No matter who they sign off the free agent market, the Rays always find themselves with damaged goods. Whether it has been players coming off of injury like Joaquin Benoit and Luke Scott, players coming off horrific seasons like Fernando Rodney and James Loney, or perceived headcases like Yunel Escobar, when the Rays’ sign a player, there is always some issue that they have to hope they can get around. They can’t afford the star players or even just the solid ones coming off big years, so their player evaluation abilities are put to the test as they hope to find players less appreciated by other teams who could emerge as major contributors to their success. And that process extends beyond just major league players. The Rays have to scour the Independent Leagues and the waiver wire searching for potential impact players. And in Jared Mortensen, they may just have found one.
Mortensen, a 25 year old 6’0″, 210 right-hander, was the ace of NAIA school LSU-Shreveport and put up excellent numbers in his senior season in 2012, going 12-2 with a 1.67 ERA in in 15 starts, 2 relief appearances, and 113.2 innings pitched, striking out 139 while walking just 24. But NAIA competition is far from even Division I and scouts were unimpressed with a short right-hander with a fastball in only the 87-89 MPH range. Mortensen, though, was determined to keep his baseball career going. He signed with Grand Prairie in the Independent American Assosciation and pitched extremely well, going just 4-6 but with a 3.77 ERA, a 9.4 K/9, a 2.2 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 15 starts, 2 relief appearances, and 101.1 innings pitched. According to Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, Mortensen’s velocity on his fastball had jumped all the way to 90-94 MPH and the Rays took notice. Mortensen told LSU-Shreveport’s website about the moment when Rays Assistant of Baseball Operations Systems Matthew Hahn gave him a call saying the Rays wanted to sign him.
“I heard the news and couldn’t believe it. I had finally got that call I had been waiting for. I feel like my life is completely surreal right now. It’s like I’m living a dream where I can feel everything that is going on. It’s incredible.”
Signing with the Rays was an incredible moment for Mortensen. But the Rays finding him wasn’t an incredible event but simply part of the job. They found a 25 year old right-hander with a plus fastball that may get even better as they move him into relief, and they had to sign him. They will keep working with him to command his pitches and improve his secondary stuff, and if his development works out, they may have pulled a big league bullpen option for two years down the line out of their hat.