Scouting Notes From Spring Training: The Newcomers

The Rays had a very interesting offseason, signing a few players and making a couple trades. Who are these guys? Just about as importantly, how good are they and how do they look this spring? I got to take my first look at several new Rays on my trip down to spring training, and here are the scouting notes I took on those players.

I got my first glimpse of Fernando Rodney in a Rays uniform, and he looked the same as always. His fastball was mostly in the 95-96 MPH range with nice late movement, although it flattened out when he ratcheted it up to 97. He was working on his four-seam fastball as opposed to his sinker in this outing. Rodney’s fastball was an effective, even dominant, pitch when he was able to locate it down in the zone, something he did often but not often enough and it’s unlikely that will ever change at this junction of his career. Rodney showed his dynamic changeup at 84-85 MPH but it was only truly dynamic half the four times he threw it, showing excellent late sink, and other times he failed to get on top of it and it had less sink. Rodney worked a lot on his slider/cutter which ranged from 88-90 and it breaks too early to be a true strikeout pitch, although it could help Rodney get groundballs. We remember Rodney as being a much better pitcher than he really is because of one year where he had 37 saves for the Tigers- although he had a 4.40 ERA and 4.56 FIP that year. Rodney in actuality hasn’t posted an ERA below 4.00 since 2006 and a FIP (or xFIP) below 4.00 since 2007. Rodney is what he is: a solid major league reliever who gets some strikeouts and groundballs but struggles with control. That’s all the Rays are asking from him, and hopefully that’s what he’ll be.

Carlos Pena looks comfortable in the batter’s box and his discipline is as good as ever, but his timing is a little off, as is his defensive footwork isn’t as good as he would like. Pena was just missing pitches and looked on the verge of a breakout, which appears to be starting. How he does overall on the season is a more interesting question that I’ll have to address in a future post.

Jeff Keppinger may have his debacles against right-handed pitching, but he’s nice against lefties and he won’t miss mistakes off of right-handed either. He also hustles, something we know the Rays appreciate.

I don’t think Jose Molina will be a complete joke offensively. He’s taking some nice hacks. He’s not going to replicate the .281 batting average he had in 191 plate appearances, but he should hit at least .220 or .230 and come up with some big hits. And of course defensively, he remains special, and the young pitchers and in fact all the pitchers like working with him.

Burke Badenhop was a Rays signing I liked a lot this offseason since he’s a pitcher who throws a ton of sinkers. The alarming thing this spring training has been that he’s kept the ball up in the zone and allowed a few home runs. But after seeing him in person, I was able to figure out what’s been going on. Badenhop has been working on a four-seamer, a pitch he threw just 6 times out of his 1001 pitches in 2011. He throws the four-seamer a couple MPH faster and it has some nice run away from right-handed hitters, but he has trouble controlling and commanding it at this point. Badenhop’s sinker remains the plus pitch it has been for quite a while, featuring outstanding sink overall with nice bite as it nears the plate, and it is overpowering when he can locate it down in the zone. Badenhop’s poor results this spring have nothing to do with his standing in the roster discussion, and I fully expect him to make the team.

We’ll close out this series with notes on a few other assorted players tonight.

Topics: Burke Badenhop, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Keppinger, Jose Molina

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