Christopher ArcherPosition: Pitcher
Chris Archer came out of nowhere in 2005 while playing his Junior season at Clayton High School in North Carolina to become one the top prep pitching prospects in the country. He went 11-2 with a 1.09 earned run average that season and was given an invitation to the East Coast showcase. He made an oral commitment with North Carolina State but then eventually signed with the University of Miami during his Senior season. He was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 5th Round of the MLB June Amateur Draft in 2006 and decided to forgo college and start his professional career.
He started pitching in the Cleveland system that Summer as a 17 year old with the GCL Indians where he struggled to an 0-3 record with a 7.71 earned run average in 7 appearances (6 starts). He was back there again to start the 2007 campaign and made 11 starts pitching to a 1-7 record with a 5.64 earned run average. Despite the poor record, Archer was able to strike out 48 batters in 52.2 innings and earned a brief promotion to the Class A Lake County Captains in the South Atlantic League where he made one start.
In 2008 he began to have some sustained success with Lake County and he made 27 starts and struck out 106 hitters in 115.1 innings. His 4.29 earned run average was the best of his young minor league career, but he also walked 84 hitters and posted 6.6 BB/9 ratio. This would turn out to be his last season in the Indian's system as he was traded that off-season on New Years Eve to the Chicago Cubs along with pitcher's Jeff Stevens and John Gaub in exchange for outfielder Mark DeRosa.His Cub career started in the Spring of 2009 and it was also a coming out party for the now 20 year old. Pitching for the Low Class A Peoria Chiefs he had a 6-4 record in 26 starts and shaved almost a run and a half off of his earned run average which stood at 2.81 at the end of the season. In his 109 innings he struck 119 hitters while allowing only 78 hits and despite walking 66 hitters showed that he could be a dominant pitcher with his incredible stuff.
In 2010 he continued to turn heads and pitched at two levels in the Cubs system - The High A Daytona Cubs in the Florida State League and the AA Tennessee Smokies in the Southern League. Between the two levels Archer was an incredible 15-3 with a 2.34 earned run average while striking out 119 hitters in 109 innings. Perhaps more importantly his walk rate dropped from 5.4 BB/9 in 2009 to 4.1. He was particularly impressive at AA where he won 8 of his 13 starts and had a 1.80 earned run average
In a 2010 interview with Scout.com site "Inside the Ivy", Archer talked with Steve Holley about how he had taken a step forward as a pitcher.
"Last year was definitely a learning experience for me as a pitcher, and for the Cubs to learn me. They traded for me, but they hadn't seen me pitch a whole lot. They pretty much said, ‘Hey, go out and pitch however you want. Just use whatever ability you have, and do the best you can and then we'll work on mechanics, how to attack hitters, etc, etc.'"
"I definitely learned how to use my athletic ability to get better at commanding my fastball. Me and all the pitching coaches in the organization have done a lot of individual work and drills to get my mechanics in order, and that's what's been the biggest difference: having found mechanics and confidence. The Cubs have done a good job of instilling both of those."
Archer would pitch for the USA Pan American Qualifying Team in the Fall of 2010 where he pitched six shutout innings against the #1 ranked Cuba squad in the second round. Later that off-season he was pretty much the consensus choice as the top pitching prospect in the Cub's farm system, and he became the key piece in the trade orchestrated by Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman that would bring Archer to Tampa Bay and send Matt Garza to Chicago.
Going into 2011 Archer was the #27 rated prospect by Baseball America and was ranked #47 by MLB.com. He was routinely ranked in the Top 5 on Rays' prospect lists and the hype and excitement among Rays' fans and bloggers was very clearly evident.
Given his overwhelming success with the Cubs though, 2011 was a bit of a disappointment. His earned run average rose over two and half runs to 4.42 at AA Montgomery in 2011 from 1.80 at AA Tennessee in 2010. Even more alarming was his command numbers, which had been improving in the Cub's system, that regressed significantly at Montgomery.
Archer walked 80 hitters in 134.1 innings for a BB/9 ratio of 5.4. His GO/AO ratio took a huge dip as well going from 1.58 to 1.02 and he also gave up a career high 11 home runs. In 2009 with Peoria he didn't allow a single long ball in 109 innings.
His performance in 2011 is puzzling because not only was he pitching at the same level, but he was even pitching in the same league and in the same ballparks against some of the same hitters as he had in 2010 when he had so much success. He did look good however after a brief promotion to AAA Durham late in the season, when he made two starts and allowed only a lone run in 13 innings.
To sum up Archer's command issues, it is interesting to see his performance against Matt Moore's at the AA level. Moore threw 1012 strikes and 527 balls out of 1539 total pitches for a strike percentage of 65.8 percent which led to a WHIP of 0.99. Conversely, Archer's 1.68 WHIP came after throwing strikes only 58.3 percent of the time. While Moore is clearly an elite pitcher, their percentage of strikes swinging was almost identical - Moore (78%) Archer (76%).
