Rays Bats Get Back On Track in 8-0 Win Over O’s

The Rays won their second straight game against the Orioles Saturday afternoon to begin a 10-game homestand.

Jeremy Hellickson was the most encouraging sign from this ballgame, as he appears to be returning to his 2011/2012 form. Hellickson tossed six very strong scoreless innings (96 pitches, 62 balls), allowing just four hits while striking out five and walking none.

The Rays’ offense also enjoyed a good game, pounding touted prospect Kevin Gausman for seven runs in less than five innings.

RBI singles by Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist in the first two innings gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 advantage early. The Rays then broke it open in the fifth, exploding for five runs with a James Loney RBI single, a Luke Scott three-run triple and a Jose Lobaton RBI double.

Both Escobar (now batting .257) and Lobaton (.287) continue to stay hot at the plate, having three-hit games Saturday. Ben Zobrist also had three hits, including a pair of doubles.

The bullpen, which has been great for the Rays as of late, was perfect in this ballgame. Alex Torres pitched a 10-pitch seventh, striking out two of the three batters he faced. Torres has been sensational since being called back up to The Show this season; he’s now scoreless through 11.1 innings, striking out 14 batters while walking just three and surrendering only one hit. Nothing’s more exciting than the Rays’ young pitching right now.

Jamey Wright and Kyle Farnsworth followed up to close out the blowout, pitching one quick inning each.

The Rays improve to 34-27 and move into third place in the AL East, now a half-game over Baltimore. They stand 1.5 games behind the Yankees and three games behind the first-place Red Sox.

The Rays will go for the big sweep Sunday afternoon at 1:40 ET. Matt Moore (8-1, 2.95 ERA) will square off against right-hander Chris Tillman (5-2, 3.97 ERA).

Rays News and Notes:

  • Check out who the Rays drafted on Days 2 and 3 of the MLB Draft. Among those drafted was bench coach Dave Martinez’s son, Dalton, who was taken in the 31st round.
  • Brandon Gomes (lat strain) is making progress. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session within the next few days, which means he could return in a few weeks.
  • This kind gesture by the Arizona Diamondbacks made baseball headlines yesterday.
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Rays Select Nick Ciuffo, Ryne Stanek and Riley Unroe in Day 1 of 2013 MLB Draft

The Tampa Bay Rays had three picks in the first two rounds of the 2013 MLB Draft Thursday night. They took high school catcher Nick Ciuffo with the 21st overall pick, right-hander Ryne Stanek out of the University of Arkansas with the 29th pick, and then high school shortstop Riley Unroe in the second round (60th pick).

Here are profiles of all three of the Rays’ draft picks.

 

Nick Ciuffo

Drafted: First round, No. 21 overall

Position: C

DOB: 3/7/1995 (Age: 18)

Height/Weight: 6’1″/200 lbs

Bats/Throws: L/R

School: Lexington HS (Charleston, S.C.)

College Commitment: South Carolina

Scouting Report: Talented young catcher with power, considered to be the best defensive catcher in the draft. His best tool is his arm; it’s very strong, accurate and he has a quick release. Ciuffo has drawn MLB comparisons to A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Avila.

For more on Nick Ciuffo, check out MLB.com’s video scouting report and ESPN’s (insider only) scouting report.

 

Ryne Stanek

Drafted: First round, No. 29 overall

Position: RHP

DOB: 7/26/1991 (Age: 21)

Height/Weight: 6’4”/190 lbs

Bats/Throws: R/R

School: Arkansas

Scouting Report: Stanek was drafted in the third round by the Seattle Mariners in 2010, but chose to attend the University of Arkansas instead. Last season with the Razorbacks, Stanek went 8-4 with a 2.82 ERA and 83 strikeouts through 92.2 innings. He’s impressed scouts again again this year, posting a 1.39 ERA in 97.3 innings.

Stanek has a strong arsenal which includes a plus fastball that ranges from 91-97 MPH. He also throws an eye-opening curveball and slider with high potential.

Stanek was expected to be picked within the top 15 overall in this draft my many experts, but some notable concerns made him fall to 29th in the draft. Due to the way the 6-foot-4 right-hander throws (three-quarter slot release and extended stride), Stanek is considered to be a rather high risk for injury. His consistent command issues are another reason.

Stanek is projected to have a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter, but could very possibly end up as a reliever (hopefully a high-leverage one).

Additional scouting reports at ESPN.com (insider) and MLB.com.

 

Riley Unroe

Drafted by: Second round, No. 60 overall

Position: SS/OF

DOB: 11/3/1995 (Age: 17)

Height/Weight: 6’0”/180 lbs

Bats/Throws: S/R

School: Desert Ridge High School (Ariz.)

