The Tampa Bay Rays added seven players to the 40-man roster on Monday evening, protecting them in advance of the Rule-5 draft, which will take place during the 2017 Winter Meetings on December 14. First baseman Jake Bauers, outfielder Justin Williams, and pitchers Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Brent Honeywell, Jose Mujica, and Ryan Yarbrough were added to the roster, which now has 39 spots filled.
Tampa Bay started the day with eight roster spots remaining after releasing backup catcher Curt Casali and former first round draft pick Taylor Guerrieri.
The Rays left catcher Nick Ciuffo (a 2013 first-round pick) and right-hander Burch Smith (who is recovering from Tommy John surgery) off the roster, leaving them — as well as second baseman Kean Wong, outfielder Johnny Field, and southpaw Travis Ott — susceptible to being picked up by another team.
The absence of Ciuffo puts the team’s 40-man roster at only two catchers: Wilson Ramos and Jesus Sucre. As for Smith, even though he has big league experience and “made an impressive recovery” in the Arizona Fall League last month, “A lot came down to the depth that we do have in that area,” said Rays Senior Vice President Chaim Bloom.
Bloom also told Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) it’s important to continue to improve the minor league system, yet having tough decisions at the deadline makes it clear that growth has taken place over the past few years.
Bloom said a decision not to protect a prospect doesn’t mean they’re down on the player, rather it has more to do with measuring risk as to whether they believe that individual will be selected in the Rule-5 draft, and stick with another MLB club for the whole season.
Solondz gave some background information on each of the players added to the roster:
Bauers, 22, was the organization’s top unprotected position player. In his age 21 season, Bauers spent the entire year with Durham, where he had 45 extra-base hits, a .368 on-base percentage, and a .779 OPS. The first baseman set career highs in walks (78) and stolen bases (20). He also hit better than .370 in a post-season championship run for the Bulls. Bauers was acquired from the Padres in 2014 in a three-team deal that also brought Tampa Bay Steven Souza Jr.
Bloom says Bauers really impressed in his first Spring Training in March, and “we look forward to an encore.”
Castillo, the organization’s minor league reliever of the year, had an impressive 2017 that wrapped up in Durham. Castillo also set a career high in innings pitched (78 including the playoffs). The righty, who can reach triple-digits with his fastball, earned 15 saves in the regular season and four more in the playoffs. All told, Castillo struck out 99 including the post-season. He also gave up just 59 hits and 21 walks. Castillo pitched in the AFL in 2016, and also limited the home-run ball, giving up just three.
Chirinos: The Rays Pitcher of the Year in 2017 blossomed after not being a Rule 5 pick the year prior. Including two playoff starts for Durham, Chirinos threw 180.1 innings, a new high. Most impressive was that he walked only 29 batters in as many appearances (28 starts) and struck out 146. He increased his strikeouts per nine innings to 7.5 (up from 6.9 the previous year) and his fastball was often clocked in the mid 90s. The 23-year-old Chirinos was originally signed by the Rays out of Venezuela. This year’s reliever of the year, starter of the year, and Player of the Year were homegrown talents from Latin America.
Honeywell: arguably the top prospect in the organization (along with already-protected Willy Adames), Honeywell started the season with Double-A Montgomery, but was promoted to Triple-A Durham after just two starts. Including the playoffs with the Bulls, Honeywell struck out 186 batters in a career-high 151 innings. Honeywell was 13–9 in the regular season, compiling a 3.49 ERA. He was particularly sharp after the break, collecting a 2.03 ERA after mid-season, 3.54 before it.
When asked about Honeywell, Bloom says “where do you start? You could take away his screwball and he’d still be an elite pitching prospect.”
Mujica: Just 21 years of age, the righty excelled primarily at Double-A for Montgomery. Mujica was an innings eater, going 171.2 frames including a playoff start for the Biscuits. While he collected just a 3.04 ERA with just 7.6 hits and 2.4 walks per nine innings, the big question is whether he will collect enough swings and misses. Mujica struck out only 96 hitters, or less than six per nine frames. The challenge will be whether his secondary pitches will get sharp enough to upgrade that number. That said, Mujica had a fastball in the mid-90s, and had a propensity to get weak contact.
