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Tampa Bay Rays: Confusion Reigns in the Bullpen

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Jun 22, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) makes a call to the bullpen during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 22, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) makes a call to the bullpen during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Controversy and confusion is what the bullpen looks like for the Tampa Bay Rays in this the last week of spring training, with more than a handful of decisions to be made before opening day.

It wouldn’t be a Tampa Bay Rays spring training without controversy as to who is going to be the opening day catcher and which pitchers will man the Rays bullpen. The catcher position only, at this point in time, involves four players for two positions.

However, the bullpen involves over a dozen players looking for seven jobs. That’s a lot of juggling with a week to go until the season opener. Let’s take a look at this game of musical chairs and who will have a chair when the music stops.

The two locks are closer Alex Colome and lefty specialist Xavier Cedeno. Even with Colome’s time in the World Baseball Classic, they have both looked good this spring and are healthy. The third late inning reliever is Erasmo Ramirez. He too should be a lock after a solid 2016 season but rumors coming from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports via Twitter say he may be on the trading block. That seems odd given the Rays need for relievers but it wouldn’t be the first time the Rays have traded a player on the 25-man roster for a prospect.

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After those three quality pitchers, things get a little rocky. Brad Boxberger should be the fourth late inning reliever. He was sensational in 2014/15 as a setup man and closer but the injuries hit him last season and he was not the same pitcher. Unfortunately, he is still not 100% and will open the season on the DL.

That leaves the Rays with at least four spots open in the bullpen. The first candidates for the jobs are Danny Farquhar, Ryan Garton and Chase Whitley. All of them spent time in the Rays bullpen last season and were fairly effective. Farquhar had an up and down season in 2016 but finished strong with a 3.06 ERA in 35 innings. Garton was a lightly regarded prospect who posted a 4.35 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 35 innings in 2016. Whitley appeared briefly after Tommy John surgery. All have been effective in spring training with Whitley logging significant innings.

Next up are rookies Austin Pruitt and Jaime Schultz. They have been sensational in spring training with Pruitt posting a 1.84 ERA with 16 strikeouts and two walks in 14 innings. Schultz is not far behind with a 2.14 ERA and 19 strikeouts and 9 walks in 12 innings. Clearly, Schultz and Pruitt are strikeout machines but Schultz’s control is an issue.

The last four candidates are under the radar signings with an outside chance of making the team. Justin Marks is a career minor leaguer who has posted a 0.00 ERA in 7 innings with nine strikeouts. He could make the team because the Rays need a second lefty in the bullpen. Tommy Hunter has nine years of service as a starter and a reliever but his best years are behind him.

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Shawn Tolleson is a former all star closer who was injured, pitched poorly last year and has not been impressive in spring training. Jumbo Diaz is a waiver pickup from Cincinnati who has spent most of spring training at the World Baseball Classic and is a total unknown.

So, who is going to be on the 25-man roster at Tropicana Field on opening day? After Colome, Ramirez and Cedeno, I’m going to go with Farquhar, Whitley, Pruitt and Garton. Schultz has been super but he needs to work on his command. The Rays may also pick up another left-hander or decide to roll the dice on Marks. If that is the case, Garton is the odd man out.

The problem is that none of these pitchers profile as late inning relievers. That’s why not having Boxberger healthy is such an issue. Farquhar is a middle inning ground ball pitcher, Pruitt is unknown, Whitley is a long reliever and Garton is a mop up man.

Next: Rays Latest Spring Training News and Notes

All of this leaves the Rays bull pen in its usual state of flux. Let’s hope Boxberger gets well soon and two or three of the supporting cast step up.

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