The injuries just keep raining down on the Rays. And the result is that we’re seeing new face after new face. The Rays acquired Drew Sutton from the Pittsburgh Pirates (as the Tampa Bay Times and others reported) and in corresponding moves placed Jeff Keppinger on the DL with a broken toe following a freak injury, when a foul ball hit him in the dugout, and lefty John Gaub, currently at Durham, was designated for assignment.
It has a whirlwind of events for Sutton, who signed with the Braves as a minor league free agent this offseason, was traded to the Pirates, and then less than 24 hours later was traded to the Rays for a player to be named later. Sutton, who turns 29 in late June, is the type of player the Rays love: a super utilityman. In 86 major league games and 764 minor league games, Sutton has seen solid playing time, at least 10 games, at every position other than centerfield, pitcher, and catcher. Sutton is an infielder by trade and is best at second and third base although he is good enough defensively at shortstop as well. The Rays will definitely utilize that.
At the plate, Sutton is a switch-hitter with good plate discipline, a little speed, and a little pop. In 2008 at Double-A in the Astros organization, Sutton posted a .317/.408/.523 line with 39 doubles, 4 triples, 20 homers, 69 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in 27 tries in 133 games. He also walked 76 times while striking out 98 times. That’s Sutton absolute upside, but he hasn’t been anywhere near that good at Triple-A, let alone the big leagues. In 245 Triple-A games, Sutton has posted just a .275/.379/.416 line with just 15 home runs and 12 steals in 22 tries. Yep, both of those are less than that one season at Double-A. Tommy Rancel of ESPN Florida made the comparison between Sutton and Ben Zobrist, and that’s especially interesting because Zobrist and Sutton were teammates in the Houston Astros organization. Zobrist didn’t break into the big leagues to stay until age 27 (and then he had his ridiculous 2009 season at age 28), but Zobrist had a much more impressive minor league pedigree than Sutton, posting a .318/.429/.459 line compared to Sutton’s .280/.378/.434 and walking 250 times to 194 strikeouts and stealing 58 bases in 78 tries. Sutton did hit for more power in the minor leagues than Zobrist did, but Sutton’s power has still disappeared at Triple-A. It was unlikely to begin with that Zobrist broke out, and it’s even less of a possibility that a slightly older and less talented player in Sutton follows suit. So what can Sutton be? He can be a capable utiltyman who is a professional hitter. He’s more of an Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez-type than a Ben Zobrist. Sure, Johnson and Rodriguez have played well overall thus far in 2012, but they’re likely to regress and even if they don’t, they’re never going to be All-Stars or get MVP votes. Sutton, if he can stick in the big leagues, projects as a utilty player who can play all over the place with halfway decent hitting ability and who wouldn’t hurt a team too much if he needed to start at a position for an extended period. The Rays have stockpiled utility players like Sutton and we’ve seen Zobrist and to a lesser extent Rodriguez and Johnson break out. We’ll see what Sutton can do if he can stick in the big leagues.
Keppinger is the 10th player on the DL for the Rays, their most since 1998. Keppinger had a .295/.330/.398 line to begin 2012 with especially good at-bats against lefty pitching. The Rays will miss him especially when they face lefties because of his ability to put the ball in play and occasionally get some big hits.
Gaub, 27, is a lefty reliever who hits the low to mid-90′s with his fastball with a sharp slider. Gaub has struck out an incredible 12.5 batters per 9 innings in 187 minor league appearances, but he has walked 5.8 batters per 9 as well. 2012 for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate in Durham has been more of the same as he has posted a 11.3 K/9 but a 6.3 BB/9. Gaub has great stuff but he needs to improve his control significantly if he’s ever going to make it in the big leagues. Now that he is designated for assignment, Gaub has 15 days to be traded or placed on waivers. The Rays could keep Gaub if he passes through waivers unclaimed by removing him from the 40-man roster and allowing him to stay at Durham. Gaub is a candidate to be claimed by a team that likes his repertoire, but with his horrific control, you never know.