Category Archives: Tampa Bay Rays

rays

news from Rays camp

AL BEast Notebook – March 20

- Rays closer Fernando Rodney saved the eighth and his seventh game for the Dominican Republic as the DR beat Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic Championship on Tuesday night. Rodney gave up just one hit in those seven scoreless performances.

- The starting rotation is starting to shape up. Pitching prospects Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi were sent down to the minors last week, leaving Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez contending for the number five starter spot. In his last two games, Hernandez has given up three runs (two earned) in each, along with eight strikeouts, one walk and eleven hits in nine innings. Meanwhile, Niemann has allowed one run in each of his last two games, along with six strikeouts, three walks and eight hits in eight innings of work. Niemann is currently in the lead but both pitchers ought to have a couple more starts of audition before the season starts.

If Jeff Niemann wins out, the Rays would continue an amazing streak of sticking strictly to homegrown talent in their rotation. According to Chris Cwik, the last time the Tampa Bay Rays used a free agent starter was eleven years ago. Roberto Hernandez would end that streak.

Whoever it is, they will join David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb in the rotation.

- Evan Longoria (.387 with five doubles in eleven games) and Luke Scott (.375, three homers and four doubles in nine games) are hitting well this spring for the Rays. Infielders Kelly Johnson (.147 with ten strikeouts in 34 at bats) and Sean Rodriguez (.195, eleven strikeouts in 41 at bats) are not.

- The Rays are fortunate to continue to have a healthy roster with no key players injured. The only player dealing with any semblance of hurt is outfielder Sam Fuld, who is unlikely to get a bench spot anyway.

curtis granderson

early injuries to know about approaching Opening Day

AL BEast Notebook – March 8

It is no surprise that players sit out preseason games, pull out of the WBC or end up on the injury report with sore arms, sore legs, sore backs, etc. before such a long season. Sometimes it can be hard to keep track of who is resting and who is actually injured. Whether it is preparing for your fantasy league draft or just keeping tabs on your team, here are the situations in the AL East that you need to be aware of as Spring Training rolls along.

- Blue Jays. Third baseman Brett Lawrie is out a couple weeks with strained rib and intercostal muscles. That puts him up against Opening Day without much prep time.

- Yankees. Yes, there are a lot of names that you’ve heard about. Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are both out until mid-May.

Derek Jeter has finally been medically cleared to resume baseball activities. He was initially hoping to play in a Spring game March 10 but that is being pushed back. He will probably not be playing shortstop the first week of the season, although he is likely to start at designated hitter.

Phil Hughes is recovering nicely from the bulging disk in his back, says he experiencing “no problems,” and “feels good,” and may be ready for his first turn in the rotation when the season starts.

The bullpen is dealing with a bunch of minor issues. David Robertson slept on his shoulder wrong and Boone Logan has a sore elbow. But the other lefty in the bullpen Clay Rapada has been shut down for a couple weeks due to shoulder bursitis, making him a likely candidate to start the season on the DL.

- Red Sox. David Ortiz still feels pain in his right Achilles, seven months after suffering the injury. Before and after running around the bases a few times he is feeling soreness in both lower legs. With just a few weeks before the start of the season it is a cause for concern, even for a guy that won’t play the field.

Franklin Morales (back), right now slated as the Sox #6 starter or long reliever, played “catch” Thursday, but is still a ways off. Middle reliever Craig Breslow has a bad shoulder and is still working to develop his arm strength. Both Morales and Breslow are likely to start the season on the DL.

- Orioles and Rays: no injury concerns heading into the season.

francisco cervelli

quick and relevant Stats from Spring

AL BEast Notebook – March 2

There is plenty of news off the field. A week into Spring Training, here is what is happening on the field.

- Blue Jays’ second base battle is off to a thrilling start. Maicer Izturis is 0-12 while Emilio Bonifacio has committed three errors (Izturis has two).

- Jose Bautista homered in his first game this spring. Since then he’s 0-11.

- Joe Maddon says he’d like to see Sean Rodriguez play some in the outfield. Well, the utility player is still looking for his first hit (0-11) so he won’t be playing anywhere but AAA if that continues. Especially as Leslie Anderson is off to a hot start, 7-15 with a double, triple, home run, and 7 RBI in seven games.

- Rays’ Chris Archer, a candidate for a rotation spot, has pitched four scoreless innings. Steve Johnson has a leg up for a spot in the Orioles rotation. In two games he has given up 1 hit and no runs in three innings.

