Andrew Friedman has always prioritized adding minor league depth to the ball club, and it has saved the Rays on multiple occasions. Look no farther than last year; the Rays had 10 different pitchers start a game, yet still had a very successful rotation throughout the year. With that in mind, what does the Rays’ depth look like heading into 2014?
Off the 40-man roster: Merrill Kelly
The Rays have a stacked rotation heading into 2014, especially as it looks more and more likely that they will retain Price. But, injuries will likely occur as they did in 2013. At Triple-A, the Rays have three top-10 organizational prospects in Odorizzi, Colome, and Romero that all could be in line to see starts in case of injury. Mike Montgomery is a top prospect gone bad, but he could start a game if needed, although he might soon be moved to the bullpen if he keeps up his poor performance. Alex Torres is almost surely slotted into a bullpen role, but he has been stretched out in winter ball this year, and will probably be stretched out in spring training in case injuries were to occur. Ramos was in the Rays bullpen in 2013, but he has some starting experience in the minors and has been stretched out by the Rays in the past, so he could be a last-resort option. Kelly has not been considered much of a prospect in his career, but he did have a breakout performance at Triple-A in 2013 and he could be the sleeper on this list. Overall once again the Rays have put together great depth at starting pitcher. Realistically, the first 8 pitchers on that list could start in a big league rotation with a lot of teams, with Romero not quite being big league ready and the rest not quite there talent-wise. This depth makes the Rays feel very comfortable to start out the season.
As you can see, the sheer number of names on this list shows that Friedman has done an outstanding job putting together ‘pen depth. There is also a chance the Rays add further by signing a guy like Grant Balfour. The first five names are pretty much locks to make the roster if they are healthy, and the rest will be given a shot at winning the final two spots. Of these, the most likely to win a spot are Lowe, Lueke, Gomes, and Ramos in no particular order. Any of these pitchers could see time in the bullpen in the event of injuries, although Norberto is working his way back from Tommy John and won’t be ready right away and Liberatore is fighting an uphill battle because he is not on the 40-man roster. If they need a high-leverage reliever, it is not out of the question to move Colome or Romero to the bullpen, although the Rays will want them to develop as starters. The bullpen depth is looking great going into 2014.
Hanigan and Molina are going to be the Rays’ two catchers heading into 2014. Lobaton might be kept until late spring training in case of injury, but he will be dealt before the season starts unless Molina or Hanigan go down. Solis and Rodriguez were both signed to minor-league deals this offseason. Both are defensive-minded catchers, and will likely split the catching duties at Triple-A. As a position, this might be the Rays’ most worrisome. Because Lobaton is out of options, he is a sure bet to be gone from the major league team before the season. Hanigan and Molina are both very capable catchers, but Hanigan did struggle with injuries last year and Molina is not durable. Solis and Rodriguez are capable defensive catchers, but both are hardly inspiring, and if Hanigan goes down, one will be forced to split starting duties with Molina. In all likelihood, Molina and Hanigan remain healthy and all is well, but the Rays do not have amazing catching depth, although few teams do.
The Rays are fine at first base. Loney is a very durable player, and will see the lion’s share of work at first base. Rodriguez and Zobrist also have big league experience at the position, and could fill in for Loney in the event of an injury. Belnome has nothing left to prove with the bat in the upper minors, but his main problem has been the lack of a defensive home. He doesn’t quite have the power to profile as a regular at first base, but he could fill in just fine if his name is called upon, and the Rays have shown they are willing to roll out first baseman that lack power. In addition, it might be a good idea to get defensively challenged outfielder Matt Joyce some reps at first base in spring training just in case as his outfield time looks limited. The Rays have nothing to worry about at first in 2014.
Other than Belnome, every player on this list can play shortstop, which is a big benefit to the Rays. Escobar and Zobrist are the Rays’ de-facto starters at short and second, and Rodriguez is a sure bet to gain a bench role. After that, it seems Nix has the inside track to gain the Rays’ final spot. Lee is coming off of a huge knee injury, but is probably the Rays’ top positional prospect and could force himself on the big league scene soon. Figueroa is not on the 40-man roster, but he is a very capable defender who won’t hurt himself with the bat, and is a player Joe Maddon loves. Belnome is a great hitter, but struggles defensively, and Olmedo is a minor league veteran who would be a solid bench fill-in if needed. Overall, the Rays have done a great job of adding versatile infielders. They should have no problem filling in for an injury to their starters.
On the 40-man roster: Evan Longoria, Sean Rodriguez, Ben Zobrist, Vince Belnome
Off the 40-man roster: Jayson Nix, Ray Olmedo, James Darnell, Cole Figueroa
This list features many names from the middle infield list. Obviously, Longoria will start the majority of games at third, with Rodriguez there to give him a day off. Zobrist and Nix both have big league experience at the position as well. Figueroa, Belnome, and Olmedo will provide further depth from Triple-A. Darnell was a minor-league signing this offseason, and despite struggling with injuries the last couple of years, he has solid upside at the position, and could fight his way to a big league bench spot with a solid showing in the minors to start the season. Andrew Friedman loves his versatility, and he has show this by acquiring many players capable of playing third on top of the middle infield positions. He has four players with major league experience at third, so he should be just fine heading into 2014.
The Rays have huge depth at outfield, already starting with seven players likely to be on the big league roster that are capable of playing the outfield. Every outfielder on the 40-man roster can play centerfield with the exception of Joyce. Kiermaier is the one name on the 40-man roster that won’t start in the big leagues, but his combination of plus defense and a bat that is beginning to come into its own leads people to think he could unseat Jennings as the starting centerfielder in the future. Sands has a huge bat and plays decent defense, but hasn’t proven himself in the big leagues and had an awful 2013. Darnell has upside with the bat, although most of his playing time has come at third base, but he can play the outfield if needed. Christian provides a veteran option out of Triple-A, and is a solid all around player. Overall, Andrew Friedman has once again outdone himself with outfield depth.
So what does all of this mean? Well, the Rays are well suited for injuries in 2014. Teams will always experience injuries, but the really good teams can always make up for them because of their great depth. The only position that worries me is catcher, but the Rays should end up being fine at the position. At every single position, the Rays have players that are more than deserving of a major league roster spot that will begin the season in Triple-A. The Rays already have an exciting big league club going into 2014; add in the incredible depth and Rays’ fans should be really excited to start the year.
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