Tampa Bay Rays: Non-Roster Invitees Preview

The Rays certainly have a reputation for finding diamonds in the rough.  Here is a quick preview of some of the more interesting free agent invitees to the team’s spring training this season.

Erik Bedard:  Bedard is a familiar name in the AL East, having spent a good portion of his career pitching for the Orioles.

Erik Bedard hopes that a return to the AL East will erase the memories of last season.  (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.)

Erik Bedard hopes that a return to the AL East will erase the memories of last season. (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.)

Although not durable and a risk to be injured at any moment, Bedard was a highly effective pitcher when on the mound from 2004 to 2010 (3.69 ERA and with 925 strikeouts in 950.2 innings).  However, after signing a one year, $4.5 million deal with the Pirates in 2012, Bedard bottomed out.    While he remained healthy for the Pirates, Bedard had a 5.01 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP before being released in August.  Bedard stayed in shape by playing catch with his brother in a heated garage in Ottawa, and after signing a minor league contract with the Houston Astros last season, Bedard made the team out of spring training but pitched to a 4-12 record with an uninspiring 4.59 ERA.

The Rays, long known for reclamation projects, took a chance on Bedard on a minor league contract.  With Jeremy Hellickson slated to miss at least the first six weeks of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow, Bedard finds himself in a competition with youngsters Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome for the final spot in the team’s rotation.  In fact, since the Rays expect the winner of the competition to be a place holder until Hellickson returns, the team may be secretly hoping that Bedard shows enough to capture the spot in order to avoid yo-yoing the youngsters back and forth between the minors and the majors or between the rotation and the bullpen.  After all, the Rays did allow Roberto Hernandez to start 24 games last season despite holding an ugly 4.89 ERA.

Wilson Betemit:  Once considered a top shortstop prospect, many teams have mistakenly believed that Betemit was a starting-caliber player (Braves, Dodgers, Yankees, Orioles).  Betemit’s best seasons were in 2005 with the Atlanta Braves, where he hit .305/.359./.435/.794 over 274 plate appearances while filling in for Chipper Jones at third base, and in 2010 with the Kansas City Royals where he hit .297/.378/.511/.889 over 315 plate appearances.  The Orioles surprisingly signed Betemit to a two-year major league contract in 2012 to be the everyday third-baseman, which netted the team a total of 12 homeruns and 40 RBIs.  (Betemit missed most of the 2013 season after suffering a ligament injury in spring training and was released by the Orioles shortly after he was activated from the disabled list.)  Never considered an especially skilled defensive third baseman, at this stage of his career, Betemit’s skill set is suited mostly for playing first base or serving as the designated hitter.  With James Loney re-signed and Matt Joyce penciled in as the starting designated hitter, Betemit would have to outshine the talented but inconsistent Sean Rodriguez to become the backup first baseman and right-handed DH.   However, given Rodriguez’s ability to backup all four infield positions, the team may be hard-pressed to keep Betemit over Rodriguez.  (Alternatively, the team may consider Rodriguez as a backup infielder as well as a fifth outfielder, which could theoretically open up a roster spot, but the presence of Logan Forsythe may still not make this possible.)  Regardless, Betemit would have to show extremely well in the spring to even be a consideration for the opening day roster.

Justin Christian:  I will always remember Justin Christian for a play he was involved in while a member of the playoff-missing Yankees in 2008.  In a late season game against the Royals, Christian was inserted as a pinch runner at first base in the ninth inning and down by one run.  With a 3-2 count on Johnny Damon, Christian was inexplicably picked off of first base for the first out of the inning.

It’s a shame that my lone memory of Christian is this horrendous play because the fact that Christian even played in the majors is really a feel-good story.  After going undrafted out of college, Christian played independent league baseball for two years and also served as a student assistant coach at Auburn University prior to the Yankees signing him to a minor league contract.  He made his major league debut at the age of 28.  At the end of the day, however, Christian is a career .203 hitter on the wrong side of 30 and will not make the Rays.

Mark Lowe:  After battling multiple arm injuries early in his career, in 2009, a twenty-six-year-old Lowe tossed a highly effective 80 innings out of the bullpen for the Mariners, compiling a 3.26 ERA and 69 strikeouts.  After the season, Lowe was sent to the Rangers as part of the Cliff Lee trade.  In his two years with the Rangers, Lowe had a respectable 3.63 ERA and 70 strikeouts over 84.1 innings pitched.  However, most Ranger fans will only remember Lowe for giving up the game winning homerun to David Freese in the 11th inning of game six of the 2011 World Series.  Despite posting respectable numbers in middle relief for the Rangers, Lowe had to settle for a minor league contract with the Angels last offseason.  Lowe’s tenure with the Angels can only be described as disastrous (9.26 ERA in 11.2 IP).  After getting released by the Angels, Lowe signed on with the Nationals and posted impressive numbers in middle relief for the team’s Triple-A affiliate.  Because of his horrible numbers with the Angels last season, Lowe is now viewed as a “reclamation project.”   Lowe may not make the team out of spring training, but given his track and the volatile nature of middle relievers, he could find himself on the roster sooner rather than later.

Jayson Nix:  Nix, a thirty-one-year-old career .218 hitter unfairly received the scorn of the Yankee fan base in 2013.  Although he was a first round pick in 2001, Nix simply is not an everyday player.  He is a serviceable backup who can play all infield positions except first base.  Unfortunately for Nix, there does not appear to be a roster spot available for Nix as there are higher-upside players – such as Brandon Guyer, Hak-Ju Lee, and Logan Forsythe – who should make the team over Nix.