One of the things that we Tampa Bay area Devil Ray fans are blessed with is the opportunity to witness our home team and its organizational representatives take the field right in our very backyard for about 2/3 of the year. Besides having Spring Training in St. Petersburg, we are afforded the opportunity to view Minor League Spring Training, Extended Spring Training, and the Florida Instructional League right in town as well, the latter two occurring simultaneously with regular season games.
Unfortunately, few people take advantage of the tremendous opportunities available to watch the Rays play outside of the major league team's activities, and let's face it, even that isn't taken advantage of too much by natives. But nonetheless, even die-hards pass up the chance to view some top organizational prospects take the field right over at the Raymond Naimoli Complex three times a year, whether due to lack of interest in the minor leagues, the lack of proliferated information on these events, or inconvenient times/locations.
I personally am not one of them, I have made many trips up to Clearwater and over to Seminole to watch the Rays play in their various complex leagues, and I find each trip rewarding and great in a personal experience that just can't be replicated in organized games. While the structure of said games isn't always well-defined, often waived, and there are no scoreboards to help you keep track of the game, merely being afforded the chance to watch players that I am able to follow only through box scores for most of the year is rewarding enough. I will admit, in my experience Extended Spring Training roster composition is usually the most anonymous of all of the camps. I will be lucky if I can identify one of every five players I see, and maybe 1 of 10 I have even a basic knowledge of. Still, watching those players battle it out with the 'TB' logo on their chest draws me in regardless, and I find myself a frequent return customer to the ballparks every spring, summer, and fall.
This year, in an effort to proliferate information on Extended Spring Training for readers of DRaysBay, as well as for my own personal knowledge, I requested I copy of the Devil Rays' 2007 Extended ST schedule and roster from the team, and they were happy to oblige my request in a prompt and thorough manner. Without their cooperation, this post obviously would not be possible, so I want to thank the Minor League Administration department for accommodating my request. In this post I have both requested pieces of information, and I will preface it with a little introduction to the basics about Extended ST following the jump. I have the tables formatted right here in this post for your browsing, and I have two Excel files below should you want to download the roster and schedule files I have personally created to print.
It is my hope that you will take this previously unrevealed information and use it to your advantage; become a better fan, head out to one of these ballgames and check out the players that may be donning a Rays uniform at Tropicana Field in a few years. Expand your horizons and increase your knowledge of the farm system by starting out with the least well-known prospects. Find players you like, and latch onto their minor league careers, following them through every rung. I know I personally did this for the first time several years ago, and it has been such a rewarding progression for me as a fan to watch the development of players whom I saw in their very first organized team activity. So please, take this information and make yourself a better fan. Go out and catch some Rays, minor league Rays that is, and return with that much more knowledge on the Rays. Get out and enjoy these games while you still can, they won't be around next year, and of all the things St. Petersburg is losing, these types of things might be the biggest loss.
Before you delve in head-first with your Rays Extended Spring Training experience, as I know you will, let me preface the documents below by adding a few little useful tidbits of information I know about Extended ST based on my experience there in the past, as well as other facts.
- First of all, on the players involved. The players you see in Extended ST are usually unrecognizable for a reason. They are low level minor league players, mostly short season guys that were recently drafted and that the organization deems as not being ready to play in a full season league. Because the Short Season leagues don't begin until mid-June, the organization needs something to do with the legions of talent they have that can't make it on a full season roster. While there are occasionally guys on this roster who are recognizable as legitimate top prospects, they are usually really young and are waiting for the Hudson Valley season to start. You also occasionally get your injured veteran player here doing rehab work, as was the case last year with Josh Hamilton and this year with Hee-Seop Choi, however I will be honest. Most of the players you see here aren't going to make it past the short season leagues, some will never even see minor league game action at all, and a very, very small percentage of these players will actually advance up the minor league ladder to the higher leagues, much less make the majors. This is the most obscure of obscure minor league collections, because unlike Instructional League and Spring Training, this camp occurs during the regular seasons of minor league clubs. So while few players may be recognizable, it is still enjoyable to go out and watch some young draftee Rays take the field and possibly go on their way to long baseball careers. Just don't expect too many of those.
