Today is Monday, March 17–just two weeks from opening day. After three games on the weekend, the Rays have a day off to catch their breath and evaluate their talent. Barring injury or a trade for a major league talent like Nick Franklin, ten position roster spots are taken. The outfield of David DeJesus, Desmond Jennings, and Wil Myers, infield of Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, and James Loney, DH Matt Joyce, and catching tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina are set. The Rays signed Sean Rodriguez in the off season for $1.475 million. Rodriguez can play all over the diamond and is even the emergency catcher. We must figure his place is secure as well. If the Rays carry 12 pitchers, like they did most of last season, that only leaves two spots left.
The team needs one more infield utility man, ideally someone who can back up short, third, and second, and perhaps play outfield in an emergency. Logan Forsythe, who came from San Diego in the Alex Torres trade, may have the inside track there. He made his first start in left field on Saturday and made a nifty play in the field. He can back up third, short and second, two, and showed some power in San Diego. If Forsythe falters, the Rays still have Jayson Nix, Wilson Betemit, and Cole Figueroa in camp. All of them have strengths and weaknesses. The players picked for the last two spots should complement each other.
If the Rays pick a player like Forsythe to join the roster, that leaves them with several options. They could add another utility infielder, and let Joyce, Rodriguez, Zobrist, and Forsythe handle outfield backup duties. Or they could pick a right-handed outfielder and first baseman who can platoon with David DeJesus in left, Matt Joyce at DH, and give James Loney an occasional day off against tough lefties. The Rays have a player in camp who can play that role who has played every day this spring. That player is Jerry Sands.
Sands played 16 games, and is tied for the team lead in homers with 3. His average last week was .450. He’s cooled off a little bit, but he’s still hitting .370 with a .414 on base percentage. Sands hit a homer for the go-ahead run during the ninth inning to win a game against the Blue Jays. The 26 year-old, 6’4” 225 pounder hit very well in the minors aside from a rough 2013. For the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Triple-A team in Albuquerque in 2011, he hit .278 with 29 homers and 88 RBIs, splitting time between Albuquerque and Los Angeles. In 2012, he spent almost all of his season at Albuquerque, hitting .296 with 26 homers, 107 RBI, and a .375 on base percentage. You would think that a prospect who hit that well would earn the chance to earn big league playing time, but the Dodgers wound up giving Sands just 251 big league plate appearances. They sent him to the Boston Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford trade.
The Red Sox apparently didn’t want him either, trading him following 2012. Then Sands did not have a good year in 2013, hitting only .212 with 9 home runs split between two teams in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. That’s why he was available for the Rays to pick him off waivers. They are reaping the benefits now.
In Sands’ limited time in the majors he hit just .204 against righties but .316 versus lefties. The last three years in the minors, meanwhile, he managed nearly identical OPS’s of .836 and .838, providing hope that he could hit batters from both sides. Sands would initially play only against lefties if he made the roster, but he has the ability to work his way into more time. But before Sands can get there, he has to deal with Brandon Guyer. Guyer is also a right handed hitting outfielder and is out-of-options. Guyer is batting .333 for the spring with a .385 OBP. It appears that he would have the inside track because he has shown good ability in the past and the Rays would have to designate him for assignment if he did not make the roster. However, if Sands keeps hitting well and showcasing just how good he can be, it will be very hard for the Rays to send him to the minors.
Jerry Sands faces an uphill battle to beat Guyer for the final roster spot, but he has done everything in his power to contend for a role. Regardless of what happens at the beginning of the season, it could be only a matter of time until he gets a chance in the major leagues.