May 18, 2012
The situation: With Jeff Niemann expected to miss 4-6 weeks because of a fractured right leg after getting hit with a batted ball, the Rays decided to leave Wade Davis in the bullpen and reach down to their Triple-A affiliate in Durham to grab Alex Cobb, who made nine starts for the big league club in 2011, putting up a 3.42 ERA.
Background: A fourth-round pick in the 2006 draft, Cobb has had to consistently prove himself to scouts, because his game is far more about polish than stuff. But he has done just that by pitching well at every level and showing improvement throughout his development, with his ERA going down every year from 2007 to 2011. His breakout occurred last year, when he had a 1.87 mark in 12 starts for Triple-A Durham, with 70 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. He has had some scuffles early in 2012, with his 4.14 ERA representing a career high, but he is still striking out more than a batter per inning.
What he can do: Cobb is not especially big or powerful, but he pounds the strike zone with three quality pitches. His fastball sits at 90-92 mph and can touch 94, and he not only locates it well, but he can manipulate it by adding a bit of sink to his two-seam version. His low-80s curveball is an average offering, with his best secondary offering being a diving changeup he'll throw as often as one-third of the time. He consistently gets ahead of the count, but at the big league level, he lacks that one wipeout offering and can be guilty of allowing too much contact.
Immediate big league future: Cobb is in line for at least 6-8 starts, and while he's unlikely to dominate, he should hold his own and deliver quality starts. That could get him plenty of wins with the Rays.
Long-term: There is no organization in which it's harder to be a pitching prospect than the Rays, who have no room for solid yet unspectacular arms. His future in Tampa might be in middle relief, but he could start for other teams.