February 22, 2013; Peoria, AZ, USA; San Diego Padres third baseman James Darnell (22, left) hits a single in front of Seattle Mariners catcher Jesus Montero (63, right) during the first inning at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Rays Players Who Could Surprise in Spring Training

At this point, it seems that the Tampa Bay Rays have a good idea of who their team is going to be. With the exception of a bench spot or two and two bullpen spots, the roster is pretty much set. However, every spring brings players who perform extremely well and work their names into contention for a roster spot. What Rays players could surprise this spring with the Rays?

Kevin Kiermaier

Kiermaier has already seen action in a pair of games for the Rays, both as a defensive replacement in two crucial games at the end of the season. Kiermaier’s defense has never been questioned, as he plays plus defense in centerfield. His bat has always been the part of his game that needs work, but Kiermaier finally started addressing that in 2013. Kiermaier’s bat took off as he hit .307/.370/.434 (134 wRC+) in Double-A before moving up to Triple-A and hitting .253/.338/.423 (112 wRC+). If Kiermaier can come into spring training and prove that last year wasn’t a fluke with the bat, he could find himself with a roster spot. Right now, he hasn’t been mentioned too much in connection with the Rays’ 25-man, as most people believe he needs a bit more development with the bat. Brandon Guyer is currently the favorite for the final outfield spot, but he has struggled with injuries in the past. Kiermaier would have to have a very good spring training to convince the Rays he is major league ready, but if Guyer is not healthy we could very well see Kiermaier break camp with the Rays. The Rays rarely let top prospects sit on the bench, but in a year that the Rays are looking to make a World Series run, Kiermaier might present a better option than anyone else.

C.J. Riefenhauser

Riefenhauser is in a similar boat as Kiermaier. He had been decent in the lower minors, but had never really stood out as a prospect. However, he opened this season by throwing 51 innings of o.51 ERA ball in the Double-A bullpen before moving up to Triple-A and throwing another 20.2 innings of 3.05 ERA ball. After the Alex Torres trade, the Rays only have one lefty that is a lock to make the Rays’ roster in Jake McGee. The Rays also have Cesar Ramos, but Joe Maddon showed last year that he doesn’t really trust Ramos and you have to wonder about his chances of making the team. If Riefenhauser impresses in the spring, he could end up as the second lefty in the Rays’ pen. He has setup man potential, and while he may not quite be there yet, he would be a decent option in middle relief. Watch out for Riefenhauser in spring training.

Kirby Yates

Yates is another player that has never received much attention in his career, but he has very little left to prove in the minor leagues. Last year in 61.2 innings in relief at Triple-A, he posted an outstanding 1.90 ERA and a 13.6 K/9, although he did walk 3.4 batters per nine innings. The main reason he has never received too much attention is because of his small stature. However, it is hard to argue with those results. The Rays have other options for the final two bullpen spots in Mark Lowe, Ramos, Brandon Gomes and Josh Lueke, all of whom have prior big league experience. Also, Ramos and Lueke are out of options, so you could easily argue that Yates should be sent to Triple-A to maintain depth. However, with an outstanding spring training we could see Yates in a big league uniform to start of the year.

Steve Geltz

Another under the radar reliever, Geltz was acquired prior to 2013 in exchange for Dane De La Rosa. In 41 games with Triple-A last year, he posted a 2.81 ERA to go along with a solid 10.7 K/9 and a 3.2 BB/9. Like Yates and Riefenhauser, he could impress in spring training and gain a roster spot. It might take an injury or two combined with a great performance, but with Juan Carlos Oviedo not a sure thing to be healthy, it is not something out of the question. He will probably end up back in Triple-A with Yates and Riefenhauser, but unusual circumstances could lead us to see Geltz gain a roster spot out of spring training.

James Darnell

Of all the names on this list, this one is the most interesting, and possibly the most far-fetched. Darnell has struggled with injuries in the San Diego Padres organization, playing only 54 games in the last two years. However, there is no doubt that the third baseman has ability. His last full season played in 2011, he put up a .310/.406/.547 line between Double-A and Triple-A. All Darnell has done during his minor league career is hit. Of course, he is a big injury risk, but if he is healthy, he could play his way into a roster spot, even if that is not out of spring training. He does have the ability to play the corner outfield on top of third base, and if the Rays think he is a legitimate contender for a roster spot they could also attempt to teach him first base. Right now it appears that Sean Rodriguez and Logan Forsythe have the inside track to the two utility men spots, with Jayson Nix also waiting in the wings. However, with a great spring training or an injury or two, we could see Darnell in a Rays’ uniform.

Cole Figueroa

Figueroa often gets overlooked among Rays minor leaguers, but he is deserving of a look for a roster spot. Last year he put up a .286/.361/.367 line at Triple-A Durham. He is never going to be a major leaguer because of his inability to hit for any kind of power. However, he can play any position on the diamond but centerfield, first base pitcher, and catcher. He walks more than he strikes out, which is something the Rays value more than about just any other team. He is never going to put up gaudy numbers at any level, but he could hit .260-.270 in the big leagues while drawing some walks off of the bench. Despite being eligible, he has not been drafted in the last two Rule 5 drafts, which is certainly something to worry about. However, Joe Maddon has always praised the way Figueroa plays. It would probably take an injury or two, but we could see Figueroa in a Rays’ uniform, if not out of spring training then potentially during the season.

The Tampa Bay Rays have several  players who could be surprises in Spring Training. Despite the roster looking fairly set, there are always players who perform so well that they force the Rays’ hands. The players on the list are a testament to Andrew Friedman’s ability to not only build a big league club, but a Triple-A one as well. Don’t be surprised if one of these players plays his way to a roster spot out of spring training.

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Tags: James Darnell Kevin Kiermaier Kirby Yates Tampa Bay Rays

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