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Rays Winter Development Program Impressions

Winter Development Program Workout
Winter Development Program Workout

First off - I am very honored to have been invited by Steve to be an occasional contributor to DraysBay. Don't expect any mind blowing statistical analysis pieces or fancy Pitch F/X charts from me, because sabermetrics is an area that I am still becoming familiar with. I'm sure in the coming weeks and months I'll learn plenty from all of you on that front.

What I do hope I can provide to this site occasionally is a little bit of information on the Rays' minor league system and some of their top prospects from more of a scouting point of view. I will be covering the system for my own site - which I might as well go ahead and pimp now and be done with - - Rays Digest. But I will - as time permits - contribute here as well and am estatic to be doing so.

In that vein, I had the opportunity to attend the Rays' Winter Development Program on Wednesday at Tropicana Field and wanted to share some of the things I saw and experienced there. After the jump I will do so.

*** As reported by Marc Topkins and others, Matt Joyce (along with Russ Canzler) was in fact taking ground balls and throws at first base. After his workout he talked to reporters and said, "That’s the Rays. They like guys to be versatile. They just asked me if I would come out and take some ground balls just in case something happened where they moved me around - or moved some guys around . It’s gives us some extra flexibility."

Let's hope that nothing happens, because from what I saw Joyce did not even look passable at first base. He was having issues going to his right to get balls and on several occasions - in the five minutes I watched him - booted some pretty routine grounders badly.

I have no idea if it was his first workout there or not and to be fair it is the beginning of January and not the start of Spring Training. He also had a brand new glove (that apparently was a gift from Rawlings) that looked like it needed the ol' under-the-mattress-treatment we used to employ as kids.

If the Rays truly are just trying to get a feel for if Joyce can handle the position, then their initial impressions were probably "hmmm....we'll see."

With the signing of Luke Scott apparently a done deal, the Rays do have another option to consider at first, although Scott indicated that he will serve as the team's designated hitter.

I'm not saying that Joyce won't be able to cut it at first if he becomes Plan B, C or D. Only that he needs some work there. Which I suppose, is perhaps a pretty obvious statement.

*** As for the minor league players - they spent the majority of their time doing strength and conditioning and flexibility exercises. The impression that I got from all the players that I talked to was that this camp was about learning how to be a professional. Part of that, obviously, is learning how to stay in shape during the off-season and coming to Spring Training healthy, in-shape, and ready to roll. I overheard several lectures from members of the training staff talking about the kinds of things that needed to be done to stay fit this winter and nearly every player I talked to indicated that they had been working out on their own all off-season pretty rigorously.

*** The hitter's went through some bunting drills and it was encouraging to see that so many of the players at the camp had pretty good bunting technique and were able to execute various types of bunts.

*** I talked to about 15 different players in the clubhouse after the workout. I was able to get interviews with most of the top draft picks from the past two years. I was truly impressed by how well they all answered my questions and you could tell that they had recently been coached on handling media.

*** A couple of notes on some specific players:

1) According to Josh Sale, his struggles last year were not mechanical...but mental. Take that for what it's worth, but he indicated that his swing is fine. (It has been widely reported that the Rays were tinkering with his swing) It is also worth noting that he has his own personal hitting coach that he seems extremely committed to. Nearly every scouting report I've read on Sale has indicated that his swing needs work. So, perhaps - and I'm speculating here - his coach may be the problem.

Sale is also a pretty intense guy. He is covered in tattoos and currently sports a mohawk. I couldn't help but to think that I was interviewing an MMA fighter and not a baseball player. That said, he obviously has a high baseball IQ and was very specific and thorough when answering all of my questions.

2) Justin O'Conner was another guy I talked to that has been a bit of a disappointment in his young career. He told me that he was "paying too much attention to my stats." I'm not sure what that means, because unless you like looking at strikeouts there wasn't much to see from O'Conner last year. He also indicated - as I suspected - that he is still not used to catching physically and that his off-season program is more catered towards the rigors of catching this winter.

3) One final player that is worth mentioning is Lenny Linsky. I was very impressed with the way he carried himself and there was definitely a higher level of maturity emanating from him in comparison to some of the guys that were just out of high school. He told me that his off-season workout program consists of surfing every day, which apparently gets him a lot of ribbing. However, as someone who has done a little surfing in my younger days, I can tell you that surfing is pretty demanding on the body.

I'll have more coverage of my day at the Winter Development program here and on Rays Digest in the coming days.