For someone with such a high profile as a prospect, Chris Archer sure has traveled a lot. Drafted in the 5th round by the Cleveland Indians in 2006, Archer was paid an overslot $161,000. He was a late bloomer as a high school prospect, but he came on strong his senior season, featuring the devastating slider he still owns today. After struggling for three seasons in Cleveland, he was shipped to the north side of Chicago in a deal that sent Mark DeRosa to Cleveland. He flourished briefly in Chicago, with a dominant 2010 season that saw him improve his control while retaining elite stuff. He was rewarded for his efforts by his inclusion in the 8-player trade that sent Matt Garza from Tampa Bay to Chicago, where he proceeded to cook low-and-slow until this year, where he's just about ready to
fall off the bone contribute. Archer made a cameo in 2012, throwing 29.1 innings and while he was sent to minor league camp already, it shouldn't be long until Jeff Niemann gets hurt or Roberto Hernandez proves ineffective resulting in a call up.
In his abbreviated stay in the majors, Archer showed all the qualities that make him appealing as well as the ones that give him some warts. Archer made fantasy owners salivate by striking out 36 in 29.1 innings (11.05 K/9) but also gave us pause by walking 13 (4 BB/9). That walk rate (SSS of course) was actually the best he's shown since the first half of 2010 when he legitimized himself as a prospect with the Cubs, so while it might have given us pause, keep in mind that it actually represents progress. He caught most everyone's eyes in a September start against the Rangers in which he struck out 11 and walked only two in seven strong innings. While it's easy to see a year culminate in a performance like that and think this is a guy who has finally figured it all out, it is equally important to know that his next start was good for 3 ER, 6 K, 4 BB in 5 IP. Despite all the walks, Archer's WHIP seems to settle into the 1.20 range, which isn't ideal but given his strikeouts, it'll get the job done. He also displayed a massive increase in his groundball rate while in Triple-A last year, posting a GB/FB rate of 2.80. His previous career high was 1.80 and his GB/FB in the major leagues was 1.38 (again SSS). What it all boils down to statistically for Archer is a huge number of strikeouts and too many walks, but he limits the hits and home runs enough that he should be proficient in rate stats.
The scouting report on Archer hasn't changed that much over the years, but for some refinement in his ability to limit the walks. Everyone has loved Archer's stuff, but the split opinions were on whether he could last as a starter or if he'd have to shift to the bullpen where he could be a lights out reliever and not have to find a third pitch. That third pitch, his changeup, has shown steady development and is useable especially when his first two pitches are so electric. While Archer's money pitch might be his slider, his fastball is nothing to forget about either. It sits mid 90s and can touch even higher, and has graded out as high as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. That slider though. Archer's slider is everything you want in a slider. It satisfies like a hamburger and tastes like heaven. It arrives in the low to mid 80s with impressive tilt, depth and a sharp two-plane break. It's a money pitch in every sense of the word, as it will likely drive his value for much of his career. It will ruin most any other slider for you, so tread carefully. Archer made improvements in his approach to pitching last season that have made many think it's more realistic that he could remain a starter. He started pitching off his fastball more, which only served to make the slider more effective. Even if the starting experiment doesn't work out, Archer would be a lights out reliever who would dominate in a closing role. If he does stick as a starter, he has a ceiling as a true #2 pitcher, though further development with his change up is needed if he is to reach that ceiling.
As a fantasy entity, I'm quite high on Archer. I've always been in love with high strikeout guys (I know I'm not alone there) and can see Archer having a few Brandon Morrow seasons before putting it all together. It's possible his lack of command (even with progress, it is below average at the moment) makes him a player with better than average peripherals while still carrying high ERAs due to implosion starts. I'm always happy to take a chance on those guys though, especially early on in their careers, as people will continue to believe they can progress down the line. My favorite types of prospects are ones that can fail to live up to their realistic probability and still hold value, and in that sense, Archer qualifies. I wouldn't be surprised to Archer throw 100 innings this year, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he barely made a sound at the major league level. The Rays are just so deep in pitching that it's hard to pinpoint what could happen. I'd advise investing while you can rather than scrambling to get him later.
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