- Jon Lester has pitched five shutout innings so far, yielding just 1 hit and 1 walk. David Phelps is showing the Yankees that they can be patient with Phil Hughes’ back; he has also pitched five scoreless innings.

- Francisco Cervelli is doing his best to help Yankees fans forget Russell Martin behind the plate: he’s already thrown out 5 would-be base stealers (in 6 attempts).

- Cody Eppley has pitched in 3 games (3 innings) and given up runs in each one (7 total). He pitched okay in the Yankees ‘pen last year but he won’t make the team at this rate.

And the ever-oh-so-important stat of the spring:

- Orioles are 6-1, Yankees are 1-7

bonifacio izturis

Starting Positions Up for Grabs in the East

AL BEast Notebook – Feb 27

Spring is the time to evaluate talent, give new people a chance to show what they can do and try new things. While most starting spots and lineups are established already, there are a few position battles to keep an eye on this spring.

1. Blue Jays: Toronto acquired two second basemen this offseason, one via free agency and the other in a trade. At this point in the beginning of Spring Training it is basically a dead heat for the starting job. Maicer Izturis is a career utility infielder that has never played more than 122 games in a season. He’s a career .273 hitter with no power and moderate speed for a middle infielder, last year stealing a career-best 17 bases. He’s good-not-great with the glove. He does a lot of things pretty well; he’s fundamentally sound. Emilio Bonifacio is five years younger and has blazing speed. In 2011 as a full-time starter he hit .296 with 40 stolen bases, but did strikeout 129 times.

Bonifacio and Izturis are both switch-hitters that are moderate defensively, although Izturis is quite a bit better at second. They can play just about anywhere, but that’s pretty much a moot point as the only real opening is at second base. Izturis is a balanced player with a low ceiling. Bonifacio adds a big speed element but his batting average is unpredictable, although the last few years he is walking more and boosting his OBP.

As the Jays already have speed merchant Rajai Davis on the bench, I would start Bonifacio in the nine hole at second. Bonifacio has an on base percentage of .362 versus lefties over the last three seasons and is still on the upswing in his career. But performance in spring training could make things the other way around.

2. Orioles: The final starting rotation spot in Baltimore is wide open and there’s a whole bunch of pitchers in the running. Tommy Hunter was a long shot and had a poor first game so he’s behind the pack. But Steve Johnson, Jair Jurrjens, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland are all still possible candidates. Of that group Johnson pitched really well last year while making just a few starts (4-0, 2.11 ERA, .174 average against, 1.07 WHIP in 38 innings). Jurrjens was an All-Star in 2011 (also really good in 2009) but bombed last year. He tends to pitch lights-out every other year, so here’s hoping 2013 continues the trend. He hit 93 on the radar gun in Sunday’s game, so that’s a good sign. Arrieta, Britton, Matusz and McFarland are more likely to be fighting for a long-middle-relief role with the losers pitching in Triple-A. But anything can happen this spring and Buck Showalter is far from making a decision.

3. Yankees: Yes, Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart are fighting for the starting catcher job but let’s be real; neither is expected to do much more than catch breaking balls. The real question is in the outfield.

Curtis Granderson’s injury presents a real dilemma. Even if just for one month, it’s tough to replace a 42/115/110 guy. Brian Cashman is unwilling to use Eduardo Nunez in the outfield and does not want to bring in Johnny Damon for an audition. I sure as heck hope he doesn’t break open the piggy bank to acquire Vernon Wells’ or Alfonso Soriano’s terrible contract for a one month surrogate. That leaves Juan Rivera (34) and Matt Diaz (turning 35), two career bench players that got on base less than 29% of the time last year while providing no power or speed competing with minor leaguers that are unlikely to be ready for the Major Leagues. Perhaps Zoilo Almonte, Slade Heathcott or Melky Mesa will emerge (great trio of names, Zoilo, Slade and Melky) and we can see what they have to offer. Zoilo probably offers the most long-term potential, and has already made a little positive impact hitting a home run and throwing a runner out at third base. Thankfully and hopefully it is just for one month, but there are five guys to keep tabs on in Yankee camp.

4. Rays: It is unlikely that Wil Myers will come up to the team before May and Tampa’s roster is pretty settled. But after David Price and a trio of strong young arms (Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb) there is still one starting pitcher spot still available.