Scouting Report: Unroe is an extremely athletic shortstop who the Rays believe can stay at the position long term. He has great speed and quickness which give him good range, as well as a plus arm and very good infield skills overall. He’s projected to be a defensive-oriented shortstop, possibly somebody like Cliff Pennington of the Oakland Athletics.

Offensively, Unroe also has potential to keep an eye on. He’s a switch hitter with above-average bat speed and raw power that he has yet to really tap into.

The biggest concern for Unroe is his signability, which is a huge question mark at the moment. There’s a pretty decent chance that the 17-year-old opts to play college ball first in order to improve his draft stock in the future.

Here’s MLB.com’s scouting report for more on Unroe.

Rays Defeat Tigers 3-0 Behind Cobb’s Scoreless Outing

Rays pitching had a hard time with Detroit’s big bats in Game 1 of this three-game series, surrendering 10 runs as Matt Moore endured a very brief outing. It was a completely different story with Alex Cobb on the mound Wednesday night, however.

Cobb stifled the Tigers’ lineup, which is arguably the best in all of baseball, allowing just five hits and three walks while striking out seven over 7.2 scoreless innings (108 pitches, 72 strikes).

He exited the game in the eighth with two men on and two out, handing the ball over to Joel Peralta. Peralta would get the key out, striking out the always-dangerous Prince Fielder with four straight splitters.

Before the ninth inning, Tampa’s bats didn’t fare much better against Doug Fister, who tossed 8.1 innings in his excellent outing.

With the game scoreless in the top of the ninth, the Rays finally got on the board. Sam Fuld, batting in the leadoff spot, started off the rally with a bunt single, reaching base by diving to avoid the tag by Prince Fielder. Ben Zobrist followed with a single, and then Matt Joyce knocked in the go-ahead run via sacrifice fly.

Evan Longoria drove in the second run with an RBI single, and then Desmond Jennings made it 3-0 with a two-out RBI triple.

Fernando Rodney came on in to close out the victory, notching his 12th save of the year. He would allow two men to reach base, but prevented any further damage.

The Rays improve to 32-26, and are now just three games out of first place with the Red Sox falling 3-2 to Texas. The Yankees beat the Indians again, so they remain 1.5 games over the Rays. The Orioles also won, and stay a half-game over Tampa Bay.

Rays News and Notes:

  • Kelly Johnson was scratched from the lineup last night due to back tightness. It wasn’t serious at all, though, and he was still available to pinch hit.
  • With the 2013 MLB Draft tonight (starting at 7 PM ET), check out DRaysBay’s Draft Preview Series.
  • If you haven’t already heard, MLB is looking to suspend 20 players—a list which includes Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta—possibly as early as next week.

Re-Grading Every Rays Offseason Acquisition

It was a productive offseason for general manager Andrew Friedman, as he significantly bolstered the Tampa Bay Rays’ offense and organizational depth.

The Rays made headlines this winter when they pulled off a huge blockbuster with Kansas City, trading away James Shields and Wade Davis for a talented haul of prospects which included Wil Myers. Tampa Bay also filled in some crucial holes on their roster via free agency, signing James Loney to play first base and Yunel Escobar for shortstop.

Of course, some acquisitions haven’t turned out to be as good as others, but at the end of the day it was a successful offseason for the Rays.

Here’s my updated evaluation and grading on every offseason signee.

*Take note that only players on the 25-man active roster are included. I also excluded players who were re-signed (Kyle Farnsworth and Luke Scott) from this article.

Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson has been arguably the best free-agent acquisition for the Rays, well exceeding expectations so far this season. Johnson, who had not very productive 2011 and 2012 seasons, has rebounded in a huge way in 2013.

He’s posted a .275/.340/.515 slash line with 10 homers, 35 RBI and a 134 wRC+. Johnson has been strong defensively as well, compiling a 2.4 UZR after putting up a -6.9 UZR last season.

It’s safe to say that he’s well worth the $2.45 million that he’s being paid in his one-year deal.

Grade: A+

Roberto Hernandez

When the Rays lost James Shields and Wade Davis in the Wil Myers blockbuster, Andrew Friedman felt that it was necessary to pick up an additional arm that can contribute to the starting rotation and/or bullpen. He went out and signed veteran sinkerballer Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million.

After 10 starts with the Rays, Hernandez has posted a 4.87 ERA with a 4.69 FIP and 7.85 K/9. Nobody really expected him to return to frontline-starter form, but if he keeps up this kind of performance he’ll eventually be demoted from the rotation to either a bullpen spot or the minor leagues.

With the emergence of Alex Torres, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome, Hernandez’s job is definitely in jeopardy. If Hernandez can’t maintain his rotation spot, hopefully he can make a positive contribution to the bullpen with his groundball services.

