ST. PETERSBURG -- Starting pitching has long been the strength of the Rays. Nothing should change that perception in 2018.
The Rays have long believed that the one place on the field they can't go to market to fill is starting pitching, so they have always preferred to raise their own or to trade for young pitchers before they get to the Major Leagues.
Operating in said fashion, the Rays have seen a lot of quality pitchers go elsewhere -- like David Price, James Shields and Scott Kazmir. But the fountain of young pitchers has never dried up, and more talented young pitchers have followed to fill their shoes.
Alex Cobb turned down the Rays' qualifying offer following the 2017 season, which made the right-hander a free agent. Despite Cobb's absence, the cupboard is hardly bare heading into the 2018 season.
MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Rays might stack up:
ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Chris Archer, RHP
Jake Odorizzi, RHP
Blake Snell, LHP
Jake Faria, RHP
Matt Andriese, RHP
The strength of the rotation comes in the 1-2 punch provided by Archer and Odorizzi at the top. Archer is a no-hitter waiting to happen every time he takes the mound -- his stuff is that good. Meanwhile, Odorizzi brings a solid, steady performance to most outings, which usually means a quality start.
Snell and Faria are still young with high ceilings, and Andriese provides a different look, along with experience.
Snell had a rough first half before finding himself in the second half of 2017. Can he continue to pitch as well at the start of the '18 season? Meanwhile, Faria had an excellent rookie campaign. Will opposing teams find a better approach against the right-hander? If so, how will he adjust? One final question mark comes with the ace, Archer. Will this be the season he finally finds the consistency to move him into the elite-starter category, rather than a pitcher with elite stuff?
WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
There's a reasonable chance that either Archer or Odorizzi, or both, will be traded prior to the season. If that happens, which direction will the Rays go?
Two names immediately jump to the forefront in right-handers Nathan Eovaldi and Brent Honeywell. Eovaldi is an experienced Major League pitcher who is returning from Tommy John surgery. He appeared to dust the rust off through Minor League stints at the end of last season, so he should be ready to go. Meanwhile, Honeywell is the Rays' top prospect. He's got five pitches in his arsenal -- including a screwball -- and he's said to be the most competitive player in the organization.
Further down the list, the Rays could call on right-hander Austin Pruitt, who made eight starts for the team in 2017. Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough is highly thought of as well.