It is pretty much a three-legged race between Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, and youngster Chris Archer. Hernandez is new to town and while he has one great year on his resume (19-8, 3.06), that was a long time ago and there have been four poor seasons since. Unless he catches lightning in a bottle this spring I see little chance he gets the nod. Archer, 24, is another great young arm that showed he has great stuff in limited action last year for the Rays (29.1 innings, 36 strikeouts, just 23 hits). He’s got a great fastball and slider. Niemann is a low-risk, low-reward candidate for the final spot. His fourth season was injury-plagued but he was effective when he was out there (3.08 ERA, 1.11 WHIP). He is out of minor league options and I assume that helps his chances. I find it hard to believe that the Rays would start the season with four pitchers age 25 and under. Niemann gives them a little stability and Archer can grow some more in Triple-A, so I think they will go with Jeff. They are in conversations about possible trades, and that would thin out the competition.

david price

an Early Starting-Five Eval: Tampa Bay Rays

AL BEast Notebook – Feb 25

Youth and pitching seem to be synonymous with the Rays of the last ten years. Every year they bring up a young guy late in the season who becomes a huge part of their rotation the following year; Scott Kazmir 04-05, James Shields (straight into) 06, David Price and Jeff Niemann 08-09, Wade Davis 09-10, Jeremy Hellickson 10-11, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore 11-12. Chris Archer is the next candidate for 12-13. They traded James Shields, one of their top two arms, along with potential starter Wade Davis for hitting and pitching prospects so that leaves some openings now. With a lineup that projects to score less and a division that looks stronger, the pitching will have to be as good as ever for them to contend in the AL East. They led major league baseball (including everyone in the National League) in team ERA with a bunch of kids you probably didn’t even know, yet still fell short of the playoffs last season.

Starting Rotation

Ace: David Price (A)

2. Matt Moore (B+)

3. Jeremy Hellickson (B+)

4. Alex Cobb (B-)

5. Jeff Niemann (C-)

In the mix: Roberto Hernandez (the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona), Chris Archer

Down the road: Jake Odorizzi

Yes, you’ve heard of him. David Price is the best pitcher in the division, period. The former first overall pick won at least 19 for the second time in three years and with 20 earned the Cy Young award in the American League. The even-more-amazing thing about that 20 win season is that he had the lowest run support of any pitcher in the league. His career ERA is 3.16, which is even more remarkable when you consider he has pitched all four years in the unfriendly AL East.  The guy is a stud and there isn’t much else to say.

Not all their great young pitchers have to be first overall selections; Jeremy Hellickson (2011 Rookie of the Year) was found in the fourth round, as was Alex Cobb, and Matt Moore was an eighth round selection. 64 starts into his career Hellickson actually has a lower ERA than Price, at 3.06, with 60 fewer hits allowed than innings pitched; remarkable for a 25 year old kid. Like Price he didn’t get any run support, resulting in a disappointing 10-11 record. Unlike Price he isn’t much of a strikeout machine, and he gives up a lot of walks. But like Greg Maddux and Mark Buehrle, as a contact pitcher he’s his own best friend, winning the Gold Glove in 2012.  Sabermetric stat believers are somewhat skeptical as it seems he has been lucky; he has been among the league leaders in stranding runners two years in a row.

Maybe I’m just bitter because Matt Moore was a major disappointment on my fantasy team the first half of the season (just five wins at the break, 4.42 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) but he did turn things around in the second half. He’s just 23 and has potential to be a big strikeout pitcher (led the AL East in strikeouts per nine innings ratio) and possibly break out into the upper echelon of young pitchers. But I want to see it first.

Okay, that’s kind of the problem evaluating this Rays’ staff. Everybody is young. There’s a good chance we could have a rotation with four guys under age 26 in Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, and Archer, with the grandfatherly Price (just 27) rounding it out. The biggest thing going for them is the team reputation as we haven’t seen very much of the group. It seems any one of them could bust out with ace potential but it’s hard to tell at this point. And there is more on the way; Jake Odorizzi will likely be that late-2013-14 impact pitcher for Tampa.

There are some veterans on the team pulling for spots. Jeff Niemann (turning 30 this month) has been around a while, although nothing more than an average #5 starter. He’s coming off an injury plagued season where he suffered a broken leg and sore shoulder and made just eight starts. Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) had that brilliant sophomore season going 19-8 for the Indians in 2007 but has been nothing better than terrible since then. Now age 32 he’s got a shot but doesn’t seem to fit in with the Rays Way.

There seems to never be a shortage of great young arms in Tampa recently. But coming into a season where they just lost their workhorse (James Shields, leader in innings pitched and strikeouts the last two seasons) the young guys don’t have time to be prospects with potential; they have to be impact players now.

Overall Grade: B+

Pitching Depth: B

Biggest Strength: David Price; a bunch of great young pitchers bursting with potential

Biggest Concern: Youth; back of rotation