Every spring training, there are players that break out from the pack and perform above any expectation.
Shelley Duncan fit that role for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. He signed a minor league deal with the team that included an invitation to spring training in January 2013. He then led the team with five home runs tied for third on the team with 10 RBI during spring training last year. At the conclusion of the spring, he earned a spot on the Opening Day roster made available due to a Luke Scott injury.
He was designated for assignment in April 2013 once Scott was ready to return.
In 2012, Stephen Vogt found himself on the Opening Day roster after an injury to B.J. Upton. During spring training, he compiled a .323/.382/.484 line in 31 at-bats, the best of any catcher. He started the season with no hits and no walks in 17 at-bats over 10 games. He was sent back to Triple-A before being called up in September to finish the season with two walks and no hits in 25 at-bats over 18 games.
Who will be the breakout player this season?
Here are four players that could play their way onto the Rays’ Opening Day roster this spring training.
All statistics obtained from Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Jake Odorizzi is the favorite to start the season as the replacement for Jeremy Hellickson in the Rays starting rotation.
Alex Colome is a pitcher that could find himself in the discussion for the fifth starter spot with a dominant spring.
In 2013, Colome had a 4-6 record with a 3.07 ERA in 14 starts with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. He struck out 72 batters while walking 29 for the year.
His minor league stats are nothing to jump and scream over, but he had some decent outings in his three major league starts in 2013. He went 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA, striking out 12 batters and walking nine.
He held opponents (majors and minors combined) to a .235 average last year.
It will take a superb effort, but the opportunity is there for him to push for the fifth starter spot at the end of spring.
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired Logan Forsythe in the trade that sent relief pitcher Alex Torres to the San Diego Padres.
Forsythe is a 27-year-old utility player who can play the middle of the infield as well as the corner outfield, in a similar fashion that the Rays use Sean Rodriguez. He is a player that Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman told Marc Topkin from the Tampa Bay Times that the team has wanted for a while.
Logan Forsythe is a guy that we had tried to get previously and a guy that was very high on our target list. From our standpoint, we dealt from an area of depth to address an area of weakness
In 2013, he was dealing with plantar fasciitis issues and was held to a .214/.281/.332 line. The previous year, he finished with a career-high .273/.343./.390 line, including 13 doubles, three triples and six home runs.
Brad Boxberger was also acquired from the San Diego Padres in the trade for Alex Torres.
In 2013, he made the Padres' Opening Day roster, the first of his career. He finished the season with a 2.86 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18 appearances.
He excelled against left-handed batters, holding them to an .182/.222/.273 line. He was significantly less effective against right-handed batters, finishing with a .302/.436/.512 line.
He had a 2.72 ERA in 42 appearances with Triple-A Tucson as well in 2013. According to the Rays' press release after the acquisition, he led the Pacific Coast League with a 14.0-strikeouts-per-nine-innings average.
Andrew Friedman said he has both “top-end ability” and the “potential to be a high-leverage full-inning reliever” during a conference call with reporters (h/t 620WDAE.com).
If Boxberger can put his talents on display, he could earn the final spot in the bullpen going into the season.
Kevin Kiermaier made his major league debut last September with the Tampa Bay Rays. The 27-year-old outfielder could make his first Opening Day roster with a strong performance this spring.
Kiermaier was promoted to Triple-A Durham toward the end of 2013. In 39 games, he had a .263/.338/.423 line with seven doubles, six triples, one home run and 13 RBI. He showcased some speed on the bases with seven stolen bases in addition to his 14 with Double-A Montgomery.
He was named the Montgomery Biscuits' MVP and the Best Defensive Player in the Rays system at the conclusion of 2013.
His defense is an asset that the Rays could use as a late-inning substitution with the loss of Sam Fuld.
Since he had such a short stint in Triple-A, though, it would not be surprising if he starts the year in Durham.