- Also, like Instructional League and Spring Training, the Rays' teams only play the local Bay Area teams, the New York Yankees in Tampa, the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, and the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin. The Rays typically play two games back to back against each team, with Sundays being off. They alternate home and away dates every week, but most always play Toronto on Monday and Tuesday, Philadelphia on Wednesday and Thursday, and New York on Friday and Saturday. This isn't always the case, but it is usually.
- Don't get ready to go to these games and expect to stroll into Bright House Field to watch the game, chances are your viewing experience will come from behind a chain link fence near a baseball diamond that will possibly have less spectators than your average little league game. I will map out the locations of the various sites below, past the tables, but they do not occur in the spring training stadiums of their respective teams. They occur on complex fields at their respective teams' spring training sites.
- Lastly, have fun! These games are very informal, and allow you to view professional baseball players up close and personal. No "fan hosts" herding you around the field, you are pretty much at your own liberty to wander around the field and check things out. This, of course, is not a blank check to go walking into the dugouts, but striking up a casual conversation with a willing player is not hard. Even the playing of the games may be informal. I have witnessed batting orders that have included more than nine people at times, abruptly suspended games for no real reason, as well as some really strange substitutions in the past. So keep that in mind; enjoy what you see, but all of it may not be conventional.
Players to Watch For
Among players to keep an eye out for on your trip to the complexes:
- RHP Alex Cobb: The Rays' 4th round pick in last year's draft is in St. Pete pending reassignment to a short season league later this year. The 19 year old struggled to a 5.19 ERA in a brief stint with Princeton last year, but the stint was really brief; just 8.2 innings of work. He had a very impressive track record out of high school, where he posted a 1.09 ERA over 13 games in his senior year, striking out 139 batters in 74 innings. The year before, he posted a 0.62 ERA, again posting 139 strikeouts but in 90 innings of work.
- RHP Tyree Hayes: The 18 year old Hayes, No. 24 on DRB's Top 30 prospect list, appears in Extended ST after throwing 40 innings of work for the P-Rays last year. Because he started last season when he was still just 17 years old, he can afford to not be on the fast track in the lower minor league levels, and it appears that the Rays are taking advantage of this and moving him slowly. The son of former major leaguer Charlie Hayes, the 8th round pick of the Rays in last year's draft posted a 2.48 ERA for Princeton in nine games, seven starts, last year, and posted a 0.84 ERA as a senior in high school.
- C Mike McCormick: The fifth round pick in the 2005 draft, McCormick had languished down at Princeton for the past two seasons as a middle infielder despite two reasonably productive seasons, but comes into Extended ST as the Rays try to convert him into a catcher. Princeton's leader in home runs and slugging percentage last year, McCormick ranked third in the Appy League in home runs and doubles while finishing the year at .275/.364/.491. Depending on how the catching experiment goes, you could see him suiting up as the backstop for Hudson Valley when they open their season in a month and a half.
- IF Hee-Seop Choi: Choi, the only player on this roster to have seen major league action and the first Korean born position player to play in the major leagues, was presumed MIA after he was re-assigned in spring training and not listed on an active major league roster, but here he surfaces in Extended Spring Training, presumably rehabbing from some injury. Choi, who has a .240/.349/.437 line in 915 major league at bats, spent part of last season with Boston's AAA Pawtucket affiliate after being cut by Los Angeles in spring training. The injured Choi struggled last year with the PawSox, but has a .275/.380/.511 line in over 500 career minor league games.
DEVIL RAYS (St. Petersburg): Raymond A. Naimoli Baseball Complex
Philadelphia (Clearwater): Carpenter Field
Toronto (Dunedin): Bobby Matlick Training Center at Englebert Complex
- New York (Tampa): Yankees Complex