It’s the time of year where players get released, and unfortunately, nine players have seen their careers end in the Rays organization. But after getting this far, they all deserve a moment in the sun. Let’s go through them and discuss why they got to this point and where they will go from here.
Jake Floethe- A 6th rounder by the Rays out of Cal State Fullerton in 2011, Floethe had the odds stacked against him as a senior sign but the potential to possibly overcome that. Floethe had Tommy John Surgery in 2009, but when healthy, he showed a good sinker in the low-90′s and a curveball and a changeup that both had potential as well. However, the injury woes were something he just could not get past. A back problem marred what was a strong full-season debut for Low-A Bowling Green in 2012, and then his 2013 season ended in late July with some type of arm injury. His stuff and command took a step back this season, and between that and his age (he’ll be 25 in May), the Rays had seen enough. Floethe is the perfect type of senior sign, one that won’t sign for very much but still has potential, but unfortunately, this time it did not work out. Floethe’s stuff is good enough that if he can pass a physical some other team may come calling. If not, Independent Ball could be next for Floethe and that may not be such a bad thing for his career–give him a year or two to get healthy, and maybe he could return to a big league organization as a relief candidate.
Eric Fredrick- Signed by the Rays this season as an undrafted free agent, Fredrick came out of Oklahoma Baptist University after a senior year that saw him strike out 77 batters in 67.1 innings pitched, although his ERA was just 4.26. Fredrick was a lefty was a deceptive delivery and solid movement on his pitches even if he did not throw overly hard, and the Rays decided to give him a shot. The 24 year old was sent to the Gulf Coast League, where he managed a 1.93 ERA in 28 innings pitched. However, his strikeout to walk ratio was 22-13 even against players 4 or 5 years younger than him, and the Rays had seen enough. Fredrick was thankful just to be there, and best of luck to him wherever he ends up.
Stepan Havlicek- Signed out of the Czech Republic at just 16 years of age back in 2010, Havlicek was the Rays’ first ever European signing and has shown some potential. Staying around the zone with his fastball that has touched 91 MPH and showing some promise with a curveball as well. However, Havlicek took until his fourth pro season this year to get out of the Gulf Coast League, and the Appalachian League proved to be a rude awakening as he managed a 5.68 ERA and just a 14-9 strikeout to walk ratio in 27.2 innings pitched. Havlicek will mean more to the Rays moving forward as a symbol of their desire to find talent wherever it lies, and hopefully the next similar signing will experience better results.
Ryan Henley- The Rays’ 40th round pick in 2013 out of Azusa Pacific University, Stephen Vogt‘s alma mater, Henley is a second baseman with a little pop in his bat and serviceable defense. The issue, though, is that Henley was a senior sign without much plate discipline. He managed just a 23-7 strikeout to walk ratio even in his improved senior year, and then he proceeded to hit to just a .217/.256/.313 line in 90 Gulf Coast League plate appearances, striking out 12 times while walking only 3 times. Then again, the fact that Henley got drafted after hitting .148 as a sophomore and .185 as a junior was pretty impressive, and even that tough time in the GCL is something that so many us wish we were good enough to do.
Austin Hubbard- A 10th round pick by the Rays in 2010, Hubbard has seen everything fall apart since his 2.51 ERA in 46 Low-A appearances in 2011. Hubbard returned to Bowling Green for 2012 but his performance was not impressive enough for him to get a chance at higher levels. Then this season, Hubbard pitched well briefly at High-A Charlotte to get a bump to Double-A Montgomery, but with an opportunity to get on the big league fast-track in his hands, Hubbard failed spectacularly, managing just a 7.67 ERA with more walks than strikeouts in 28 appearances. Hubbard, 25, has always featured a very good slider, but he has trouble locating his 90-93 MPH fastball and that has made it tough for him from the start. We will have to see if a team likes him enough to give him a mulligan after that bad of a year.
Corey MacDonald- Another undrafted free agent signee by the Rays this year, MacDonald, 22, utilized solid command of his high-80′s sinker to come out of nowhere for the University of Hawaii in 2013, going from just 5 appearances as a junior to 14 starts with a 4.08 ERA in his senior year. He was good enough that the Rays signed him, giving him a chance to prove that his strong senior year could be the start of a successful baseball career. MacDonald even pitched decently in 7 appearances for the Hudson Valley Renegades, managing a 3.72 ERA with 9 strikeouts and 3 walks in 9.2 innings pitched, even saving two games. But the Rays did not see the stuff to succeed at higher levels and elected to cut ties. Congratulations in order for MacDonald nonetheless to getting to pro ball at all.
Neil Schenk- Left-handed pitchers always have a better chance than most because lefty specialists will always be in demand. With a deceptive delivery, a fastball in the high-80′s, a curveball, and a changeup, Neil Schenk was a couple strong seasons away from getting a big league chance. After a 2.97 ERA in 42 Double-A appearances in 2012, it seemed like Schenk would be ticketed for Triple-A in 2013 and the major leagues when a need arose. Instead, Schenk went back to Double-A Montgomery and got lit up to the tune of a 7.03 ERA and a 27-21 strikeout to walk ratio. Schenk, 27, could catch on with another team willing to look past his rough year, but it’s scary how much can change in one year.
Steven Tinoco- In 2013, Steven Tinoco tossed 2.1 innings 3 appearances and did not allow a single run. The issue: Tinoco is not a pitcher. A 34th round pick back in 2010, Tinoco has lasted in the Rays organization as long as he has thanks to his versatility. He can play all four corner positions and he is even above-average defensively at first base. The issue has always been his bat. Tinoco has no power at all and his OPS has declined each year as a pro until it crept down to .476 as Tinoco spent most of his 147 plate appearances this year at Double-A. That was too little offense for even an organizational backup. Tinoco, even at 25, is probably not a prospect but could catch on with a team appreciated his positional flexibility as they fill out their minor league rosters.
Mostly fuzzy feelings after hearing about all these released players because of how much several of them were able to get past to make it into pro ball. The only real disappointment is Floethe, who really seemed like he had a chance after an excellent full-season debut in 2012 and may be the member of this group most likely to amount to something in his professional career. We so often lose sight of the fact that even minor league teams only have so much room on their rosters and there are always going to be times when you release a player even as the voice in the back of your head tells you he still has a chance. Best of luck to all the released players and while their careers in the organization are over, Rays fans will root for them wherever they end up.