David Price took another step closer to reaching Tropicana Field on Saturday night.
Price, making his eighth Double-A start, stole the show from his teammates in the Montgomery Biscuits’ lopsided win over the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx.
With a jump to the Tampa Bay Rays likely to happen before month's end, the former number one overall pick made perhaps his last home start for the Biscuits count, striking out 10 while scattering four hits in seven excellent innings of work. He allowed only one run, which came on a solo shot off the bat of Greg Halman in the sixth inning, throwing only 83 pitches without walking a batter.
The homer and a hit batsmen were the only blemishes of an otherwise great night for Price, who was given a big offensive cushion by his teammates and improved to a perfect 6-0 during his time in the Southern League.
The victory capped off an interesting week for the soon-to-be 23-year-old left-hander, who was recently the centerpiece of a feature story in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. The weekly magazine even brought some new information to light on the Vanderbilt product who has a mid-90s heater, excellent command and the pitching sense of a crafty major league veteran.
With all that has been written about the kid, though, this information proved to be quite a surprise.
Price, who has the chance to make millions and millions of dollars during his career, nearly quit baseball during his freshman year.
The reason for his doubts—even though he was a standout two-sport star in high school and one of the most talented prep pitchers in the nation while at Blackman High School in Tennessee—is even more of a shocker.
Of all things, he nearly gave up on pitching and a top-notch education experience to work in the fast-food industry, selling fries and shakes at a Golden Arch location near his hometown. Lucky for everyone (excluding SEC hitters) and his especially his bank account—his signing bonus and future major league earnings would make McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner jealous—Vandy's head coach, Tim Corbin, talked some sense into the then-freshman. After all, he has already been drafted back in high school, was still a rarity as a 6-foot-6 lefty who threw in the 90s and had a bright future ahead of him.
Oh, the Tampa Bay organization benefited from the decision as well. After Price got over his rough intersquad outing that prompted the potential career change and came to his senses, he turned into the best collegiate pitcher in the nation, guiding the program to its best single-season finish in program history as a junior in 2007. That was just one of many accomplishments that he compiled on his resume during his time in Nashville.
Price led the nation in strikeouts during his final hurrah in the SEC, pitched for Team USA and won about every amateur baseball award imaginable—from the Golden Spikes trophy to the SEC Pitcher of the Year—during one of the best pitching careers in the history of Division I college baseball. As a junior, in fact, he turned in arguably the most impressive single-season performance in NCAA history, going 11-1 with a 2.63 ERA while breaking his own school record with 194 strikeouts. In doing so, he became perhaps the most famous baseball-related alum to step foot on the Vandy campus as a student, surpassing ESPN baseball scribe Buster Olney and Cleveland Indians starter and fellow southpaw Jeremy Sowers.
The biggest moment of his amateur days, though, came in June of ’07, when Tampa Bay selected Price with the top pick in the First-Year draft, its easiest choice of the day. He then took home a lucrative signing bonus before the August 15 deadline, emerging as one of the top pitching prospects in the minors without throwing a pitch. With the nice bonus, he also gained enough money to support his shoe fetish, an opportunity that would have certainly eluded him if Corbin did not get through to him and he was flipping burgers instead of making minor league hitting prospects look like Little Leaguers.
Price has gone on to exceed all expectations during his first professional season in 2008. Considering all of the hype, this is no small feat.
Although a minor arm injury set him back a few weeks in spring training, he began the year with a bang, touching 99 on the gun while impressing Alex Rodriguez, his teammates and the rest of those watching him mow down the New York Yankees during a Grapefruit League game on the YES Network. Even Michael Kay took notice.
Price then spent the next several weeks at the Rays' training complex in St. Petersburg, where he had the opportunity to face A-Rod again, drawing praise from the Future Hall of Famer during an extended spring training game.
When he was healthy enough to make his long-anticipated debut, Price made the move to the Florida State League, where he set the circuit on fire with his performance for the Vero Beach Devil Rays. In six starts there, he went 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA and a 37-to-7 K/W ratio in 34.2 innings pitched.
Price made it perfectly clear with his success that he was ready for the next step, forcing the organization to promote him to Montgomery. Although the competition has improved, someone forgot to give him the memo.
The flamethrowing Price has made the transition to facing advanced hitters with ease, hardly missing a beat. Following his latest session of dominance, he is now 6-0 for the Biscuits, with his ERA sitting at 2.08. He has also posted a 48-to-12 K/W ratio, surrendering less than a hit per inning in eight effective starts.
So, if you are scoring at home, the kid is 10-0 between the two stops.
Look out, American League.
Tampa Bay Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, who did not incur the cost of any prospects for any brief rentals at the trade deadline, has a decision to make. Although he has an eye towards the future and an excellent vision for sustained success—and thus will want to handle Price accordingly—he has a chance to upgrade his pitching staff, whether in the bullpen or starting rotation, by calling up the stud prospect.
Either way, Price will be pitching in a Tampa Bay uniform soon enough.
With his performance, command and overpowering stuff, the Joba Chamberlain comparisons were inevitably bound to happen. They are now surfacing around St. Petersburg and the rest of the league in full force, getting thrown around more frequently than the ridiculous jokes about a certain rookie third baseman and an actress who shares the same last name.
Like Chamberlain did for the Yankees down the stretch in his run as an unstoppable link to closer Mariano Rivera, however, Price has a real chance to factor in the AL East race—perhaps more so than other additions in the division made before the deadline, including Xavier Nady and Ivan Rodriguez.
And, according to Friedman, a few tune-up starts at Triple-A Durham might not be necessary for Price, leaving room for a jump from Double-A straight to the majors to the delight of many Tampa Bay fans who were disappointed by the Rays' (justified) unwillingness to overpay and get ripped off by the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for nine months of Jason Bay.
Regardless of what happens in the immediate future, though, Price is going to be a very good pitcher for a very long time, with a chance to become the ace of the majors’ best starting rotation in the next decade.
The 2008 Rays are viewed by many as a great story that will likely fade. However, the winning party—with the best prospect in the game ready to make his debut and with a team-controlled pitching core consisting of Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, James Shields, Wade Davis and several others— is just getting started at the Trop.
And the landscape in AL East division will likely never be the same again.
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