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How Big of a Concern Are Alex Colome’s Visa Issues?

By Robbie Knopf
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Entering spring training in 2014, Juan Carlos Oviedo was considered a lock to crack the Tampa Bay Rays’ Opening Day bullpen. After all, the Rays had signed him to a major league contract and viewed him as a fascinating reclamation project. However, Oviedo was delayed exactly a month by visa issues and didn’t report to Rays camp until March 14th. It wasn’t until April 21st that he was finally ready for big league action.

This year, Alex Colome has also been talked about as a sure bet to make the Rays’ roster. He is out of options, and the Rays intend to keep him, whether as a member of their rotation or bullpen. While they would have hoped in 2011 or 2012 that he would be an established big leaguer by now, they still look at his repertoire and see an impact pitcher. However, is he set to follow Oviedo’s path and not be big league-ready until late April? Has he already been eliminated from the Rays’ rotation race?

Colome is the only player expected in Rays camp who has not yet reported. The good news is that he is currently throwing bullpen sessions at the Rays’ complex in the Dominican Republic, and he has more time to get ready than Oviedo had last year.

Alex Colome has little to gain being in America until spring training games actually start–a bullpen session is a bullpen session no matter where you’re throwing it. It has to be nice for Rays pitchers to have Jim Hickey watching them and providing the occasional tip. However, those tips are not going to make or break Colome’s rotation case as he will be able to get advice when he does arrive.

The Rays’ rotation competition will truly start getting away from Colome if he has not made it to camp eight or nine days from now. Luckily for him, Major League Baseball’s schedule for this year will give him some extra time.

The Rays’ first spring training game is on March 5th in 2015 compared to February 28th in 2014. Opening Day is also later this year as it will be on April 6th compared to March 31st (with the later spring start obviously being a byproduct of that). With that in mind, if Colome can get to camp by March 5th or even March 6th or 7th, there is a good chance that he will be fine.

Considering Colome never falsified his identity like Oviedo did, we can optimistic about the chances of his visa issues being resolved in the next week. If Alex Colome has a month before the season to show the Rays what he can do, he will certainly remain a candidate for their fifth starter job and would likely remain the favorite.

What if Colome is delayed longer than that? His worst-case scenario is probably that he would arrive around March 21st, which would be a month after he was supposed to report, exactly like Oviedo. It seems hard to believe that this situation would take that long to resolve, but once we shift that to March 14th (when Oviedo did actually arrive), it looks a little bit more realistic.

The critical question is this: by when does Colome need to be ready? Looking at the Rays’ schedule, they don’t need a fifth starter until April 15th, so if Colome was ready a month after March 14th, he would hypothetically technically be fine. However, in order to have him in the big leagues on April 15th and not later, they would need to put him on the 15-day DL retroactively, which would prevent him from pitching in major league spring training games after March 31st.

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Such an arrangement could still be feasible. Colome would only be missing one start, and he could just pitch a simulated game anyway. Then he could start the second game of the Durham Bulls’ season on April 10th before appearing for the Rays on April 15th. That is an ambitious timetable, but because Colome is healthy, isn’t starting from square one since he pitched in Winter Ball, and would be throwing before he arrives in the US, it would not be impossible.

A simpler alternative would be for Colome to return for the second time the Rays need a fifth starter on April 25th. Then he could get that last spring training start and also pitch a couple of additional games at Triple-A before joining the team. That is far from crazy, and if Colome arrives in America in mid-March or earlier, he should have no problem being ready by that point.

The most dangerous part about this whole situation for Colome is that the Rays would be giving his competitors a closer look. Colome has a better combination of stuff and polish than pitchers like Nate Karns, Burch Smith, Matt Andriese, and Enny Romero, but what if one of them dominates this spring? The Rays may need a starter for that April 15th game anyway, and if that pitcher impresses them, they could send Colome to the bullpen when he returns.

In all probability, though, unless say Smith comes to camp with a newly discovered wipeout slider, it is hard to believe that anyone but Alex Colome will be the Rays’ fifth starter by the time May rolls around. He is playing with fire with these visa issues, but luckily for him, the Rays’ schedule and his advantage over the other fifth starter candidates should be enough to help him get past them unscathed.

Next: RCG Mailbag: Will the Rays Regret Trading Sean Rodriguez?

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