Internal Candidates for the Tampa Bay Rays’ Final Two Bench Spots
The Tampa Bay Rays’ 2014 roster is almost set. Right now, the Rays are set at every starting spot, with every starting position player being under team control from at least two more years. Jose Molina and Sean Rodriguez also figure to be locks for two of four bench roles. For the last two spots, however, there are many possible candidates. The Rays could elect to go outside of the organization to pick up players to fill out their bench, but they have plenty of internal choices as well. Here’s a look at some internal candidates to round off the Rays’ roster.
It seems that Guyer might have the inside track to finally crack the Rays’ roster as the 4th outfielder, especially after the Rays elected to non-tender Sam Fuld. Guyer has nothing left to prove in Triple-A after posting a 135 wRC+ there in 2013. It is no doubt that Guyer is an effective hitter, however his main problem has been his inability to stay healthy–he missed most of 2012 with a shoulder injury and part of 2013 with a broken finger. If he makes the team, Guyer figures to be a platoon mate with David DeJesus in left field given his knack for hitting left-handed pitching (330/.411/.498 line in 247 Triple-A plate appearances vs. lefties). While his arm has declined because of his shoulder injury, Guyer still offers above-average defense due to his plus range. He does have experience playing all three outfield spots, which is something the Rays will certainly value with Sam Fuld gone. He also adds to his value by his ability to steal bases (he stole 22 in 2013). Guyer can do a little bit of everything and the fact that he is out of options means that the Rays have to keep him on their roster or expose him to waivers. While he won’t be handed the job in spring training, look for Guyer to make the Rays roster out of the gate unless he is not healthy or the Rays make an unexpected signing.
Sands was recently claimed off of wavers from the Pirates to fill the 40-man roster spot vacated by the loss of Chris Gimenez. Another right-handed hitting outfield, Sands figures to be Guyer’s main competition in spring training. Like Guyer, he has mashed his way through the minors, however he saw a bit of a hiccup in 2013, hitting to a below average 82 wRC+ in Triple-A. But Sands still managed a .222/.364/.432 mark against lefties, and Sands certainly has ability with the bat as shown by a .264/.347/.487 line in 1337 Triple-A plate appearances. Sands’ 2013 season seems like a fluke given his past numbers and look for him to bounce back with the bat in 2014. Sands’ main difference from Guyer is that he does not have the same defensive ability, as he figures to be simply an average defender. He does offer the ability to play first base, but with James Loney, Sean Rodriguez, and even Ben Zobrist having prior big league experience at first, the Rays wouldn’t need him to play the position. Sands could knock Guyer off of a roster spot with a strong Spring Training, but with him having an option while Guyer does not, he seems likely to start at Triple-A and become the Rays’ first option from Durham in the event of injury.
Always known as a plus defender, Kiermaier finally made huge strides with the bat in 2013, as he posted a 134 wRC+ in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A and posting a 112 wRC+ there. These offensive strides have the Rays very excited about his future, and even led to Baseball America ranking him the Rays 10th best prospect. Kiermaier will have to prove that 2013 was not a fluke with the bat, but if so he could even push Desmond Jennings out of a starting role in the future. He probably will never hit for a crazy amount of home runs, but his good line drive swing allows him to hit for good doubles and triples power. Right now, Kiermaier has the defense to win a Gold Glove in the big leagues, which means he will at bare minimum become a 4th outfielder, which is where he could fit in in 2014. However, I imagine the Rays will start him in Triple-A to further his development with the bat given his long-term potential. Kiermaier is a long shot to make the team unless he plays so well that the Rays don’t have a choice but to add him to the roster.
For now, Lobaton remains on the Rays 40-man roster despite the re-signing of Jose Molina and acquisition of Ryan Hanigan. It is possible that Lobaton will be dealt before spring training even starts, but if the Rays do not get a decent offer for him he could remain with the team to start spring training. Carrying a third catcher is not unprecedented in the big leagues, although it is more plausible in the National than the American League as NL teams have an extra bench spot because they do not have a DH. Having three catchers on the roster allows a manager to be more flexible, as he can pinch hit one catcher for another while still having one more in reserve in case of injury. That is especially the case because Lobaton was actually an above average hitter in 2013, posting a 103 wRC+, so he could be a pinch-hitting option, especially against right-handers, whom he posted a .736 OPS against. Lobaton is still a below-average defender, though, which hurts his case to become the Rays’ third catcher. The Rays do already have a very flexible roster, with both Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez having the ability to play every infield position, and that could make them more confident about carrying an extra catcher rather than an extra infielder. Ultimately I doubt the Rays would carry three catchers on their roster, but given their usual creativeness when constructing a roster, it isn’t something to entirely count out.
