Rays Find Triple-A Depth and More in Wilson Betemit

By Robbie Knopf

Wilson Betemit has had his moments as a major league player. In 2006, he slammed 18 home runs between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers and another for the Dodgers in the ALDS. Then five years later, he mashed to a .296/.346/.529 line (133 OPS+) in 133 plate appearances after being traded to the Detroit Tigers to help them run away with the AL Central. For his career, Betemit has been a solid hitter, managing a .267/.332/.442 line (104 OPS+) including a .279/.347/.472 line against right-handed pitching. He has never topped 375 plate appearances, but he has slammed double-digit homers four times and has proved his value as a platoon player capable of playing third base, first base, and left field. Wilson Betemit isn’t perfect, but he has proven himself as a solid option big league teams can resort to. To have a player like that at Triple-A would be a real coup, and that is what the Rays are looking at after signing Betemit to a minor league deal.

Betemit’s career is in a rough situation. He missed nearly all of 2013 after spraining his PCL in his right knee, and he was not a good enough player for teams to give him the benefit of the doubt and offer him a starting job. Betemit will try to make the Rays out of spring training, but the chances are that he will not make the cut. Maybe then he will be able to opt out to pursue another opportunity–but with teams unsure about his knee, Betemit’s best decision could be to head to Triple-A for a time. The Rays would love to have him. Most players stuck at Triple-A have their flaws. Jason Bourgeois and Rich Thompson didn’t have enough power, and Ryan Roberts and Mike Fontenot did do nothing beyond hitting lefty pitching. Betemit does as well, but his combination of skills give him enough to be a strong bench player. If the Rays face an injury and Betemit proves himself healthy, the Rays could feel confident resorting to him. If Betemit does not come back 100%, it would be unfortunate for him but the Rays might be able to keep him at Triple-A the entire season.

Betemit’s struggles with lefty pitching (even as a switch-hitter) do not make him a great fit on the Rays’ current roster. The Rays already have David DeJesus and Matt Joyce who are weak against lefties, and they will look to fill out their bench with primarily right-handed hitters to compensate. The Rays already have players at all of Betemit’s positions to play against right-handers: Evan Longoria at third, James Loney at first, DeJesus in left, and Joyce at DH. Where would Betemit even play? There would have to be an injury to one of them for the Rays to give him an opportunity. But that is always a possibility, and it would not be the worst thing if Betemit proves himself ready and the Rays do not have a spot for him. How often to you get to sign a player to a minor league deal and potentially trade him for a prospect? Wilson Betemit carries value for the Rays whether as Triple-A depth, a big league option, or a trade chip. Minor league signings do not get better than that.