With pitchers tossing side sessions in Port Charlotte, Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey have to be taking a long look at their relief pitchers. The bullpen is one of the few areas on the team where jobs are open for the Tampa Bay Rays and there are plenty of candidates. How do they all stack up for the short and the long term? Let’s take a look.
A Possible New Role for Erik Bedard: Bedard signed a minor league contract with the Rays as insurance against Jake Odorizzi having a bad spring training. He’s a mid-thirties starter who is coming off two terrible years, and clearly his better days are beyond him. But as a lefty who still has good stuff, that does not mean that his career is over. It may be time for Bedard to give up starting and become a reliever. Bedard has an almost-identical platoon split for his career, making him a poor candidate to be a lefty specialist, but with a fastball-curveball combination that has helped him to a strikeout rate of 7.8 or more batters per nine innings each of the last nine years, Bedard still has something to give in short stints. We have to think that the Rays will give him a shot to win a bullpen role, and he would have the added value of being available as a long reliever or a spot starter.
Is It Mike Montgomery’s Year to Go to the Bullpen? Montgomery came over to the Tampa Bay Rays organization in the Wil Myers deal as a relatively minor piece. Once a number one prospect for the Kansas City Royals, they had soured on him after a couple of bad years at Double-A and Triple-A and really just tossed him in on the deal. He is still seen as a top ten prospect on some Rays prospect boards, but he is falling further back in the pack as new prospects come along. But it is not time to give up on him yet. Montgomery is almost an identical situation to where Alex Torres was entering 2013–a failed top prospect coming off a terrible year but still showing a fastball with movement and an excellent changeup. He will likely start 2014 back at Triple-A, but why can’t Montgomery take over Torres’ role in the bullpen at some point this season?
The Unknown Reliever: Jeff Beliveau is a left-handed relief pitcher on the Rays’ 40 man roster. Yet when you mention his name to the average Rays fan, you draw a blank stare. Who is this guy? Beliveau was purchased from the Texas Rangers at the end of the 2012 season. He had spent most of his six-year career in the minors with the Cubs and pitched well enough for them to earn a cup of coffee in the show. He has pitched a total of 363 minor league innings with a composite 2.80 earned run average, striking out 12.1 batters per 9 innings. In 2013 at Durham, he had a 2.40 ERA and a ridiculous 15.0 K/9. Why doesn’t Beliveau have more hype? It’s because he’s not a prospect and doesn’t have the pure stuff to back up his strikeouts. Even worse, he has an option left so the Rays can stash him at Triple-A in 2014. Baseball can be a cruel game–but we have to hope Beliveau will get his chance at some point.
Bullpen depth at Durham: The Rays have never had a lot of prospects in the bullpen at Durham in any one season, but taking a look at the young arms in camp, that is finally changing. Durham’s opening day bullpen will likely include Steve Geltz, Kirby Yates, C.J. Riefenhauser, Beliveau, and Adam Liberatore. Brandon Gomes, Mike Montgomery or Merrill Kelly could also be added to the mix. It’s a nice mixture of left and right handers, all of whom had good years in the minors in 2013 and will be looking to get even better. Look for the hot hand to get a mid-year call up.
Visa Madness: It happens every year. A group of players can’t get out of the Dominican Republic because they can’t get a work visa. This year the group includes Juan Carlos Oviedo and Juan Sandoval. Neither of these guys is assured of a job and you would think they would want to be here when pitchers and catchers reported. So why didn’t they start the process earlier? Why doesn’t the Dominican Republic, after years of this happening, have a fast-track for a ball players to obtain a visa? It’s a Latin American mystery. Oviedo will hope to prove himself healthy enough for a spot in the big league bullpen when he arrives while Sandoval will aim to pitch well enough in spring training to convince the Rays not to send him back to Double-A.
It is shaping up to be a very interesting spring training for relief pitchers in Tampa Bay Rays camp. The games start this Friday and the action on the field will really tell the tale. Who will make the team and who will we see before the year is through?