You have to go back to 2008 to remember the last time Scott Kazmir was ever the pitcher Rays fans grew accustomed to seeing as he blew away opposing hitters like no Rays pitcher before him, blossoming into the Rays’ ace from 2005 to 2008. Just as memorable as Kazmir’s performance on the mound was his guarantee that the Rays would make the postseason following that fateful 2008 season, something we know played out even better than even Kazmir could have thought. But Scott Kazmir isn’t just a memory- having just turned 29 years old, he’ll head to Cleveland Indians came in a week and a half as he begins his bid to return to the major leagues. He showed in Winter Ball in Puerto Rico that his fastball velocity is back to what it was during his peak, and it’s not just Kazmir’s velocity that has returned- his swagger has as well. Talking to the New York Post’s Mark Hale, Kazmir was confident not just that he could return to the major leagues, but that he still had it in him to be one of the best pitchers in the major leagues.
"“I’m gonna keep tuning myself and I’m gonna be one of the best pitchers in the game. If it doesn’t happen [in camp], if it doesn’t happen right then, then it just wasn’t in the cards right there. I don’t know when, but it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna happen, where everything’s just gonna click and I’m gonna take off.”"
Kazmir’s last bold prediction turned out to shock the world. It’s going to be tough for Kazmir after making just 1 major league start the last two years, but Rays fans can wish him only the best as he looks to turn that dream into reality.
The whole situation around Fernando Rodney in the past couple of days has been pretty crazy, but now we finally know what he was trying to say. Rodney told Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com that he did not have an agreement for an extension in place for the Rays, but he expects a deal to be finalized over the next month. Rodney’s value is seemingly at an all-time high right now- he is, after all, coming off a record-setting 0.60 ERA season- but his season was so good that the Rays and other teams would have to point to the fact that the season could have very well been a fluke, and if the Rays really think that Rodney has broken through and Rodney is willing to settle for a reasonable rate, now may be the perfect time for a deal. It might have to be a situation like Joel Peralta where he turns down money to stay in Tampa Bay, but if Rodney wants to stay with the Rays that much and is willing to accept a team-friendly deal to do so, expect that a real announcement of a Rodney extension will be forthcoming.
Long-time MLB starter Kevin Millwood announced that he is retiring from baseball. That’s sad, but how does that relate to the Rays? As it turned out, Millwood told Richard Walker of the Shelby Star that he was only willing to keep playing for one of the two teams closest to his Georgia home, the Atlanta Braves and the Tampa Bay Rays, and when neither of them showed interest, he decided to retire. Unfortunately for Millwood, the two teams closest to home for him happen to be two of the teams with the best pitching depth in baseball- but if injuries strike the Rays’ pitching staff, it could be interesting to see if they call Millwood and see if he’s interested in giving the major leagues one more go. Millwood pitched solidly for the Mariners in 2012, managing just a 6-12 record but a 4.25 ERA in 28 starts and 161 innings pitched, and if that’s how his career ends, he could certainly say that he went out on top.
To close, Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs discussed a pair of Rays prospects that he saw in Instructional League, and he made clear that a player to watch this coming season is going to be right-hander Nick Sawyer. According to McDaniel, Sawyer may be only 5’11”, 175, but he can really bring it, coming in at 93-96 MPH with his fastball and pairing it with a sharp high-70’s to low-80’s curveball and even a mid-80’s changeup that shows potential. McDaniel commented that Sawyer’s arm action is a lot cleaner than he thought that it would be, although a sharp recoil in his delivery will still likely keep him in relief. However, McDaniel concluded that Sawyer has a chance to move quickly through the minor leagues with closer potential, and it will be interesting to see how far he can go in his first full season, which will probably begin at Low-A Bowling Green.
The other player McDaniel discussed was right-hander Parker Markel, who he praised for his mid-90’s sinker a slider and changeup that show potential. However, the issue with Markel is an inability to repeat his delivery exacerbated by a lack of athleticism. Markel is a big guy at 6’4″, 220, and maybe by turning more of that into muscle he could be primed for a breakout, but until then, his future is up in the air. Nevertheless, pitchers with mid-90’s velocity and secondary pitches with potential don’t exactly grow on trees, and it would be far from a bad thing if Markel joins Sawyer as another fireballing relief prospect.