Belnome was acquired by the Rays in a minor trade prior to 2013 and impressed in his first season in the Rays organization. Belnome hit to an outstanding .300/.408/.446 line (143 wRC+) in 533 plate appearances with the Durham Bulls, slaming 35 doubles and 8 homers while driving in 67. He fits the Rays profile perfectly, as he has the versatility to play third base, second base, and first base. Fom there, however, Belnome’s flaws quickly become apparent. What stands out from his 2013 numbers is that he has very little home run power, mostly standing out for a gap-to-gap approach and strong plate discipline. That does not seem so bad because of his positional flexibility, but he is not a good defender at any of the positions he plays, with first base being his best fit. Belnome lacks the power to play third base, first base, or DH on any sort of regular basis, and his plate discipline will not help as much as hitters realize they can challenge him and beat him in the zone. Belnome has been a consistent hitter, evidenced by the fact he has never posted below a 106 wRC+ in his minor league career. However, his lack of power and poor defense has kept him from the big leagues thus far in his career. The nail in the coffin for his case for a roster spot in begin 2014 is that he is left-handed, making it impossible for him to platoon with Matt Joyce or David DeJesus. Nevertheless, the Rays saw enough in Belnome to add him to their 40-man roster, and even if he is a longshot to make the team out of spring training, we should see him at some point next season.
Figueroa is already at a disadvantage because of the fact he is not currently on the Rays’ 40-man roster. However, the Rays will not hesitate to add a player that proves himself worthy. Figueroa does fit the Rays’ bill very well, both offensively and defensively. With the bat, Figueroa is the high OBP, low strikeout player that the Rays love, walking more than he has struck out each of his three season in the Rays organization. However, he is limited by a lack of power. Defensively, Figueroa can play second base and third base extremely well while being passable enough at shortstop, and also played 6 games in the outfield in 2013. One thing to note is that despite being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft the last two years, Figueroa has not been selected. Teams have not regarded Figueroa very highly. On the other hand, Joe Maddon described him as “very good ‘baseball player'” last spring training, so the Rays may think of him more than most. Because he is not on the 40-man roster, he is on the outside looking in for a roster spot. But, given his low strikeout tendencies and versatility, the Rays will give him a shot to win a spot out of spring training, especially if they don’t sign another infielder this offseason.
Like Figueroa, Anderson is at an immediate disadvantage due to the fact he is not on the 40-man roster. Add in the fact that Anderson is another corner outfield/first base/designated hitter type that hits from the left side of the plate, and he is already way on the outside looking in. That being said, Anderson’s bat is too good to ignore. In 2012 and 2013, Anderson was a well above-average hitter in Triple-A, posting wRC+ marks of 123 and 134 respectively. He has also gotten better over each of the last three years, which leads to optimism his bat could even be even better in 2014. The other side of the coin, though, is that he is another hitter without a ton of power and it took him three years at Triple-A to start walking at all. Anderson is a long shot for a roster spot, as the Rays have better left-handed options, but he will be given a shot at a roster spot in spring training, if for no other reason than to provide healthy competition.
Note: Tim Beckham might have been a favorite for a bench spot had he not torn his ACL in a freak offseason accident. He will miss most, if not all of 2014.
As you can see, the Tampa Bay Rays have plenty of candidates to fill their final two bench spots, some more likely to make the roster than others. The Rays certainly could elect to go outside of the organization to sign another bench player, but they do not have to. Picking two players from this list would allow the Rays to save money and apply it elsewhere while still getting quality options. All of the above players will be given a shot to win a roster spot with the Rays in spring training and it will be interesting to see who end up sticking with the Rays.