Insider: Salazar Holds Lead On Rays Final Spot

Barring an unforeseen event, it appears as if the 25th and final spot on the Tampa Bay Rays opening day roster will go to outfielder Jeff Salazar. After signing a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training in mid-February, it seemed unlikely he would be able to break camp with the team. However, after injuries to B.J. Upton and Sam Fuld – as well as Brandon Guyer remaining in the minor leagues – Salazar holds the final spot heading into the final week of spring training.

Speaking to reporters about his brief time with Tampa Bay, Salazar said “it’s been a good time.” Showing he has already adapted to the team’s culture and concepts, he echoed a word that has become synonymous with the Rays’ franchise…process. “I’ve enjoyed the process.” Although he has already met with manager Joe Maddon about possibility making the team, he said it will not change anything. “Keep working.” “Nothing is guaranteed in this life.”

What Salazar is hinting at is the possibility of Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman making a deal via trade or waivers prior to Wednesday’s deadline to place players on waivers. The team has yet to add him to the 40-man roster, leaving an opening if Friedman feels there is a better fit that can be acquired before Friday. The Rays could make a 180-turn and call Guyer up at the last minute, but it seems unlikely at his point. In a sign that the team anticipates the 31-year-old making the cut, the Rays acquired outfielder Kyle Hudson on Saturday night to add Triple-A depth, something Salazar was set to provide.

Choosing Salazar over Guyer would speak to the short-term nature of the roster spot. There is no discussion, Guyer is the better long-term option; however, with B.J. Upton set to return in a few weeks – if not sooner – the opening is more of a temp job than a permanent hiring. Rather than yo-yo Guyer between Durham and Tampa Bay, it appears the Rays will leave him to play every day with the Bulls and let him handle whatever legal issues that may arise from the Matt Bush saga in privacy rather than a major-league clubhouse.

Salazar’s case is also helped by the April schedule. Outside of CC Sabathia – and perhaps Ricky Romero in Toronto – the early portion of the season does not call for the Rays to face many left-handers. Not that Salazar will start many games, but with the league’s pitchers being something like 70% right-handed, his left-handed bat may be more useful over the first few weeks of the season.

Speaking of his bat, Salazar has racked up 348 plate appearances in the major leagues, spanning four seasons with the Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Pittsburgh Pirates. His batting average of .232 and slugging percentage of .349 are below average, but his .335 on-base percentage shows he knows how to take a walk. In over 4,000 minor league PAs, he has a .365 on-base percentage, racking up 521 walks compared to 637 strikeouts.

In some ways, Salazar is similar to Sam Fuld. Both left-handed, neither project to hit for high averages, but show good discipline which helps in reaching base beyond just hits. In terms of power, Salazar does not possess much raw power, but has a decent number of extra-base hits in his minor league career. He is not as fast as Fuld or as good of a defender, but is a threat to steal and should be able to hold his own defensively on the big stage.

If Salazar is to make the opening roster, he will become the first non-roster invitee to crack the Rays’ initial top-25 since Eric Hinske in 2008. Though he will not carry much responsibility, the non-roster invitee could be useful in a limited role. His skill-set may be limited, but when/if Joe Maddon uses him; we can expect it will be the best of his abilities.