With the onset of Spring Training looming, the Tampa Bay Rays are finalizing Minor League contracts with three players — UTL Charlie Culberson, UTL (and former Ray) Daniel Robertson, and (unofficially) right-hander Kyle Crick. All three will receive invitations to Spring Training, which officially opens on Tuesday when pitchers and catchers are slated to report to camp.
Culberson, 33, is a right-handed hitting utility player with a versatile glove. He hit .252 BA/.283 OBP/.357 SLG/.640 OPS in 124 plate appearances in Arlington last season, with a pair of homers and six doubles. Culberson has been far better against lefties in his career though, slashing .285 BA/.313 OBP/.431 SLG/.744 OPS with 11 homers, 37 doubles, and five triples through 582 plate appearances versus left-handed hurlers.
Culberson has spent time at almost every position in the big leagues with the exceptions of centerfield and catcher. While the bulk of his work has come at third base (1033 innings), Culberson has spent at least 425 career innings at shortstop, second base, and in left field as well.
Tampa Bay is reconnecting with former utilityman Daniel Robertson. He hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since 2021 when he spent 50 games in Milwaukee. He, however, spent the 2017-2019 seasons as an often-used bench player for the Rays, slashing .231 BA/.340 OBP/.352 SLG/.692 OPS with 16 homers, and a 25.2% walk rate across 831 plate appearances. In his big league career, Robertson has most frequently appeared at second base (816 innings), although he does have ample experience at third base (601 innings) and shortstop (569 innings), not to mention brief looks in the outfield corners (38 innings) and at first base (eight innings).
The Rays traded Robertson to San Francisco for cash considerations in 2020, and he appeared in 63 games between San Francisco and Milwaukee from 2020-21. He didn’t hit much over a small sample size (114 plate appearances), and those struggles continued in Triple-A last season when he hit a combined .219 BA/.319 OBP/.395 SLG/.714 OPS between the top affiliates for Minnesota and Philadelphia.
Crick, 30, pitched for the Chicago South Siders last season, performing a respectable 4.02 ERA (with a significantly better 3.18 FIP) and a 28.8% strikeout rate, although a rather unsightly 16.7% walk rate. These numbers came over only 15.2 innings, as Crick was sidelined due to right elbow inflammation in June and didn’t pitch again for the rest of the season.
Crick was drafted 49th overall in 2011 by San Francisco. He was a regular on top-100 prospect lists during his time in the Giants’ farm system, although his rankings sputtered when he ran into some major control issues at the Double-A level. The Giants converted Crick into a full-time reliever in 2017, which led to his first taste of the big leagues and the first of six consecutive seasons for the right-hander with at least some Major League action.
After his debut, the Giants dealt Crick to the Pirates in January 2018. The righty found success in Pittsburgh, putting up a 2.39 ERA and a 3.14 FIP over 64.1 innings that season … yet, he couldn’t remain consistent. The right-hander battled both injuries and continued control issues, resulting in his release in July 2021. The White Sox quickly stepped in to sign Crick to a minor league deal.
Control has remained a thorn in Crick’s side throughout his career, as he has a 13.3% walk rate over 187.1 innings. That being said, Crick’s career ERA is still a respectable 3.56, while his FIP sits at 4.17, and he has posted some good strikeout numbers. He also has done a very good job of inducing weak contact. If he can stay healthy and limit the free passes, he might have the potential of being a reliable relief option.
Bear in mind, too, that Tampa Bay has a long history of rehabbing or reinventing pitchers that escaped the notice of other teams, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Crick found success in a Rays uniform. The addition of a fourth pitch — perhaps a cutter, to pair with his sinker, heater, and big sweeping slider — could go a long way in solidifying his chances of breaking camp with the Rays.
Crick will become the 80th player on the Rays’ spring roster when the signing becomes official.
After a fairly quiet winter, the team is reportedly viewing the slower offseason as an opportunity for their core players to enjoy some relatively rare stability.
Generally, we’re always trying to build that next year’s team to be as strong as we possibly can. And this year, that led to us having this continuity and banking on some of this continuity, allowing our young players to grow and develop together and see if we can kind of gain from the experience that they’ve had up until this point.— Rays General Manager, Peter Bendix
Even so, late additions still could be added. Forget not that Tampa Bay added Jason Adam right at the start of camp, acquired Harold Ramirez a couple of weeks before the season started, and traded for Isaac Paredes. The three of them played large roles on last season’s playoff team.
It also wouldn’t be shocking for the team to add an arm or a bat, by way of a trade, even this late in the offseason. Transferring Shane Baz and Andrew Kittredge to the 60-day IL early in camp would open up 40-man roster space.