Spring training serves different purposes for different players. For some, it’s simply getting into baseball shape physically. For others, it’s working on improving a certain pitch or an adjustment to a swing. And for a select few it’s a chance to make the team or cement their hold on a recently won place on the twenty five man roster. The Rays don’t have many job openings but they do have some players who have a precarious hold on their place with the team. Let’s take a look at five players who, as the regular season draws near, need to step up their game.
Steven Souza Jr. Souza came over from Washington in the much heralded 2014 three team trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego. He was supposed to be the power hitter the Rays had sought for so long. Unfortunately, his rookie season with the Rays didn’t quite turn out that way as he struck out 144 times in 373 at bats and posted a .225/.318/.399 slash line. He claimed to have cleaned up his swing in the off season but it hasn’t looked like it so far. After missing the first two weeks of spring training with an injury, his slash line for 27 at bats is .185/.200/.333. To his credit, he has cut down his strikeouts and somehow has knocked in 8 runs with 5 hits. Would he be better off getting his game together at Durham for a month? I think so but the Rays apparently don’t. We’ll see how he performs in April.
Tim Beckham. The Rays waited seven long years for the former number one overall pick to make the major leagues and he rewarded them with a decent 2015 rookie season. In 82 games as a utility infielder, Beckham showed nice power with 9 home runs, 37 rbi’s and a .429s slugging average in 203 at bats. However, spring training 2016 has been a different story as he has a .129/.182/.226 slash line with 9 strikeouts in 31 at bats. The Rays apparently will stick with Beckham, who is out of options, as they sent down Nick Franklin who had solid spring training. However, utility infielders are not a scarce commodity and the Rays have several, including Franklin, at Durham.
Xavier Cedeno. Cedeno was an incredible find last year. The lefty posted a 2.09 era over 61 games and held left handed hitters to a .198 batting average. Spring training 2016 has not gone as well as he has a 10.38 era in five games and has walked four while striking out five. I know that five games isn’t much of a sample and if Cedeno had a long track record, you would say who cares. However, he was almost totally off the radar screen in 2013/14. Is he one season wonder or is he a crafty lefty who found himself late in his career? The answer becomes even more crucial as the Rays plan to use him in important late inning situations at least until Boxberger returns.
Steve Geltz. Geltz is much like Cedeno. He came out of nowhere and I was shocked when he made the Rays 2015 25 man roster. However, he surprised me with a sensational season. He appeared in 70 games, posted a 3.74 era and struck out 76 batters. He seems to be a classic middle reliever in the mode of Joel Peralta. Unfortunately, his spring training has been less than perfect. He has a 5.05 era in 5 innings It is not enough to quit on him but it’s enough to make you nervous. He’ll probably start the season as an arm in a depleted bullpen but he has an option and may go to AAA if he is struggling when Boxberger comes back.
Brad Miller. Miller represents the second attempt to fill the shortstop job with a Seattle infielder. Prior to the 2014 season, the Rays traded for Nick Franklin. He didn’t turn out to be the answer and spent most of the year on the dl or at Durham. This off season the Rays traded for Brad Miller. The Mariners didn’t like him as a shortstop and the Rays did. So far it’s strike two for the Rays as Miller looks like a nice player but not much of a shortstop. He has 4 errors in spring training. All of them have been throwing errors and a shortstop that can’t throw is a liability. While the Rays have quality shortstops at Triple A and Double A, they have little backup at the major league level. Miller had better pick up his defensive game.
I’m giving a pass to Corey Dickerson and Evan Longoria. Dickerson is having a terrible spring but he is with a new team, in a new league, and being asked to dh. I don’t think asking him to be a dh after playing in the field in the National League helps. Coming off a disappointing 2015 season, Longoria has struck out 12 times in 35 at bats and is hitting .257. He had better get it together because unless Longoria is in the top of the league in home runs and rbi’s, the Rays are in trouble.
The Rays are a solid team but not a powerhouse. Their offense is unproven, their bullpen is short staffed and the all important shortstop position is iffy. All of that adds up to one thing. They need to find a way to click on all cylinders if they want to play meaningful baseball in September/October.