Archer's power arm provides rotation option for Rays
Development of changeup could help club's No. 4 prospect soar to lofty heights
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer has one of those power arms that can carry him to success as a Major League pitcher. It's important to trace his baseball history to understand his current status.
Archer graduated from Clayton High School in Clayton, N.C. After a season in which he went 8-3 with a 1.75 ERA, Archer had discussed attending the University of Miami. However, the Cleveland Indians selected Archer with their fifth-round pick in 2006.
At 17 years old, the right-handed Archer signed a professional contract and began his career with the Indians' Rookie League teams in both the Gulf Coast League and at Burlington in the Appalachian League.
Archer pitched a combined 21 innings, starting six of the eight games in which he appeared that first season. He had an ERA of 7.71 and a WHIP of 1.762. Both those statistics were a result of 18 walks and 19 hits issued during Archer's introduction to professional baseball.
By 2007, Archer made his way to Low Class A Lake County in the South Atlantic League, but his control and command of his promising fastball and slider were slowly developing. Swings and misses and strikeouts were increasing, and he was walking a tad fewer than seven hitters per nine innings.
While Archer was still working on command and control, the Chicago Cubs were getting offensive production from versatile 33-year-old Mark DeRosa. The Cleveland Indians took note of DeRosa. In December 2008, the Indians and Cubs agreed on a trade that sent pitchers Archer, John Gaub and Jeff Stevens to the Cubs for DeRosa.
Archer's career began a positive turn with maturity and the different scenery. In 2009, he lowered his ERA to 2.81 while starting 26 games at Low Class A Peoria in the Midwest League. Archer threw 109 innings and yielded only 78 hits. Best of all, he lowered his walk rate a bit and increased his strikeouts. At only 20 years old, Archer had begun to realize his potential and significant upside remained.
Archer spent the following season at Class A Advanced Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. He was making progress, as his ERA was below 3.00 for the second consecutive season at three separate classifications. Archerearned the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.
In the 2011 offseason, the Cubs saw an opportunity to obtain a top-of-the-rotation pitcher from the Rays. They packaged infielder Hak-Ju Lee, outfielder Brandon Guyer, catcher Robinson Chirinos, outfielder Sam Fuld and the 22-year-old Archer to Tampa Bay for pitcher Matt Garza and outfielder Fernando Perez. The trade provided dynamic roster adjustments for both clubs.
In June 2012, Archer made his Major League debut for the Rays as an injury-replacement starter. He threw 29 1/3 innings, pitching fairly well.
Perhaps at some point this season, at age 24, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Archer may ultimately find a permanent role in Tampa Bay's rotation. MLB.com ranks Archer as the No. 4 prospect in the Rays' organization.
I was able to scout Archer in a recent appearance with the Durham Bulls. He made a start against the Norfolk Tides, Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate.
Archer is primarily a fastball-first pitcher. He generally sits at 93-94 mph, but it isn't uncommon for him to crank the pitch up to 97 if needed. The pitch is effective because Archer can induce swings and misses and strike people out -- provided his control and command are solid. There are times, however, when he totally loses his release point and fails to finish his pitches. That results in Archer "pulling" his arm across his body and missing his target completely. He can lose command fairly quickly, but he regains it fairly quickly as well. The net result is an increase in Archer's pitch count and an earlier exit than he would like.
Archer's slider may be his best pitch. It is a biting pitch that buckles the legs of the hitter. Imagine looking for a fastball that sinks and getting a slider at 84 mph that cuts into the hands of the hitter. That's what happens. Changing the balance of the hitter is Archer's best overall strategy and weapon. When he uses his combination of fastball/slider, he is a very tough pitcher to hit.
Archer's third pitch is an 82-mph changeup. It's a pitch I don't think he uses enough. With a reduction in velocity from his fastball to the changeup of roughly 12 mph, the hitter can appear to be virtually helpless. I don't think Archer trusts that pitch. He uses it far too sparingly. It's a pitch that will separate Archer from being an effective Minor League pitcher to being an effective Major League pitcher.
Archer's tall and rather thin frame is highlighted by his long arms and legs. As a result, he pitches "downhill" and induces ground balls with late life and sink on his fastball.
Archer's agility and athletic ability manifest themselves in outstanding fielding. He is quick off the mound and fields his position extremely well, saving additional runners and potential inning-lengthening jams.
Given his arm strength, Archer has positioned himself to control his own destiny. His two main pitches allow him to change speeds and navigate a lineup, provided he can throw strikes. Archer's third pitch, the changeup, could go a long way to helping him finish off hitters.
I believe Archer will go as far as his control and command take him -- which could ultimately be to an All-Star level.
If he doesn't fit in the rotation plans of the Rays, he can certainly be used at the back end of the bullpen. However, in my opinion, he best fits as a starter.
Tampa Bay has a wealth of starting pitching talent available within the organization. For me, Archer is the most advanced of the highly regarded potential rotation prospects.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.