In 2012, the talks regarding a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays seemed as promising as ever thanks to the intriguing proposal for a stadium in the Carillon business park in St. Petersburg. However, talks stalled and once again nothing could come together. This year, the Rays and local leaders in the Tampa Bay area hope to find different results. As Bill Varian and John Woodrow Cox of the Tampa Bay Times wrote about on Sunday, the Rays are set to meet with the Hillsborough County Commission on January 24th before meeting with commissioners from Pinellas County on January 29th. Hillsborough Commission Chariman Ken Hagan described the dialogue as “critically important” for the future of the Rays in Tampa Bay. St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster, though, was not impressed.
“I can only infer the Tampa Bay area he’s talking about is St. Petersburg.”
Foster is doing his best to protect the city’s interest- it would be a major blow for St. Petersburg if the Rays were to leave Pinellas County and move to say Tampa in Hillsborough County- but the more pressing issue that Hagan has been focused on is that if a new stadium agreement isn’t reached, the Rays may leave the region altogether, a scenario that nobody hopes will materialize. Hopefully these meetings with the county commissioners can get the ball rolling for talks regarding a new stadium and give us some clarity as to where the Rays’ stadium saga stands and in which direction it’s heading.
It’s not quite time for pitchers and catchers to report- that’s in a little under a month- but there will be Rays players, at least future ones, working out and receiving instruction at the Trop over the next four days. Per the Rays’ official site, the Rays begin their 4th annual Winter Develop Camp today, and it will feature 31 prospects including some of the very best the Rays have to offer in their system. Here’s the complete list of participating players.
Pitchers: RHP Jeff Ames, RHP Damion Carroll, RHP Alex Colome, LHP Frank De Los Santos, RHP Nolan Gannon, RHP Taylor Guerrieri, RHP Jesse Hahn, RHP Parker Markel, LHP Mike Montgomery, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Felipe Rivero, LHP Enny Romero, RHP Nick Sawyer, and LHP Blake Snell.
This group features quite a few of the Rays’ top prospects, including all four players acquired in the James Shields trade, Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard, and 15 former first or supplemental round picks, most notably Taylor Guerrieri, ex-No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham, and 2012 first rounder Richie Shaffer. Most interesting among the group has to be Nick Sawyer, who was selected way down in the 40th and final round of the 2012 MLB Draft but impressed from the moment the Rays signed him, managing a 0.28 ERA and a ridiculous 59-14 strikeout to walk ratio in 20 appearances and 32 innings pitched working his way from Rookie ball all the way to Low-A Bowling Green by the end of the year thanks to an electric mid-90’s fastball and dynamic 11-to-5 curveball. Overall, 4 of the 31 spent most of 2012 at Triple-A, 2 were at Double-A, 3 were at High-A, 7 were at Low-A, 6 were at Short Season-A, 7 were at Advanced Rookie, and 2 were at Rookie. These 31 are a very different stages of their development, but the camp will feature basically all the Rays’ top prospects- Hak-Ju Lee is the one notable absentee- and hopefully the early instruction will help them get primed for big performance next season.
At the development camp, the Rays have to deal with not just the talent of those prospects, but the mental aspect of the game as well. The Rays had a productive 2012 as a system, but it was marred by six drug-related suspensions including Beckham and Sale, both of whom will attend the camp. Four suspensions were for performance-enhancing drugs, all amphetamines, while two players were suspended for a drug of abuse. Rays Director of Minor League Operations Mitch Lukevics addressed the issue talking to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.
“It stunk, very disappointing,” Lukevics said. “I’d be lying to say anything different. As much education as we do, and when we tell them all 100 times, we tell them 101 times. We spend as much time on the education of ‘do’s and don’ts’ and derailers as much as we do hitting or pitching or throwing. It was very disappointing, there’s no getting around it.”
The Rays hope to see the maturation of their prospects on and off the field next season and move on from the horrific display that occurred in their system in 2012. It was shocking to see players like Sale and Ryan Brett, both of whom had previously been known for their character, test positive and you can only hope that they will realize the magnitude of the mistakes they made and spend the rest of their professional baseball careers proving that the mistake they made won’t define who they moving forward.