On Saturday, the Tampa Bay Rays made their first cuts of spring training, sending eight players down to the minor leagues. The players cut included three on the 40-man roster in Enny Romero, Mike Montgomery, and Alex Colome. Pitchers Matt Andriese, Merrill Kelly, and Victor Mateo were also sent to minor league camp along with outfielder James Darnell and catcher Luke Maile.
The Rays cut 4/5th of their likely Triple-A rotation in Romero, Montgomery, Colome, and Andriese. This strong group is headlined by Romero, who has probably the highest upside of any pitcher in the Rays’ system. However, command troubles have plagued him thus far in his career, and he is going to need to significantly cut down on them soon to reach his full potential. Montgomery was a consensus top-25 just three years ago, but poor performance has dropped him off the map. He seemed destined for the bullpen after another poor performance in 2014, but a strong Arizona Fall League showing and a good start to the spring might lead to the Rays giving him one last shot. If the Rays still wind up sending him to the bullpen, Kelly would then slot into the rotation. Kelly doesn’t have huge upside and has flow under the radar his whole career, but a breakout season in his first go at Triple-A has the Rays thinking he might have what it takes to pitch in the big leagues, even if it is just in the bullpen.
Colome and Andriese are also solid prospects that will add to a strong Triple-A rotation. Colome has the higher upside of the two given his great arsenal. However, he cannot stay healthy, and has only surpassed 120 innings one time in his minor league career. He needs to have a healthy season this year to prove he can be a starter. If not, he could be destined for the bullpen, although he has the upside of a closer if he does have to make the switch. Andriese probably has the lowest ceiling of this bunch, but he also has a pretty high floor. If everything pans out, he is a number 3 starter in the big leagues. He has never had significant injuries in his career, and also features very good command (2.1 BB/9 in his minor league career), which makes him more of a sure thing than any of these other pitchers. He needs a bit more consistency with his mechanics, but if he can do this he could quickly present himself as the Rays first option out of Triple-A in the event of injury. Mateo was decent in Double-A last year, but he faces an uphill battle to reach the big leagues, and is probably the biggest no-brainer of all of these cuts. Overall, this is a solid bunch of pitchers that the Rays cut, but with the 5th starter battle being largely between Jake Odorizzi, Erik Bedard, and also Nate Karns (who is more of an outside shot than the previous two), the Rays simply didn’t have a way to get all of them quality innings.
The Rays also cut two intriguing players in Darnell and Maile. Darnell was highly regarded in the San Diego Padres system thanks to solid upside with the bat. However, a career filled with injuries led the Padres to release him last summer, and the Rays subsequently brought him in on a minor-league deal this offseason. The third baseman hasn’t played yet this spring, an indication he probably isn’t healthy, but if he can regain his health he will be a player to keep an eye on. Maile was one of the surprises in Rays camp this year, as he played last season at just Low-A Bowling Green. However, he did manage a great season there, putting up a solid .283/.351/.402 line on top of being rated the best defensive catcher in the Midwest League by Baseball America. He needs to prove his bat and defense will play at a higher level, but with another solid year in 2014 he could be talked about quite a bit next offseason. The Rays obviously like him quite a bit based on his inclusion in big league camp.
Inevitably, good players are going to be cut, and that is what we saw with the Rays first cuts of the exhibition season. It is actually quite impressive that so many talented players were sent back to minor league camp in just the first round of cuts, as 55 players still remain in camp (which does not include RP Juan Carlos Oviedo, who is still sorting out visa issues). Andrew Friedman has done a great job of stockpiling depth and talent for the future, and that is truly shown by the players that the Rays were forced to cut on Saturday.