Each spring training season, a number of rookies are in a fight for a roster spot. It’s usually a fight between the rookie and a marginal veteran who’s trying to keep his career alive. This season the Rays have three such battles going on. They involve catcher Curt Casali, infielder Tim Beckham and outfielder Steven Souza. Here’s how the battles break down.
Curt Casali vs. Bobby Wilson: The Rays see Casali as a solid catcher with some upside and he has a chance to have a long career as a backup catcher. Under normal circumstances, he would have come to spring training to get some experience and then return to Durham to be the everyday catcher for the Bulls.
However, the Rays, smarting from a wasted $2.75 million contract to Jose Molina, went cheap on the backup catcher and signed journeyman Bobby Wilson to a minor league contract in hopes that he would fill the gap until Casali was ready. That does not worked out well so far.
Wilson has had a below-average spring even by his modest standards while Casali upped his game behind the plate, throwing out 4 of 6 attempted basestealers. Casali’s lack of arm strength has always biggest flaw defensively, but he looks to have improved his release to make up for it. Neither catcher has hit much this spring. Casali has .208/.231/.333 slash line in 24 at-bats. Wilson, meanwhile, has had an even worse .143/.250/.143 slash line in 21 at-bats.
Wilson has an advantage in that he hits left-handers fairly well, can play first base, and has big league experience. Casali’s big plus is that he’s had a better spring and has a spot on the 40-man roster. My guess is that Cash thinks he can improve Casali at the major league level and takes him north. Especially with the pitching in flux, the Rays need all of the roster spots they can get.
Tim Beckham vs. Alexi Casilla and Jake Elmore: The Rays are desperate to get contributions from Tim Beckham. A former number one overall draft choice, Beckham has had a checkered minor league career and is now trying to make the team as a backup middle infielder. He has not had a great spring producing a .175/.250/.250 slash line in 40 at-bats. He is on the 40-man roster, but the fact that he has options left hurts his case.
Casilla, a veteran of 578 major league games, has had a nice spring with a .267/.303/.407 slash line in 30 at bats. He signed a minor league contract and is not on the 40-man roster. Elmore, meanwhile, hasn’t hit much, but he has walked 7 times against 2 strikeouts, can play everywhere, and has some speed.
Complicating the matter is that Nick Franklin is out for an undetermined amount of time with an oblique injury. That leaves the second base job is the somewhat shaky hands of Logan Forsythe. If the Rays decide to move David DeJesus, both Beckham and Casalli may leave camp on the 25-five man roster. Even if they don’t, they will probably give Beckham a chance to make his mark.
Steven Souza vs. David DeJesus: It’s difficult to call Souza a bubble player. Sooner or later this season, he is going to be the everyday right fielder for the Rays. The question is when.
This spring, Souza has shown himself to be a quality ball player in every aspect of the game except hitting for average. He has a .122/.200/.293 slash line in 41 at bats. Those numbers lead to the question of whether you put him in the starting lineup on Opening Day and let him find himself or send him to Durham and let him find his stroke. Optioning him would also delay the start of his arbitration clock.
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The status of DeJesus makes the decision even more difficult. Right now, unless DeJesus plays right field, there is not place in the starting lineup for him and the Rays don’t relish the idea of carrying a lefty-hitting backup outfielder owed $6 million. It is well known that the Rays are trying to move DeJesus, but the timing and his declining skill-set make it difficult. The Souza versus DeJesus battle has so many moving pieces that it is hard to determine how it is going to turn out.
Combined with the numerous pitching issues, the Tampa Bay Rays need to make smart decisions and get the season off to a good start. Resolving DeJesus’ roster position may be the most critical thing on their current agenda. As always, the Rays’ margin for error is slim, and they have to make the right moves.