Grade: C-

James Loney

After a down year with the Dodgers and Red Sox in 2012, the Rays didn’t know how much production they would get out of James Loney this season. So far he’s been more than a best-case scenario, batting .324/.390/.516 with a very impressive 150 wRC+.

The $2 million that the Rays are paying their starting first baseman this year is more than a bargain.

Loney has not only outperformed Carlos Pena offensively as Tampa Bay’s first baseman, but he’s also provided a lot of value defensively, as he’s been one of the better fielding first basemen in the league for a while. He’s been a key part of both the Rays’ improved offense and defense in 2013.

Grade: A+

Yunel Escobar

Acquiring Yunel Escobar was another smart pick-up by Andrew Friedman this offseason. Adding Escobar was a great decision in all respects; the Rays only gave away a Single-A [not-top] prospect in the trade for him and also have the veteran shortstop under a reasonable $5 million contract through 2015.

Although Escobar hasn’t been very productive offensively (currently owns a .299 wOBA, which is actually higher than projected and not too bad for a shortstop), he’s been extremely valuable to this Rays team.

In the previous two seasons, the Rays couldn’t get any kind of stable production from the shortstop position, tooling around with different mediocre-at-best players such as Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac. With Escobar, the Rays no longer have that problem.

For the first time since 2010, Tampa Bay has a defensively-solid everyday shortstop.

Grade: A+

Bats Lead Rays to 11-3 Victory in Series Finale

After a major off-day against Ubaldo Jimenez on Saturday in the Tampa’s 5-0 loss, the Rays’ offense got right back on track Sunday afternoon for the rubber match of this three-game series in Cleveland.

Jeremy Hellickson was on the mound for the Rays, looking to finally have a quality start against one of baseball’s best offensive teams. Right from the get-go, Helly appeared to be improved, but once again he would run into that one big inning that’s been hurting him all season.

The Rays struck first in this ballgame, scoring two runs in the first from a James Loney tw0-run double thanks to some poor Indians defense. The Rays extended their lead to to 3-0 in the third with an RBI single off the bat of Evan Longoria.

In the fourth, the Rays added on one more run with a Jose Lobaton RBI single following Sam Fuld’s leadoff triple. Cleveland responded in a big way in the bottom half of the frame, plating three runs with some help from bad defense, this time on the Rays part. The Indians rallied with two outs and nobody on, and thanks to two base hits that probably should have been outs, the Rays’ lead was cut to just one run.

The Rays would get one of those runs back in the fifth, however, as Kelly Johnson scored on a throwing error while stealing third.

Hellickson would throw a scoreless fifth inning, but Joe Maddon would decide to pull him after just 82 pitches (57 strikes). His final line was nine hits and three earned runs with four strikeouts and no walks.

In the sixth, a two-run home run to center by Yunel Escobar would make it a 7-3 ballgame. Then in the eighth, the Rays put up a four-run rally which included an opposite field two-run by Longoria.

Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee and Fernando Rodney all thew a scoreless inning each out of the bullpen (combined for just two hits allowed and no walks).

The Rays improve to 31-25 on the season. With the Red Sox beating the Yankees and Baltimore winning yesterday, the Rays remain three games out of first and just a half game behind the Orioles. They’re now tied with the Yankees in the division.

Rays News and Notes:

  • The Rays collected 14 hits in this game, and everybody in the lineup reached base except Luke Scott. Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria, Sam Fuld, Jose Lobaton and Yunel Escobar (3-5) all had multi-hit games.
  • Evan Longoria’s home run snapped a 19-game homerless streak for him.
  • Take a look at Sam Fuld’s big catch yesterday in centerfield.
  • Check out prospect Tim Beckham’s amazing play in Durham last week:

Colome Impresses in Big League Debut as Rays Sweep Marlins

Rays fans were excited yesterday to hear that talented hard-throwing prospect Alex Colome was going to make his MLB debut in Miami Thursday night. Colome, who was initially supposed to be called up as an additional arm in the bullpen, got the call for the Citrus Series finale due to an Alex Cobb fingernail issue.

Colome “exceeded expectations”, in Joe Maddon’s words, tossing 5.2 strong inning allowing just one unearned run. Although he was facing the Marlins in a pitchers park, a line of 5 hits, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts over 96 pitches (61 strikes) is impressive.

His fastball, which he through at an average of 95 MPH and reached 97 MPH, was plus as usual, but what really raised heads last night was his very good changeup (thrown 23 times).

Offensively, the Rays didn’t have one of their better games as they stranded 17 runners on base. Their first run didn’t come until the sixth inning, when Matt Joyce blasted a two-run home run to make it a 2-1 ballgame.

