March 20, 2012; Jupiter FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Will Rhymes (10) is tagged out by Miami Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramirez (2) during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Minor League Review: Will Rhymes

Will Rhymes has never been much of a prospect. He has never made any of the Top 100 Prospects lists. Maybe due to his lack of size (he is generously listed at 5’9” and 155 lbs), Rhymes has been generally overlooked throughout his career. Yet, his production shows that he has consistently outplayed expectations.

Named to the All-Conference First Team for the Colonial Athletic Association in 2004 while playing for William & Mary, Rhymes came to the attention of the scouting world based on his performance in the Cape Cod League. Initially brought in as a temporary player, Rhymes ended up being named as a reserve to the mid-season All-Star team before making the postseason All-Star squad. These efforts culminated with his being drafted in the 27th round of the 2005 amateur draft by the Detroit Tigers.

Rhymes began to hit from the moment he was assigned to the minors. Initially sent to the Oneonta Tigers of the New York/Penn League, he finished tied for sixth in batting average, hitting .328 while stealing 14 bases. Promoted to the West Michigan Whitecaps of the Midwest League for 2006, his batting average dropped to .261. However, he finished ninth in hits (132) and third in runs (80), while swiping another 23 bags.

The 2007 season was split between the Lakeland Flying Tigers of the Florida State League and the Erie SeaWolves of the Eastern League. Between the two stops, he had a combined batting average of .291 and stealing 29 bases while only being caught 4 times. He ranked third in the FSL in OBP (.386) and sixth in batting average (.304), while walking more than he struck out.

2008 saw Rhymes begin the season with Erie, where he spent the majority of the season. He tore up the Eastern League, finishing sixth in batting average (.308), tied for fifth in triples (7), third in runs scored (76), and first in hits (158). That hit total was good enough to place second all-time in team history. Rhymes earned a late season promotion to the Toledo Mud Hens of the International League, where he appeared in six games.

In 2009, he spent the entire year at Toledo. His batting average dropped to .260, but he still got on base at a respectable rate (.324 OBP), and stole 20 bases. He opened 2010 back at AAA, and began to produce at his accustomed level. In 95 games, he hit .305, stole 22 bases in 27 attempts, had 7 triples, and walked more than he struck out. This earned him a call-up to the Tigers on July 25 when Carlos Guillen was placed on the disabled list, only to be sent back down when Guillen returned. Rhymes would return on August 19, and became the Tigers every day second baseman. In his 54 games in Detroit, he hit .304, walked in 6.6% of his plate appearances, and finished third in the American League in Rtot (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, explanation here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/about/total_zone.shtml ).

This was good enough for him to earn the job as the Tigers Opening Day second baseman in 2011. However, Rhymes scuffled out of the gate, hitting only .235 with three extra base hits in 29 games before being sent down to Toledo on May 2, where he remained for the rest of the year. Back at Toledo, he found his batting stroke, and finished the year hitting .306.

The Tigers made Rhymes a free agent on December 12, 2011. On January 19,2012, he was signed by the Rays on a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Presently, he is back in the International League, playing for the Durham Bulls.

So, what makes Rhymes interesting, when his career has thus far played out as a career AAA player? First, the Rays have him playing at third base, in addition to second, on a semi-regular basis. Second, Rhymes is a scrappy, speedy player with good contact skills, and a solid glove. He has been overlooked his entire career for the more ‘prototypical’ baseball players. Simply, the Rays love players like that. Rhymes is in a perfect spot for the type of player he is, and may see action as a utility infielder for Tampa if one of the regulars gets hurt.

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