Tampa Bay Rays: Candidates for the 2018 Bullpen

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colome (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colome (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Rays bullpen is always a work in progress and once again 2018 will be no different although they will enter the season in better shape than last year.

Unlike the starting rotation, the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen is always a work in progress. The Rays scour the free agent scrape heap looking for pitchers they can sign to an inexpensive one year contract.

Sometimes that results in acquiring a gem like Fernando Rodney and some times they get a dud like Jumbo Diaz. Last year they started out with a few too many duds in the bullpen and it ruined the first part of their season.

They turned that around after the All-Star break as Steve Cishek, Dan Jennings and Sergio Romo were added to the bullpen. Combined with a resurgent Tommy Hunter and the return of Brad Boxberger from injury, it became one of the best bullpens in the American League. Unfortunately, only Jennings and Boxberger will return and the Rays will need to restock the pen once again.

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The good news is that the Rays should start out with a core of four excellent relievers that include closer Alex Colome, setup man Boxberger and left handed relievers Xavier Cedeno and Jennings.

Colome is an All-Star closer and Boxberger was terrific as a closer and setup man before he was hurt. Xavier had two excellent years as a left handed specialist before he missed all of 2017 with an injury.

Jennings has been a solid reliever with three teams over six years and is equally effective against left and right handed hitters. All four can be retained through arbitration for a total of around $11 million.

The question is how to fill the other three, or maybe four, slots. The search probably starts with two late bloomers Andrew Kittredge and Chaz Roe. Kittredge joined the team late in the season after six-years in the minor leagues with Seattle. He had a nice major league debut posting a 1.96 ERA with 14 strikeouts in fifteen innings.

Roe has logged big league time pitching for five different organizations in parts of five seasons. In a limited stint with the Rays, he posted a 1.04 ERA with 12 strikeouts in eight innings. They are typical of the relievers the Rays pick up in the off-season and will probably get a long look in the spring.

The next place the Rays look will be rookies on the 40-man roster. The Rays have started to develop relievers in the minor leagues and have four who will get a long look in spring training including Ryne Stanek, Chih-Wei Hu, Jose Alvarado and Jaime Schultz.

Stanek threw 15 big league innings in 2017 and showed a monster fastball but struggled with control and giving up home runs. Hu was converted to the bullpen last season and had a brief big league stint with the. Alvarado was brought up from Double-A Montgomery when the Rays couldn’t find a lefthander and posted a 3.64 ERA in 29 innings. Schultz may be the best of the group but a lingering groin injury in 2017 set back his progress.

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Finally, there are three pitchers for the job of long reliever/spot starter. Nathan Eovaldi is seen by some as a candidate for a starting rotation. However, coming off Tommy John surgery, he might need to start the season in Durham.

Austin Pruitt was an under the radar prospect who was thrust into the Rays bullpen with no experience as a reliever and didn’t do well. If he is given a definite roll in spring training, he may do better. Chase Whitley came off Tommy John surgery and struggled in his return. He doesn’t have a defined role and may not be tendered a contract.

With eleven possibilities on the roster and four of them a lock, the Rays’ bullpen is in much better shape than it was at this time last year. Depending upon how much the Rays like the rookies, the team probably won’t sign many, if any, pitchers to a major league contract.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Candidates for the 2018 Rotation

A player such as Sergio Romo may be the exception. As the Rays found out last year, the bullpen can make or break a team and they need to make good choices this off-season.