On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays announced the signings of four players to minor league contracts with invitations to major league spring training. Outfielder Jesus Feliciano, infielder Will Rhymes, and right-handed pitcher Romulo Sanchez were introduced in a press release along side Matt Torra, 27, who re-signs with the Rays after being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 1 last season. He made 11 starts for the Durham Bulls, going 5-1 with a 3.67 ERA. A control artist, he walked just 12 batters in 61.1 innings for the bulls.
Feliciano, 32, is a baseball lifer with a minor league career that spans 14 seasons – including time with the (Devil) Rays from 2003-2004. At his point, his main job is to provide outfield depth at the upper levels of the minor league system. Sanchez is a 27 year-old reliever, who made 28 appearances over three seasons with the New York Yankees (2010) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2007-2008). He spent the 2011 season in Japan pitching in 15 games for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japan Pacific League. He throws a mid-90s fastball with a change-up and slider as secondary options. He’ll come into spring competing for one of the few remaining bullpen spots, but realistically should be ticketed for Triple-A Durham.
While Torra, Feliciano, and Sanchez have little chance of cracking the opening day roster, Will Rhymes has a legitimate chance to claim a spot on Tampa Bay’s bench. The Rays appear to be looking for an upgrade at the utility infielder position after watching Elliot Johnson hit 194/.257/.338 with a strikeout rate just under 30% in 2011. Prior to Rhymes signing, the team reportedly held interest in Ryan Theriot.
Although Rhymes comes with less experience than Theriot, he is certainly built in the same mold. After a successful rookie season in 2010 (.304/.350/.414), he was the opening day second baseman for the Detroit Tigers last season. He stint at a starter was short lived and he spent most of the year in Triple-A. In 29 games with the Tigers, he hit just .235/.321/.271.
He generates little power from his 155-pound frame, but shows a disciplined eye at the plate and makes contact at a high rate. His 93% contact rate in the major leagues makes him a prime candidate for hit-and-run situations. Although he is a left-handed batter, he hit well against left-handed pitching in the minors, and in a very small sample size at the major league level, has shown the ability to at least reach base versus southpaws.
Like Theriot, Rhymes is not a great defender. That said, his defense should be acceptable in a reduced role and perhaps even a little bit better with help from Tampa Bay’s aggressive defensive positioning. He was exclusive to second base for the Tigers, but spent time at shortstop, third base, and in the outfield as a minor leaguer. It is likely the Rays will ask him to bring multiple gloves with him to Port Charlotte.
Despite a lack of game-breaking speed, Rhymes is a decent base runner with 138 steals over seven minor league seasons. He has just three stolen base attempts in his major league career, but the steal is not part of the Tigers’ gameplan. As a team, Detroit has stolen just 118 bases since 2010 – the lowest total in the major leagues.
In many ways, Rhymes is the infield version of Sam Fuld. Similar to Fuld, his skill-set may be amplified under a Rays’ system that highlights attributes his previous organization may have ignored. His flaws may limit him from being an every player; however, his high-contact rate, ability to run the bases, and play multiple positions could make him an asset off Joe Maddon’s bench. Even if he does not break camp with the big league team, he provides MLB-ready infield depth just a phone call away.