Since August of last season, the Rays organization has been hit with a rash of suspensions. In that span, nine players have been suspended, easily more than any other team during that period. The offenses range from performance enhancers and amphetamines to a "drug of abuse" or refusal to take a test. Most of the players suspended, and this goes for the league in general and not just the Rays, won't even register on fans' radars since they're unknown minor leaguers, some of whom aren't even playing in the United States yet. Two of those nine names are significant for Rays fans though, and those are Ryan Brett and Josh Sale.
Brett and Sale, both selected in the top 100 in the 2010 draft, were suspended for amphetamine use five days apart at the end of the 2012 season. Entering 2013, Brett had 38 games left to serve, and Sale had 43, all according to Biscuits beat writer Stacy Long. At posting time, Bowling Green has played 35 games, which means Brett and Sale could return to action on the 17th and 21st, respectively. While they're expected to be assigned to Charlotte, their game countdown goes by Bowling Green's schedule because that was the roster they were on when they were suspended.
Both players have much to prove in 2013. Brett is coming off a year where he did not meet expectations; he dropped from #14 to #22 on both Baseball America's top 30 Rays prospect list and our writers' poll. His average dropped 15 points despite an 11 point BABIP increase, his walk rate was down, and his strikeout rate was way up from 8.9% to 16.0%. His power also dropped dramatically. His ISO in 2011 with Princeton was .171, and it was down to .107 with Bowling Green. There is no doubt no one will ever confuse the 5'9, 180 pound second baseman for a power hitter, but it's not even a matter of home runs here. He had more extra base hits (30) in 270 plate appearances with Princeton than he did in 456 plate appearances with Bowling Green (29).
Meanwhile, Sale has to sustain success over a period longer than half a season. His pro debut was a half season with Princeton in 2011 that didn't go well at all. He wasn't making much contact, and when he did, it wasn't hard. He didn't seem to be the polished bat he was supposed to be at all. When he made his Bowling Green debut in May last year, he appeared to be defying expectations. In 18 May games, Sale had six home runs with a .353/.485/.765 slash line. That was clearly unsustainable, but amid injuries, he wouldn't post an OPS higher than .772 in any of the following three months.
Sale's walk and strikeout rates remained pretty consistent, but his power declined. From May to August, his monthly ISOs were .412, .157, .185 and .100. After his six home run May, he only hit four more the rest of the season. That means Sale has something to prove on two fronts. Primarily, he has to stay healthy. He only played in 74 games last year, and although he only went on the DL once in July, it wasn't uncommon for him to miss a game here or there with minor leg ailments. He's going to have to produce over those extra games too. He has to go through the league a second and third time, make adjustments and not disappear for stretches of a season.
Charlotte could certainly benefit from the addition of these two. In the Florida State League, the Stone Crabs are last in runs per game and below the league average in OBP and OPS. They're hitting home runs and stealing bases efficiently, and those are two areas Brett and Sale will make them even better in. Hector Guevara is the primary player that stands to lose at-bats when the suspensions end. He's been Charlotte's everyday second baseman and posting an OBP under .300 in his second year at the level. In Sale's case, it's less clear. Since Kyeong Kang went back to Montgomery, Willie Argo and Brett Nommensen have been playing left field. When Sale's back, it'll give Charlotte an all-first round pick infield as he joins Kes Carter and Drew Vettleson.
It's not clear how much, if any, amphetamine use affected their games. Amphetamine use was once very common in baseball, maybe even more common than performance enhancers like steroids. Baseball didn't even start testing for them until three years after they began drug testing. I don't think their play is going to suddenly drop off. The history of minor leaguers suspended and coming back to have good careers is very limited, but that's a flawed way of looking at it. This is the eighth year of testing, and it's fair to say that dozens of players is still a pretty small sample. Many players suspended were the longest of long shots anyway and wouldn't make the majors without a positive test anyway.