When you’re working with as low a payroll as the Rays have, a key is to find undervalued players with potential knowing that some of them will pan out and provide exponentially more value to your team than the money they’re signed for. The Rays look to do that yet again by signing right-hander WIl Inman and outfielder Nick Weglarz to minor league contracts.
Inman, who will turn 26 in February, was the Brewers’ 3rd round pick in 2005 and spent 2012 at Triple-A Pawtucket in the Red Sox organization, going 1-3 with a 2.23 ERA, an 11.2 K/9, a 6.3 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 35 relief appearances and 48.1 innings pitched. Inman was a top prospect for years in the Brewers and Padres organization before seeing shoulder and elbow injuries derail in his career, including elbow surgery (although not Tommy John Surgery) back in 2010 that has caused his walk rate to jump from 3.2 per 9 pre-surgery to 5.0 afterwards and necessitated a move to the bullpen. Inman, who is 6’0″, 215, throws out of a deceptive low three-quarters arm slot and throws the same three pitches that once made him one of the top prospects in baseball, a fastball, a changeup, and a slurvy breaking ball. Inman’s fastball is in the 91-93 MPH range and Inman once stood out for his precise command of the pitch but now struggles to throw it for strikes. Inman’s best pitch is his plus changeup with great arm action that has the top fall out of it as it approaches the hitter, but he became increasingly dependent on it as his fastball control faded and although it continued to miss bats, hitters were able to recognize it more easily as he began throwing it as crazy rates. Inman’s breaking ball, meanwhile, manages to miss a good amount of bats with big break but Inman leaves it up in the zone too often. Overall, Inman has the deceptive delivery of a righty specialist but really can get batters of either side out, with his deception being a huge factor against righties and his changeup making lefties look foolish. It’s no coincidence that hitters managed just a .203 average and a .651 OPS against Inman in 2012, a .657 OPS by lefties and a .646 OPS by righties. There’s certainly a high probability that Inman will continue walking a crazy amont of batters and doom his big league prospects, but if the Rays can find some way to get Inman’s fastball control to anything near what it once was, he has the ability to be an electric bullpen arm that can rack up the strikeouts. The Rays are signing Inman to a deal with no risk at all, and if all goes well, they just made another overpowering reliever surface out of thin air.
Weglarz, who will turn 25 in December, was, coincidentally, another third round pick from the 2005 MLB Draft, although he was selected by the Cleveland Indians. (That round was pretty stacked, with the best selection being Brett Gardner by the Yankees and other contributing big leaguers including Brian Duensing and Micah Owings.) Weglarz had a solid season for the Indians’ Double-A Akron affiliate in 2012, posting a .239/.349/.413 line with 22 doubles, 14 homers, 58 RBI, and 140 strikeouts against 58 walks in 109 games and 436 plate appearances. Weglarz’s big 6’3″, 240 frame makes him sound like a first baseman and ESPN’s MLB transactions page lists him as such, but he has actually never played first base his entire professional career, playing primarily left field. You wouldn’t guess it from his 2012 numbers, but Weglarz stands out most for his outstanding batting eye that helped him post a 443-322 strikeout to walk ratio entering 2012. So why did it deteriorate so much this past season? The first answer is that Weglarz had to be frustrated considering he was starting the season at Akron for the fourth straight year. But more encouraging was that he swung more aggressively with better bat speed than before, leading to his most home runs since 2009. The Rays are signing Weglarz are hoping that Weglarz can combine the plate discipline he was known for with the better bat speed he found in 2012 to project as a solid big league first baseman. Weglarz has managed an OPS over .750 five of the last six years with his plate discipline playing a big role, and while he’s never going to be a star even in the best-case scenario, the Rays hope he could be a solid big league first baseman who draws a lot of walks while showing 15-20 homer power. In addition to finding a way to combine his power and plate discipline, Weglarz has several other issues to contend with. First off, has to continue to stay on the field- he dealt with injury problems that held him to 128 games between 2010 and 2011, but he stayed relatively healthy in 2012 and hopefully that is behind him. He has just 209 career plate appearances at Triple-A so he’s going to have to prove himself at that level before thinking about a big league job. And lastly, he needs to learn how to play first base after playing there just once in the last 8 years, in a game for Team Canada in the Beijing Olympics. He went 4 for 4 with 2 home runs in that game, so hopefully that’s a sign of things to come. Weglarz has plenty of things to work on, but it’s a no-risk deal and the Rays hope he can put it all together and be an internal option at first base at some point this season. His potential isn’t quite explosive, but he has the ability to be a big league contributor at a major position of need for the Rays.