Tampa Bay Rays: Profiling the September Call-Ups


September 1st is here and the roster dynamic in Major League Baseball will shift quite a bit in the next month. The usual 25-man rosters will be up to a maximum 40 for the remainder of the regular season, giving each team the opportunity to add depth and just maybe a few additional impact players. Not every healthy member of each 40-man roster will be called up for a variety of reasons, particularly money, service time, regular playing time in the remainder of the minor league season, and the desire to give a few players time off before the Arizona Fall League. Even so, a whole bunch have been called up as of today, including six for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays’ call-ups from the Triple-A Durham Bulls were Matt Moore, Richie Shaffer, Mikie Mahtook, C.J. Riefenhauser, Kirby Yates, and Luke Maile. Let’s go through each of them and discuss who they are and what role each of them will play with the team in the season’s final month.

Matt Moore: Moore is the most recognizable name of the group, the former top prospect who finished 9th in the AL Cy Young voting in 2013. We know what has happened since then–Tommy John Surgery and terrible results after he returned to the major leagues–but he returned to Triple-A Durham and did everything he could to get back on track. He tossed 30 innings over 5 starts, topping out at 104 pitches, and delivered a solid 3.30 ERA, striking out an insane 43 while walking just 8. He capped his Durham tenure with a 16-strikeout performance on August 22nd.

Interestingly enough, Marc Topkin reports that Moore will rejoin the Rays’ rotation. It isn’t yet clear who he will replace or whether the Rays will go to some kind of six-man rotation, but it is nice to see that Moore has restored the team’s confidence in him. All of the reports are that Moore’s velocity more consistently hit the mid-90’s in Durham while his command of his fastball, curveball, and changeup looked much better. If that is truly the case, Moore still has the ability to be a number three starter in the major leagues and maybe even a number two.

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Richie Shaffer: Shaffer, the Rays’ first round pick from 2012, hit well in his brief major league debut earlier this year, hitting to a .263/.391/.579 line with a pair of home runs in 23 plate appearances. He has as much power as anyone on the Rays, shows a patient plate approach, and has developed nice versatility in the field–he can now play third base, right field, and first base. The question for his future is how much contact he will make, but he fits extremely well right now as a power bat off the bench who can start against lefties and the occasional righty pitcher as well.

Mikie Mahtook: Mahtook, one of the Rays’ many first rounders from 2011, got off a terrible start at Triple-A this season after making his major league debut. Luckily for everyone, he showed well when the team needed him later on and rebounded with the Durham Bulls in his last stint there, hitting to a .290/.347/.441 line. Mahtook profiles as a fourth outfielder who hits lefties well, shows some power and speed, and can play a solid centerfield. The Rays have a bunch of lefty-mashing bench bats, but Mahtook could be talented enough to become a regular against left-handers.

C.J. Riefenhauser: Once one of the Tampa Bay Rays’ more impressive relief prospects, Riefenhauser fell apart after an oblique injury in 2014 and has been hit hard whenever he has appeared in the major leagues. However, the lefty was unhittable in his last 13 Durham appearances, allowing striking out 19 while walking just 3 in 16.2 shutout innings, and he finished with a 2.86 ERA and a 34-7 strikeout to walk ratio overall with the Bulls. Riefenhauser doesn’t throw hard but features nice deception and a nasty slider. He could emerge as the Rays’ second lefty behind Xavier Cedeno.

Kirby Yates: The least exciting player of the bunch, Yates was a solid reliever for the Rays in 2014 but has collapsed entirely this season. He has a 9.82 ERA in 11 MLB appearances to go along with just a 5.33 mark at Triple-A. Yates profiles as the last man in the bullpen and a pitcher to be used exclusively in blowouts unless Jim Hickey can get his arsenal on track in short order. His pure stuff is good–a low-to-mid-90’s fastball, a good slider, and a usable changeup–but his command has disappeared this season.

Luke Maile: We might see Maile the least of any of these six players, especially once Curt Casali returns. On the other hand, it was extremely interesting that the Rays called him up. Maile, an eighth round pick in 2012, played well at Short Season-A, Low-A, and Double-A to track the Triple-A level this season, but his .207/.298/.296 line can’t prompt much confidence. On the other hand, he is a good defender, shows plate discipline, and has hit better in his last 195 plate appearances, managing a more respectable .235/.320/.341 line.

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Maile is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft following the year, but it wasn’t a sure bet that he would be protected on the 40-man roster given his struggles at the plate. Now the Rays have five catchers on the 40-man roster (Maile, Casali, Rene Rivera, J.P. Arencibia, and Justin O’Conner), and while Arencibia could be DFA’d as soon as Casali comes back, Maile’s presence on the 40-man roster would seem to block a more deserving candidate to be protected. Either the Rays like Maile a lot more than the numbers or they were so confident that he would be selected in the Rule 5 Draft that adding him now and looking to deal him following the season made more sense than bending over backwards to acquire a veteran catcher.

Overall, this group will give the Tampa Bay Rays a starting pitcher, two impact bench players, a reliever who could see time in some relatively big spots, an extra arm, and a third catcher. It will be nice for the Rays to have the freedom to make more moves late in games, and Moore especially has a chance to be a huge part of the Rays’ playoff push. The clubhouse will be crowded, but the Rays are excited to see what the new guys can do.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Biscuits Clinch Playoff Berth