A few weeks ago I took a look at some of the lesser known players that were invited to Spring Training by the Tampa Bay Rays and one of the players I chose to highlight was outfielder Jeff Salazar.
Salazar, now with his sixth organization, was an 8th round draft pick in 2002 by the Colorado Rockies and played with the organization up until 2006. He played the next two seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks system and then all of 2009 in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. This was the last year he would have a cup of coffee with his organization's parent club.
Salazar, now 31, has played seven seasons in Triple-A and has posted a .269/.355/.434 line in 2427 plate appearances and has walked in 11.5% of those plate appearances while playing all three outfield positions and spending most of his time in center field.
Salazar was granted free agency on November 2nd of last year and waited until February 14th to sign his next contract, a minor league deal with our Tampa Bay Rays, that included an invitation to Spring Training.
Salazar has compiled only 348 career plate appearances at the Major League level. But, in those plate appearances scattered over a few seasons, he has posted a 12.6% walk rate and .335 overall OBP. Even better is his .344 OBP against right-handed pitcher in 322 plate appearances.
The Rays, always on the lookout for value, must have been attracted to Salazar's ability to reach base and play all three outfield positions. He still has an above-average arm and plenty of speed for center and had a positive UZR in the corner outfield spots in his limited time in the Majors.
Spring stats are about 99% meaningless but Salazar has worked the counts, run the bases well, and shown some pop with his .286/.483/.524 line that includes two doubles, a homerun, and four stolen bases.
What is more impressive, though, is that he has drawn eight unintentional walks in 29 overall plate appearances and has only struck out twice against right-handed pitching in 23 plate appearances.
Salazar's days as a potential Big League regular are over. He struggles against left-handers and does not have enough pop to profile in an outfield corner. He will likely, if he accepts the assignment, be asked to go to Triple-A Durham in the coming weeks with the hope of being called up when/if the Rays need an extra outfielder.
Salazar will have to be added to the 40-man roster and likely leap frog Brandon Guyer and Stephen Vogt to be called up but he has shown the ability to be a viable reserve player that can play the field, run, get on base, and one that I believe manager Joe Maddon could utilize if he is ever in need of an left-handed bat or above-average defender. Here's to wishing Salazar stays in the organization and finds success with the Rays.