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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jake McGee is one of the Rays young pitchers I worry about as the Rays Pitchers and Catchers report date (2/15) ticks closer. I’m not concerned about his past painful journey, or even his pitching arsenal. I am worried that McGee might get pushed into the same multi-functional category as New York Yankees starter/reliever Joba Chamberlain by possibly wear too many MLB caps instead of being focused in one finite direction.
On the surface the aspect of a MLB rookie to possessing such flexibility might not seem dangerous. It might be seen as ultimately valuable to the Major League squad to have a pitcher who can perform the multiple duties of both starter or a reliever in their bag of tricks. But that transformation comes with its own set of perils and dangers.
Some have speculated that Chamberlain has been flip flopped once too often in his short Yankee career swapping his role from starter to relief, and that his overall pitching has been effected by the juggling. There is a distinctive different make-up for a pitcher who performs every five days as opposed to a pitcher who has to ready at the beck and call of your Manager on a daily basis.
Not only are there many different mental aspects to take into consideration between the two options, but the modus operandi of each individual facet of pitching both in preparing and game day prep take on a completely different feel and clarity withg both spots in the roster. I would hate to see the Rays make the same Chamberlain type mistakes with McGee.
This is a southpaw who as recently as 2008 was considered by Baseball America to be the 5th best prospect in all of minor league baseball. Suddenly the mid-2008 Tommy John’s surgery to repair a left elbow unlar collateral tear instantly halted McGee’s meteoric rise through the Rays farm system.
When MLB.com issued their 2011 Top 50 Major League Baseball prospects list recently, McGee’s name was not anywhere to be seen on that list. That is why I am worried about McGee. Not that his confidence could ebb or that his talent has peaked, but with a fall from grace sometimes you get thought of in a different light by your organization. Possibly changing your whole future dynamic with the franchise.
You only have to look into the Rays Centerfield to see a perfect example of changing a player’s direction in their MLB career. B J Upton was considered to be the “Rays shortstop of the future”. Suddenly when a few clouds of doubt or concerns reared their ugly heads, Upton was on a carousel of positional stops from Third Base, to Second Base to finally landing in Centerfield. Ultimately the “Rays shortstop of the future” got to look in to see his supposed pre-destined position from a completely different angle.
I bring this up because there are whispers that McGee might not be brought into the Rays 2011 Spring Training as a relief candidate. He might again be stretched out as a starting candidate, possibly for Triple-A. Most would think this flexibility in McGee’s game is commendable, but I see it as a variation of the same familiar path that the Yankees took with Chamberlain early on in his development. I personally feel that New York ruined a talented ballplayer and made him mediocre by the year-to-year flipping of his job description.
Even during the 2010 Rays minor league season there are indications that the team might be flip flopping on McGee’s potential MLB abilities. When the Rays promoted McGee on September 14,2010 he had previously been appearing mostly as a reliever for the Triple-A Durham Bulls since his August 7,2010 promotion from Double-A Montgomery.
Here is where a huge Rays red flag begins to fly really high for me with possible Chamberlain type comparisons. McGee appeared in only 11 Bulls games, all in relief except for a solo start before his Major League promotion. McGee posted an overall Bulls 0.52 ERA in 17.1 innings with 27 strikeouts and a .148 opponents batting average. All stellar relief credentials that should show a talent for that relief side of the game.
The interesting side twist is that McGee started the 2010 season with Montgomery where he started 19 games, going 3-7 over 88 innings with 100 strikeouts. If you start a guy early on in the minor league season as a starter in the higher levels of your farm system, then why did he suddenly transform into a relief candidate upon promotion to Triple-A?
Surely the Rays, who have a lack of quality left-handers in their relief corps would realistically have McGee come into Spring Training camp as a bona fide relief candidate. But there are more than a few whispers that McGee will be extended out again this Spring to become a starter, possibly for the Triple-A Bulls.
This flabbergasts me totally. Here is a player who demonstrated, even on a short term MLB relief test, that he can perform at a higher level and instead he might be considered to start games instead of hone his craft as a reliever in either the MLB or at Triple-A?
I really hope this is just one of those erroneous rumors that pop up about this time of the year just to test the waters, then proves to be totally false. McGee could be a great left-handed option for the Rays out of the Bullpen for a long, long time.
The idea of pushing McGee starting again with Rays left-handed farm system talent like leftie starter Alex Torres waiting in the wings is simply bananas. McGee could fill a huge need gap in the Rays system by learning the craft of relief while also gaining a boatload of confidence and possibly transform into a future closer option for the Rays.
The Rays have never been known to grow in-house relief talent at the back of the Bullpen, McGee could eventually be the key to breaking that farm system cycle.
Even if McGee didn’t make the Rays final 25-man roster out of Spring Training and went down for some intensive late inning work with Durham, it would benefit McGee and the Rays tremendously. Putting McGee into a rotation spot, even on the short term, could push McGee closer towards a possible Chamberlain burnout situation where McGee is being pulled in two distinctive different pitching directions.
I am not discounting McGee’s worth as a starter here, but his overall value as a reliever, even at the Triple-A level, fully trumps his consideration again for a starting nod. McGee is too good of a pitching talent to have to ultimately re-invent his pitching style on a monthly basis. His value right now to the Rays is as a key southpaw reliever, possibly even fulfilling the spot as the Rays designated left-handed specialist.
But McGee will need to work on his relief craft to push down his 2010 short term 3.87 ERA against left-handers. The talent is there, it just has to be tweaked and plucked and possibly pulled out from within McGee to flourish as a member of the Rays relief corps. With the talent potential and possible chance for McGee to find some roster security, I truly feel the relief corps is his best possible position for the McGee and the Rays.
Because McGee has shown in his brief Durham stint that he has the kind of pitching to punish hitters in the late innings, it is all up to the Rays now With Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s constant juggling of pitchers and hitters to force favorable match-ups during the late innings of Rays contests, McGee is a valuable tool the Rays really need to succeed in 2011, but all that could be tarnished, or possibly dismissed if the Rays rumor is true that McGee will again be a starter. That would be a crying shame.