Rays Spring Training Report: Full Update of Surprises, Busts and Injuries
The Tampa Bay Rays are two weeks away from the start of the 2014 season.
They entered spring training looking for a fifth starter, final reliever and final bench player to fill their Opening Day roster.
Even though the roster was essentially set before Grapefruit League began, there is still a lot of incentive for players to put forward great effort in the exhibition games.
The primary reason is that you never know when a need will arise that will require a minor league player to move up to the majors. Jeremy Hellickson’s surgery is a perfect example of a position that was filled that turns into an immediate priority need to fill.
Players not on the 40-man roster or in the organization’s farm system utilize spring training to try to earn a job. It is a job interview for many players with only few openings available annually.
Spring training also marks the highest level of optimism for franchises and fan bases.
For the Rays, there are high expectations set for new acquisitions including catcher Ryan Hanigan and relievers Grant Balfour and Heath Bell. There are even higher expectations for returning players to improve from the previous season, such as pitchers Chris Archer and Matt Moore.
On the other hand, there are lesser known prospects that have low levels of expectation that put together great performances in the spring. Stephen Vogt was one of those players for the years a few years ago in spring training and earned himself a spot on the Opening Day roster after an injury to Luke Scott.
Based on the level of expectation comes the titles of surprise players and busts in spring training.
Here is an update of the surprises, busts and injuries so far this spring for the Rays.
Surprises: Jerry Sands and Jeremy Moore
Throughout the first half of spring training, outfielder prospects Jerry Sands and Jeremy Moore have been pleasant surprises for the Tampa Bay Rays. The two power hitters share the team lead with three home runs each.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was very impressed with the duo this spring and shared his thoughts with Bill Chastain from MLB.com.
"They happen to be hitting the ball really well right now. But beyond that, they grade out well in other areas, too."
Sands has been a very impressive hitter. His .370/.414/.852 line includes his team-leading four doubles and seven extra-base hits. He is tied with James Loney for the team lead with eight RBI.
More importantly to the Rays, he is a versatile player who has played the majority of spring training (13 of 16 games played) at first base. In his remaining three games, he played in the corner outfield. He has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage for the spring.
The Rays are short at organizational depth at first base, creating a potential opportunity for Sands should an injury occur during the season.
Moore is hitting .286/.333/.714 with three doubles and four RBI after 13 games of Grapefruit League play. Six of his eight hits have been extra-base hits, including a massive home run against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Moore is an outfield prospect who, along with Sands, has proven he has the defense to match his offensive potential. Maddon mentioned to Roger Mooney from the Tampa Tribune how the duo’s abilities have impressed him this spring.
You’re not just trying to develop a DH. You see that these guys can actually play defense, then it becomes more exciting to see what they’re doing offensively. This is March. You got to understand that when it comes to the offensive performance, you want to see more of it during the regular season. But, from a scout’s perspective, which I’m being right now, these guys, what they do plays, offensively and defensively, so it becomes more intriguing.
As Opening Day gets closer, the opportunity and at-bats for these two prospects will become fewer and farther between. They have certainly made the most of the beginning of the spring to provide a glimpse into their potential futures with the team.
Surprise: Brandon Gomes
When your rotation includes Grant Balfour and Heath Bell, it is easy for a young reliever to have a strong spring quietly.
That has been the story of Brandon Gomes this spring for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 29-year-old right-hander has a 0.00 ERA and has only given up one hit in his 5.2 innings pitched. In his five appearances, he has eight strikeouts and held opposing batters to a .056 average. Additionally, his 0.35 WHIP is the best among Rays pitchers who have appeared in more than two games.
Rays manager Joe Maddon told Bill Chastain from MLB.com how impressed he is with Gomes’ performance this spring.
How about Brandon Gomes? Nobody's even talking about this guy. But gosh, he can't throw the ball any better than he is right now. He cannot. He's made some adjustments in his delivery -- his command has gotten better, the sharpness on his pitches. Really fun to watch.
Gomes came into the spring battling for the final spot in the Rays’ rotation. With the late arrival of Juan Carlos Oviedo due to visa issues in the Dominican Republic, there could be a second spot open in the rotation that Gomes has a great chance to fill.
Surprise: David DeJesus
David DeJesus is on pace to have the greatest spring training of his career in 2014. In seven games, he has a very impressive .556/.579/.833 line with three doubles, a triple and three RBI.
When facing right-handed pitchers this spring, the 34-year-old outfielder is batting .583/.615/.917 in 12 at-bats. Over his career, DeJesus has a .289/.365/.447 split against righties.
Not only has he put together quality performances, he has had some fun in the progress.
DeJesus came into the spring as the anticipated starting left fielder for the Rays and has not disappointed so far with a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Even with the expectation that he would be the starter, his offensive outburst is still a welcome surprise for the Rays this spring.
Bust: Erik Bedard
Erik Bedard would be the easy answer for the Tampa Bay Rays to fill the fifth starter vacancy while Jeremy Hellickson recovers from elbow surgery. He provides a starting pitcher with major league experience and allows other contenders for the spot, Jake Odorizzi and Cesar Ramos, to not deviate from the team’s plans.