All of the above numbers indicate that Archer's struggles in 2011 were directly tied to his command. If he could improve his strike percentage even slightly then his numbers could improve dramatically, because as you will see in the upcoming scouting report - Archer has exceptional stuff.
Archer has two very good pitches, a power fastball that sits regularly in the mid-90's and a plus slider. He also has a change-up that rates only average, but with his other two plus pitches he doesn't need it to be much more to be successful against elite hitters. Command as evidenced by his career 5.2 BB/9 ratio is Archer's biggest issue and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.
In an article published just two weeks ago on BaseballInstinct.com, George Utter offered the following current scouting report:
"Four-Seam Fastball - For the record, he does throw a two-seam fastball, but there isn't much movement on it and he doesn't throw it much. He generally tops out at 95 mph, though I've seen reports of hitting 97 mph on occasion. He generally gets his best results working in the 92-94 mph range with excellent movement on the ball. This is a plus-plus pitch for Archer."
"Slider – Archer throws a hard slider, and when his command allows it, he throws it with great success. If he attacks batters with his fastball and sets them up for his 85 mph slider, its a pretty deadly combo. I would like to call it a plus-plus pitch, but he still needs to show better command to get ahead of hitters."
"Change-up – As with the two-seam fastball, Archer does offer a curveball from time to time, but his 3rd pitch is a work-in-progress change-up. It's not very deceptive at this point and is a below average pitch. Developing this will be vital to his success in the big leagues."
"Mechanics - Archer himself admits that it all starts for him with balance on the pitching rubber. "Where it starts is balance over the rubber," Archer answered. "That's more of a baseball term. Normal people at home probably wouldn't understand, but balance over the rubber is where everything starts for me." Lacking that consistent balance this year, Archer said he's rushing his delivery and "just getting going too soon." This was evident with the 80 walks in 134 1/3 innings pitched. He has a pretty fluid over the top motion that causes his fastball to sink, but there's really no deception in it. His mechanics are pretty clean and he's even worked with Dr. Donn T. Dimond, PT OCS who specializes in Pathophysiology and Mechanics of the Shoulder with Labs to decrease the risk of incidents of injuries."
He goes on to compare him to Edwin Jackson, which is a comparison that I have read many times on a variety of scouting sites. Having seen Jackson extensively with the Devil Rays/Rays it seems like a very fair and accurate comparison, as Jackson also has a nice arsenal of pitches, but struggles with his command frequently. Who can forget the no-hitter he threw against the Rays where he walked 8 batters and threw 149 pitches?
It really boils down to this: If Archer can learn to harness his command more consistently then he has a very bright future as front-of-the-rotation pitcher. If he doesn't, then he may need to be converted to a reliever where his fastball/slider combo might play better. We also need to see his ground-ball percentage rebound as keeping the ball in the yard has long been one of his primary strengths.
Other than improving his command, Archer really has very little left to prove in the minors. He will undoubtedly being taking the hill every fifth day in Durham next season, but a trade or two by the Rays and/or an injury in the rotation could find Archer in the Majors this season.
He is behind Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Alex Torres to get a shot in the rotation, but he really isn't that far behind them and I trust the Rays to help him figure out his command issues. At the very least he should be a September call-up, so Rays fans can certainly expect him to make his major League debut sooner rather than later.
An intriguing option with Archer would be to convert him to a reliever similarly to what the team did with Jake McGee. His stuff would play very well at the back-end of the bullpen. If his command doesn't improve or no rotation spots open up in the next season or two, that may be the career path that Archer must take to make it to Tropicana Field.
In a lot of systems Archer would be the top pitching prospect like he was with the Cubs. As other pitchers in the system graduate to the Majors, he could gain status as the organization's best pitching prospect. However at age 23 he appears to be a late-bloomer and although I absolutely love his stuff I am not entirely convinced that he will figure it all out. Putting him at this position feels a little safer to me, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he completely dominates AAA this season.
On RaysProspects.com the jury is split on Archer as well. Kevin Gengler has him ranked similarly at #8, while Burgi has him all the way up at #4 and Jake Larson has him ranked at #15
Scott Grauer has him placed at #10 and sites some of the same opinions and concerns that I have expressed here:
"Like Torres, Archer frequently displays command and control issues. His fastball and slider combination could make him a very good late inning reliever, but his changeup is improving too. His career BB/9 is 5.2, and like Torres, he needs to start throwing strikes consistently soon to fulfill his potential in the rotation. He finished 2011 with Durham, and he'll be back there to start 2012."
Given all that, a ranking at #10 seems about right, and it really all depends on whether or not one thinks he will solve the command issues and whether one thinks his ceiling is as a closer or as a front-line starter. I am greatly looking forward to getting a good look at him in 2012 to see if he does in fact take his game to the next level.
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