, discussing Hellickson with the St. Petersburg Times
- "I expect him to be really, really good. I'm pretty certain he could not necessarily replicate all the numbers, but he could fill in the production we lost via (Matt) Garza -- the 200 innings and the 15 wins." Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, also to the St. Petersburg Times, on the trade of Garza to the Cubs freeing up a spot in the rotation for Hellickson
Price might not be right about Hellickson being better, but he does throw more pitches. His fastball is in the low 90s, and he mixes in a change, curveball and cutter.
The repertoire has allowed him to be successful everywhere he's been, including a ridiculous run in the minor leagues in which he was 49-16 with a 2.71 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP and an average of 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings (634 Ks in 580 innings).
In Triple-A in 2010, Hellickson was 12-3 with a 2.45 ERA and 123 Ks in 117 2/3 innings. Called up to the big leagues, he was 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 33 Ks in 36 innings.
We already consider him a borderline No. 5 fantasy starter in a 12-team mixed league, and he should be a No. 1 within a couple of years.
Better than Price? We won't say that, but Hellickson is so good Price's comments don't seem to be a case of the Rays' ace being overly humble.
PREVIOUS: No. 5, Jesus Montero
NEXT: No. 3, Mike Moustakas
2011 fantasy baseball rankings:
Catchers, First basemen, Second basemen, Shortstops, Third basemen, Designated hitters, Outfielders, Starting pitchers, Closers, Top 100 overall, Guide to our 2011 fantasy rankings, Guide to the top keepers
For updates, analysis and links during the season, follow Kevin Kleps on Twitter.