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Hak-Ju Lee Among Rays Spring Cuts Who Made Impressions

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If each team’s only priority was to win as many games as they possibly can this season, the process of cutting players from big league camp would be quite different. Top prospects would stick around longer–we know they are better than many of the non-roster invitees–and it wouldn’t as rare to see them skip over Triple-A or overcome a horrific minor league season to earn a big league role. With that not the case, though, talented players get sent down earlier than we would like.

The preceding paragraph applies the most to Hak-Ju Lee. Yes, his 2014 with the Durham Bulls was a disaster, but he was the Rays’ best defensive shortstop in camp and even showed some signs of promise at the plate. With Nick Franklin showing chinks in his armor in the field while Tim Beckham does nothing in the batter’s box, why didn’t Lee get more of a chance to prove himself?

Of course, then we can remind ourselves about the danger of believing in a small sample size. Entering the spring, Hak-Ju Lee was going to need a major bounce-back season for the Bulls to work his way back into the Rays’ plans. That hasn’t changed–all Lee did was remind the Rays how good he could be if he can get back to full strength for the long-term. Even so, it was great to see that the abilities that made Lee a top prospect are still clearly present.

Seven players joined Lee among the Rays’ second round of roster cuts, and each of them did something memorable as well. Jose Dominguez showed off a mid-90’s fastball and even a few good sliders, Justin O’Conner‘s cannon of an arm was just as good as advertised, and Ryan Brett made an excellent running catch on a popup in shallow right field. Kevin Cash described Dominguez as a player who he expects will make a big league impact before the year is through.

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Grayson Garvin, Dylan Floro, Luke Maile, and Robert Zarate were less known going in. They are not top prospects nor are they as close to appearing for the Rays as Dominguez. Even so, the Rays looked at them and saw four more players with the ability to help them eventually. Garvin’s approach on the mound was extremely polished as he tossed 4 shutout innings. There is a reason that the Rays protected him from the Rule 5 Draft–he would have had the ability to stick with the team that selected him.

Floro had more trouble as he allowed 3 runs in his 3.2 frames, but his sinker-slider combination and deception were also interesting. Maile drilled a double that narrowly missed being a game-tying home run and also did a great job blocking the plate on a play at home. Then there was Zarate, possibly the biggest surprise of all. Signed out of an independent league in Japan, Zarate touched 94 MPH with his fastball and forced several whiffs with a strong curveball.

Rarely do you see a team cut eight players from their big league camp who are as promising as this group. Players like Hak-Ju Lee and Jose Dominguez could work their way into major roles with the Rays this season and each of the others could crack the big league club at some point as well.

Next: A Firsthand Look at the Rays' Matchup With the Phillies

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