Price is right, but is he Mr. Right Now?
Lefty phenom's future not in doubt, but he could start '09 in Minors
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Is David Price ready yet or not?
No easy answer exists to the biggest question in the Rays' camp this spring. Based on what Tampa Bay's top prospect showed last year, it's hard to imagine that this is even a question.
At the end of the 2008 postseason, the more prevalent question was directed to whether Price, 23, would be the team's closer based on the composed way he pitched once the going got hot.
Particularly memorable from Price's stellar postseason was his outing against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Boston was threatening when he entered the game in the eighth inning to face J.D. Drew with two outs and the bases loaded. Price delivered an 89-mph slider on the outside part of the plate for strike one, which led to an inning-ending strikeout. He then got the final three outs in the ninth to preserve the win, earn a save and propel the Rays to their first World Series.
The talented left-hander went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 2 1/3 innings in three ALCS appearances, claiming the win in Game 2, and he went 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in two World Series appearances.
Price has since been anointed a starter, but he has not been guaranteed a spot in the rotation. Other candidates to claim the No. 5 spot in the rotation this spring include Jason Hammel, Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot. And other factors exist beyond Price's talents that could ultimately affect Tampa Bay's decision.
Front and center is the business of baseball. Hammel and Niemann are out of options, meaning that if the Rays want to keep both, they will have to make the team. Otherwise, it's likely one or both would be claimed off waivers by other teams if Tampa Bay designates either trying to send them back to Triple-A Durham.
Speculation suggests that the Rays will start Price at Durham, where he can refine his changeup and gain more command of his fastball while the Hammel and Niemann situation sorted itself out.
In fairness to Tampa Bay, it has never declared the existence of said quandary. Rather, the club has talked about making sure Price is ready.
"Being in development for a while, you get players like [Price]," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Sometimes people are going to clamor for them a bit soon, based on whatever. And if you truly believe they're ready based on their expertise, of course you do it. But if there are parts of it you don't feel he's quite ready for -- regardless of how it looks on the outside -- you just don't do it, because you don't ever want a guy like that to go backwards -- ever. And it happens."
|"I want to spend the next 20 years of my life in the big leagues. It's what I think about every day."|
-- Rays pitcher|
Price said being in the Major Leagues last season proved to be everything he thought it would be and more, and he pulls no punches where he stands on the matter.
"I want to spend the next 20 years of my life in the big leagues," Price said. "It's what I think about every day."
Evan Longoria, who won AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2008, found himself in a similar position to Price's last spring and offered his take on how Price needs to approach Spring Training.
"I would say the best thing is to keep your eyes off the newspaper, what people write," Longoria said. "Just go about your work the way you've gone about it the past 10 years you've played competitive baseball.
"I think the more he thinks, 'I might not make the club because the business side of things,' the more he's going to hurt himself. I think he needs to go out there and prove that he needs to play at this level and that he has the desire to play at this level and he's going to be all right."
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey offered his take on where Price is as far as his development.
"He's not the finished product in terms of what you'd like to see," Hickey said. "You'd like to see him have a little more command of the changeup; his fastball obviously is there, his slider is also.
"The command of the fastball can improve. And the changeup can improve. These are just normal type things, though. We have guys who have pitched three or four years in the Major Leagues whose fastball command can improve and changeup can improve also."
Price is not opposed to criticism.
"When I went to Vanderbilt, constructive criticism was what it was about," Price said. "Like anytime you messed up, you heard about it. Not from one of the coaches, but from everybody else. So I've grown, I like that stuff. That makes you know what you need to work on, as long as you can take it.
"[Vanderbilt] Coach [Tim] Corbin was the type of guy who was very blunt about stuff. He meant it, but he said it in a joking way also. You kind of just hear what they're saying and you work on it."
Price said, however, that he will not try and do things he can't do in an effort to make the team.
"I'm still preparing for the season," Price said. "That's the way I'm going to treat it. I'm just going to go out there and when it's time to pitch, I'll pitch. And on the days off, [I'll] take the days off. I'm going to get my work in, and when it's time to pitch, it's time to pitch."
But make no mistake: Price is clear on where he stands.
"I want to be in the big leagues," Price said. "And that's the bottom line."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.