James Loney added some insurance in the seventh with a solo shot to right. Another unearned run surrendered by the Rays made it a tight 3-2 in the eighth.

In the ninth, however, Tampa Bay got that run back and more thanks to a two-run double off the bat of Ben Zobrist. Fernando Rodney managed to get three straight groundouts for a quick 1-2-3 ninth, notching his 11th save of the season.

The Rays improve to 29-24 with their fourth straight victory over Miami, and continue to rise in the AL East standings. After being swept in the Subway Series, the Yankees are now just a single game over the Rays and now two games behind the first-place Red Sox. The Orioles are currently a half game ahead of Tampa.

The Rays begin a three-game series in Cleveland tonight. Matt Moore (8-0, 2.21 ERA) will take the mound against right-hander Corey Kluber (3-3, 4.57 ERA).

Rays News and Notes:

  • Rotation shuffle: There’s been a mix up in the starting rotation due to Alex Cobb’s finger issue. Chris Archer will be called up Saturday for the start against the Indians, which will be his first appearances with the Rays this year. Jeremy Hellickson will start Sunday, and then Alex Cobb will start Tuesday in Detroit after the off-day Monday.
  • There are two very good PITCHf/x evaluations of Alex Colome’s outing last night, one over at DRaysBay.com and another at The Process Report.
  • What’s wrong with Jeremy Hellickson this season? I attempt to answer that question in my latest article at DRaysBay.

A Look at Where Tampa Bay Rays Top Draft Picks from 2010 Are Now

Drew Vettleson (left) and Josh Sale (right) enjoyed successful 2012 seasons with Class A Bowling Green

The 2010 MLB Draft was not a very memorable one for the Tampa Bay Rays. In a draft that included big league stars such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey and Chris Sale, the Rays selected three high school bats in the first round (two of them first-round compensation picks).

So far, only one of Tampa’s draft picks that year—Derek Dietrich of the Miami Marlins (the Rays’ fifth pick, taken 79th overall)—have reached the big leagues.

As we approach the 2013 Draft, here’s a look at the current progress of the Rays’ top three draft picks from 2010.

Josh Sale, 1st round (17th overall)

The Rays are experiencing a bad case of deja vu with Josh Sale. It’s not the first time a left-handed power-hitting outfielder drafted in the first round named Josh has disappointed the organization by making poor choices off the field. Sale’s upside isn’t considered to be as high as former Devil Rays bust Josh Hamilton’s, but there still is a high ceiling of potential for him.

Sale struggled in his first pro season with Rookie League Princeton, batting just .210/.289/.346 with four home runs in 60 games. He was much improved in 2012 with Class A Bowling Green, hitting .264/.391/.464 with 10 homers in 74 games.

Sale’s 2012 and 2013 season were shortened due to a 50-game suspension after testing positive for meth and amphetamines.

Now this year, right when he was ready to be reactivated and join Class A+ Charlotte after serving his suspension, has found himself in trouble again. Sale was suspended indefinitely yesterday for an inappropriate status he posted on his Facebook page earlier this week.

Let’s hope that Sale starts to take a wiser path this season and avoids becoming another first-round bust for the Rays.

Justin O’Conner, 1st round (31st overall)

In an organization that is very weak at the catcher position, backstop Justin O’Conner (drafted as shortstop) is making slow and steady progress through the lower levels of the Rays’ farm system.

O’Conner began pro ball in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, and is now with Class A Bowling Green after moving up a single level each year.

Defensively, scouts seem to like the 21-year-old as he has a strong arm and a skill set probably good enough to stay at the position long term. The Rays are still waiting for O’Conner to get it going with the bat, however, as he’s struggled at the plate throughout his minor league career

He was drafted in the first round partially for his raw power, but has yet to tap into it completely. In 188 career games, O’Conner has posted to .207/.274/.355 with 18 homers. Both his hitting mechanics and plate approach need a lot of work.

O’Conner has shown the flashes of potential offensively, but he’s simply going to have to hit better consistently in order to continue to make progress.

Drew Vettleson, 1st round (42nd overall)

Drew Vettleson joined Josh Sale as another left-handed hitting high school outfielder out of Washington state to be drafted by the Rays in the first round.

The 21-year-old has an impressively well-rounded toolset, and is considered one of the organization’s top prospects (ranked tenth by MLB.com).

He enjoyed a strong season with Bowling Green last year, batting .275/.340/.432 with 15 homers, 69 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 132 games.

Vettleson currently plays right field for Class A+ Charlotte, and is currently hitting just .258/.291/.403 through 47 games. Strangely, he’s managed to commit 10 errors so far in 2013.