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Young pitchers bring much upside for Tampa Bay Rays

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Published:   |   Updated: March 4, 2013 at 05:03 PM
PORT CHARLOTTE -

Mike Montgomery was at the Kansas City Royals spring training facility in Surprise, Az., that Sunday in December when he got the call he was headed to Tampa Bay as part of a blockbuster trade.

“I walked in and people told me I had been traded,” Montgomery said. “It’s kind of funny when people know you’ve been traded before you do. It was surprising.”

And a bit unnerving, Montgomery admitted. The Royals drafted him in the first round in 2008. The Royals way was all he knew about pro ball.

But, Montgomery said, if you are a young pitcher with a promising arm and you are going to be traded, you can do a lot worse than landing in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

“This is a great place to be,” he said.

Jake Odorizzi feels the same way.

He was also included in the six-player trade that sent James Shields, Wade Davis and eventually Elliot Johnson as the player to be named later to the Royals for Wil Myers and Patrick Leonard, a minor league third baseman.

“This is a great spot,” Odorizzi said. “The one thing I knew about (Tampa Bay) is they have great pitching. It’s all homegrown. They don’t sign big free agents. I think that’s what makes it even better because you always know you’re going to have a shot here. If you’re in the organization there is always a shot. You just have to perform well, and being the competition among the pitchers that there is, it makes you perform even better, it steps your game up that much more.”

Myers, of course, was the big name in the trade. The Royals sacrificed their top prospects for a pair of starting pitchers.

The Rays gave up Shields, their workhorse, and Davis, who can start or work out of the bullpen, for a hitting prospect they desperately need.

And, not to be overlooked, a pair of pitchers with a lot of upside.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that, what with the spotlight shinning so brightly on Myers and the big question being when Myers will join the big club this season.

“I’m used to it,” Odorizzi said. “I played with him all of last year and I’m used to the press he’s getting. It’s kind of deserving.”

“That’s fine with me, and rightfully so,” Montgomery said. “(Myers) deserves it.”

But given the emphasis the Rays place on pitching, and giving the potential in these two young arms, perhaps more attention should be given to Odorizzi and Montgomery.

Montgomery said he’s still trying to figure some things out and is not quite on the fast track to Tropicana Field.

“Coming here is a fresh start,” he said, “so I’m excited about it.”

Odorizzi made two September starts for the Royals last season against the Cleveland Indians. While he’s the fourth man in the three-man race of Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez and Chris Archer for the final spot in the rotation, it’s possible Odorizzi reaches the major leagues before Myers.

“Hopefully,” Odorizzi said, “we can all contribute this year and make an impact.”

He and Montgomery are in the right spot, since most of the Rays impact comes from the pitching staff. It may not be coincidence that Montgomery’s locker is directly across from David Price’s locker.

Listen and learn, kid.

The Rays starting pitchers have a unique blend of being fiercely competitive and extremely supportive. Odorizzi learned that in early January when he joined Price, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann and Alex Cobb for workouts at the Trop.

“The competition is laidback, but it’s like, ‘Oh you did this? I’m going to try and do one better. You threw seven innings? I’m going to try and throw eight.’ I think that’s a big part too, of why everyone is so successful,” Odorizzi said. “It’s a very friendly atmosphere. It’s really close knit.”

The starting pitchers hang together. They watched each other throw bullpen sessions during the first two weeks of camp and will sit in the dugout and watch each other pitch during the exhibition games.

Even with what is expected to be an improved defense and the promise of a little more offense, the starting pitchers know they will drive the train again this season.

“Everybody likes a challenge, and when people say the pitching does this and the pitching does that, if you don’t pitch well we won’t win, it makes you want to work a little harder,” Odorizzi said. “To be with these guys day-in and day-out and see how they go about things it’s just different. I really can’t put my finger on why, but it’s just a different feeling. There’s a camaraderie that everyone feeds off of each other. It’s a true sense of a team.”

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