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Prospect Retrospective: David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

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David Price
David Price
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, it really does turn out exactly the way it should. You'll be hearing his name a lot in the coming days as the trade deadline approaches, so let's take a look at the career path and prospect development of David Price, a grade A pitching prospect who became a Grade A pitcher.

David Price was well-known to scouts as a high school pitcher in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 19th round in 2004, but as expected he didn't sign and went to college at Vanderbilt. He took a key role as a freshman in 2005, posting a 2.86 ERA with a 92/30 K/BB in 69 innings and winning Freshman All American honors. As a sophomore in 2006 he posted a 4.16 ERA with a team-record 155 strikeouts in 110 innings, with 43 walks.

His 2007 junior draft year was even better: 11-1, 2.63 ERA, 194/31 K/BB in 133 innings, 95 hits allowed. He won the Golden Spikes Award and got the best honor of all by being the first player selected in the MLB draft, earning a $5,600,000 bonus from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Here's the comment for Price from the 2008 Baseball Prospect Book:

The top pitcher available in the 2007 draft, Vanderbilt ace David Price was the first overall pick, and should reach the majors sometime in 2008, or 2009 at the latest. He has everything you could possibly want in a pitching prospect. He’s athletic. He’s intelligent. He’s confident. He throws 90-92 MPH and can get it up to 93-95 when he wants to. His slider is excellent. His changeup is excellent. His control is very good to excellent. He is confident and fiercely competitive. He has clean mechanics, and there are no red flags indicating that his injury risk is higher than anyone else his age. Assuming he doesn’t get hurt, Price should be a number one starter at the major league level. Grade A.

After missing some time early in '08 with a sore elbow, Price opened his pro career at High-A Vero Beach, posting a 1.82 ERA with a 37/7 K/BB in 35 innings. Promoted to Double-A Montgomery, he remained effective with a 1.89 ERA with a 55/16 K/BB in 57 innings. Still looking for a challenge, he moved up to Triple-A Durham and wasn't perfect, with a 4.50 ERA and a 17/9 K/BB in 15 innings. Promoted to the majors for the stretch run, he posted a 12/4 K/BB in 14 innings with a 1.93 ERA, then played a key role in the post season.

There isn’t a lot to say about David Price that hasn’t already been said. He’s the best pitching prospect in baseball, with a tremendous combination of stuff and command. He hits 95-98 MPH, with movement. He has a killer slider. His changeup can be a bit erratic, but is expected to be a very solid pitch with a bit more polish. He usually throws strikes. He is highly intelligent and fiercely competitive. His mechanics are solid, and he is the kind of lean athlete that should stay healthy, in theory anyway. Statistically, all of his component ratios were above average or better last year, the main problem being a gradually increasing walk rate as he moved up.That’s picking nits at this point, and command is not going to be an issue for him in the long run. The only thing that could stop David Price from being an excellent major league pitcher is health, and it should be noted that he did miss the early part of the season due to a tender elbow. All pitchers run the risk of injury, of course, and Price is a clear Grade A prospect. If the elbow doesn’t get in the way, he’ll be great.

And that's exactly what happened. Price had a few wobbles as a rookie in '09 (4.42 ERA, 102/54 K/BB in 128 innings), but he took off in '10 and hasn't looked back, winning 20 games and a Cy Young Award in 2012. A triceps injury limited him to 27 starts and 187 innings in '13, but he's back on a 200-inning pace this year.

Through 168 big league starts, Price is 81-46, 3.17 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 122 ERA+, with a 1049/307 K/BB in 1129 innings. He's collected 22.2 WAR thus far and has done it in a steady manner, with 1.3, 3.9, 4.3, 4.7 and 4.3 seasons on his resume. He's at 3.5 this year and at this current pace it projects as the best campaign of his career.

Through age 27, his comparable pitchers (derived from a modified version of Sim Score that I'm working with) come out as Jimmy Key, Jon Lester, Gio Gonzalez, Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, Dave McNally, John Danks, Doug Drabek, Matt Morris, Tim Lincecum and Jered Weaver. The problem here is the presence of several exact contemporaries, so we don't know how their stories will end. It should be noted that there are no Hall of Famers, and while everyone here was considered an ace at his peak, Drabek, Morris, McNally and Santana all burned out in their early 30s. Key lasted the longest.

The bottom line: although he made face headwinds when he gets past 30 years old, Price has lived up to all expectations, an ideal example of a Grade A prospect success story.