The Rays have been up and down when it comes to winning and losing throughout the early portion of 2009 Spring Training. But at this point, records are not the most important factor. The performance of regular players and top prospects is what is most important to teams and their loyal followers. So far, many Rays have been impressive.
On the pitching side, Wade Davis has proven that he can hang with Major League hitters. The 23yearold right hander who put up strong totals at AA and AAA in 2008 has rolled through big lineups so far this Spring. He pitched two perfect innings against the Yankees’ everyday lineup, striking out three, two of them being Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. He later pitched 3.2 more shutout innings against the Cardinals, and has not allowed a run yet. Jason Hammel (0 runs in six innings) and Jeff Niemann (1.80 ERA, seven strikeouts in five innings) are both making strong cases to stay with the team into the regular season. With both pitchers out of options, this is exactly what they need to be doing. Brian Shouse has also pitched well in limited action. He will need to be this effective holding down the fort in the late innings of big regular season games, and he is proving that he can.
The hitters are swinging well too, posting big multirun innings on a regular basis. Carlos Pena made his return from injury today and promptly smashed two doubles, good for three RBI. Evan Longoria has been exceptional against both MLB and World Baseball Classic opposition, hitting home runs against teams from both places. Jason Bartlett is 711 (.636) against MLB teams. Even Elliot Johnson has two home runs and two stolen bases. Finally, even though he is only 15 (the hit coming in his first plate appearance), Tim Beckham has shown good potential for a 19yearold prospect and is learning more now than in all previous seasons combined. I can see him starting with singleA Bowling Green, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him back in Port Charlotte with the highA Stone Crabs before too long.
On the flip side, Gabe Kapler (012) and Reid Brignac (116, HR) have been lackluster, but they still have time to adjust and get back to hitting like they should. What we have seen so far is only a sample size. Hopefully the top performers stay on top and the bottom feeders catch up. The way this team functions, I think this is very much possible. Check out the great new facilities in Port Charlotte whenever you can, come up to St. Petersburg all throughout the upcoming season, and go Rays.