Bloom says that Mujica has great feel and pitchability for his age, and that “his arm strength, mound presence and poise really impressed the staff.”
Williams: One of two players acquired from Arizona in the Jeremy Hellickson trade, Williams excelled last season. He finished the year with Durham, but spent the entire regular season in Double-A Montgomery. The 22-year-old outfielder had his best season at the full-season level, hitting to an .853 OPS with 14 HR, 72 RBI, as well as an improved walk (9.0%) and strikeout (16.9%) rate. Williams, who had his first-ever three-homer game this season, also drew raves for improved outfield play, as he collected nine outfield assists.
Yarbrough: in his first year in the Rays system, the lefty from Lakeland excelled in Triple-A Durham. Yarbrough improved his secondary stuff and threw just shy of 172 innings including the post-season with the Bulls. Yarbrough struck out nearly a batter an inning, and was 13–6 with a 3.43 ERA for the Bulls. In moving from Double-A to Triple-A Yarbrough saw his walk rate stay low(2.2 per nine innings) and strikeout rate improve (6.9 to 9.1). Yarbrough did allow 20 homers, after giving up 15 in the seasons prior.
The Rays elected to leave one roster spot open, with Bloom saying the decision gives them immediate flexibility for the 2018 season.
Arizona Fall League wrap-up
The Arizona Fall League came to a close on Saturday, with seven Rays prospects having participated. Solondz also wrote a brief recap of how each player fared:
Brandon Lowe — last year’s MVP of the Florida State League didn’t hit for a high average in the AFL (.224), but had a solid .762 OPS. Lowe had three doubles, a triple and two homers, while also drawing nine walks. One would expect Lowe, a second baseman, would return to Montgomery next year, as he finished the 2017 season there. The 23-year-old was drafted out of the University of Maryland in 2015.
Kevin Padlo — the corner infielder missed much of the regular season because of a hamate injury. While he hit .259 (22-for-85) over 22 games with just a .664 OPS in the AFL, Padlo did drive in a team-best 14 runs, and had three doubles and two triples. Padlo was in Charlotte last year, so it will be interesting to see whether he repeats the level due to injury or if the AFL experience allowed him to catch up and start 2018 in Montgomery.
Brett Sullivan — in limited time Sullivan had the best numbers of any Rays position player prospect. Over 14 games, the catcher hit .313 (15-for-48) with an .833 OPS. As expected, Sullivan excelled in two areas, driving in runs and putting the ball in play. Sullivan struck out just five times in 53 plate appearances, drawing only four walks, while driving in 11 runs. The 17th round pick in 2015 still has room for improvement behind the plate, but continues to excel next to it. Sullivan was converted from third base to catcher shortly after being drafted.
Spencer Jones — the Fall League was a learning experience for Jones, a 6–5 righty who just completed his first full year in the Rays system. Jones, who finished last year with Charlotte in the Florida State League, made nine appearances with Surprise. Jones had an ERA of 8.10, allowing 15 hits and five walks in 12.1 innings while striking out 11. Jones did improve as the season went on. The 2016 draft pick threw scoreless ball in his last four outings, covering 6.2 innings.
Benton Moss — Moss missed part of the season due to a back injury, so he was sent to the AFL to gain additional innings. Moss made five appearances, two as a starter, and was 0–1 with a 3.18 ERA. Moss surrendered 15 hits in 11.1 innings, but just one walk while striking out seven. Moss pitched primarily in Double-A Montgomery in 2017. Including the playoffs and the AFL, Moss, chosen out of UNC in 2015 by the Rays, saw just over 100 innings this year.
Roel Ramirez — Ramirez filled in for Dalton Moats, who was a late scratch from the AFL. Ramirez, who split time between the two Rays A-ball affiliates, struggled in his 9.2 innings in relief. Ramirez surrendered 19 hits and four walks, striking out seven. Ramirez finished with a 10.24 ERA.
Burch Smith — After missing the better part of the last three seasons due to injury, Smith was second in the league in strikeouts. He fanned 29 batters in 20.1 innings, allowing 12 hits and 11 walks. Of the nine runs he gave up, seven came in the first two appearances over 4.1 innings. After that, Smith gave up just five hits over the next 16 frames with a fastball in the upper 90s.