With Hellickson expected to return from injury toward the end of May, Bedard would likely be needed for roughly nine starts. The Rays could then trade him for a prospect and gain a new asset in the process.
The problem is Bedard has not looked good in his four games, including two starts, in Grapefruit League play. He has given up 17 hits and nine earned runs and walked five batters in 11.1 innings.
His 7.15 ERA and .347 opponent batting average are the worst among Rays’ starting pitchers.
The Rays could still end up using Bedard as the fifth starter despite his lackluster performances. Rays manager Joe Maddon has said the team is evaluating the process over earned run averages in its evaluation of the pitching staff.
When speaking with Dennis Maffezzoli from the Herald-Tribune, Maddon claimed to not know Bedard’s statistics.
I couldn’t even tell you what his ERA is. I couldn’t tell you. That’s where these guys get caught up with. It’s so much different for us. We talk about the process all the time. When a guy comes in the door sometimes, you actually feed that to people, they don’t necessarily understand.
Bedard has a March 23 opt-out clause in his minor league contract which provides him with options if the Rays choose to not use his talents in the rotation. He also shared his thoughts with Maffezzoli.
I’m not really worried about that. I’ll do what I can. The decision is theirs. They’ll do what they want and that’s fine with me.
The Rays' decision on the fifth starter will likely come before Bedard’s opt-out date.
Bust: Matt Moore
Matt Moore has had some struggles this spring.
His 6.35 ERA is the worst among Rays’ starting pitchers already on the 40-man roster.
Moore has pitched 5.2 innings over three starts and allowed nine hits and four earned runs and walked five batters. Opposing hitters have enjoyed a .346 average against the 24-year-old pitcher.
There is a glimpse of hope, however. Moore lasted 3.1 innings and allowed only two hits with three strikeouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates last Thursday.
After the game, he described his battle to find his rhythm to Alan Dell from the Bradenton Herald.
In the beginning, I was missing low. I slowed myself down and things were a little bit more in synch and I was more in rhythm. We will clean those up. It was good to get up and down four times. I was missing low, last time I was missing high.
This time, I was able to bring up the ball and was around the knees a little bit more. I wasn't living at the knees, but it was nice to have those pitches around the knees, and (Ryan) Hanigan did a great job of freezing it right where it crosses
Moore still has two weeks to find his rhythm before the season starts and the games count.
Bust: Wil Myers
Wil Myers has not looked like the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year so far in spring training.
The 23-year-old outfielder is hitting .154 in 26 at-bats after 10 games of Grapefruit League play. So far, his offensive production is limited to four hits, one RBI and seven strikeouts this spring.
For comparison, he finished spring training in 2013 with a .286/.333/.429 line with three doubles and a triple.
Myers left the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates early on Saturday with a bruised quadriceps in his right leg. The team will likely take it light on him to ensure he is ready and healthy for the regular season.
Bust: Grant Balfour
Grant Balfour has looked terrible pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays in spring training. The 36-year-old closer has a 13.50 ERA in the four games he has pitched in so far.
Balfour has given up five hits, five earned runs and walked three batters in the 3.1 innings he has pitched.
Rays manager Joe Maddon told Marc Topkin from the Tampa Bay Times he is not worried about the poor start that Balfour is having this spring.
Grant has not really pitched as well as he can. I really believe he’s minus a lot of adrenaline right now. Once he gets going in the latter part of the game, you’re going to see the numbers you’re used to seeing with him. I’m not worried about Balfour.
When the Rays signed Balfour, it appeared to be a solid acquisition and replacement for Fernando Rodney. He saved 62 of 67 opportunities with the Oakland A’s over the past two seasons.
The biggest concern for teams in spring training is losing a player to injury. The Tampa Bay Rays have three players to keep an eye on as they recover from injuries. Players who were dealing with injuries earlier in the spring, including Ben Zobrist and David DeJesus, have already returned to action.
Jeremy Hellickson had elbow surgery on January 29 and is expected to be out until May. Joe Smith and Marc Topkin from the Tampa Bay Times provided an injury update after his first throwing session on March 12.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson had his first throwing session since Jan. 29 elbow surgery and said it went well.
"Very encouraging," he said. "It felt really good."
Hellickson made 25 throws at distances of 45-60 feet six weeks to the day after Dr. Koco Eaton removed "loose bodies" from his elbow in an arthroscopic procedure. He will continue throwing on an every-other-day basis.
The Rays' former No.1 overall draft pick Tim Beckham had surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee in December.
Beckham told Bill Chastain from MLB.com that he hopes he can return to the Rays this season.
A reconstruction normally takes six-to-eight months, and I think I'm on schedule right now. Everything is going well. We're taking our time with it, but I'm definitely pushing it as well. So I'm looking forward to getting back as soon as possible and helping this team win some games.
Rays outfielder Wil Myers is back in the lineup Tuesday night after bruising his quadriceps over the weekend.
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 18, 2014