Pitchers and catchers are set to report to Port Charlotte on February 19th, the start of what feels like the agonizingly long six weeks of spring training. Each spring presents the opportunity for a new crop of spring training invitees -- prospects, career minor leaguers, or former big leaguers -- to catch fire and win a coveted roster spot.
For prospects, this is their big chance to display their talents before major league coaches who would otherwise know them only through videos and scouting reports. Some less heralded minor leaguers are just hoping to show enough skill to warrant a roster spot somewhere in the upper levels, from where they may get an injury call up. Established major leaguers are just hoping to prove they still have what it takes to compete at the top level.
So, here are the pitchers the Rays have given an invite to spring training.
The former Milwaukee top ten prospect, has journeyed around affiliate ball since 2005 having played with ten different organizations, and Tampa Bay will be his 11th. Eveland managed to pitch in 10 games last season with the Braves and pretty much served as a LOOGY. You can read much more on hij, here, in
Five years in his professional career, Gamboa was struggling to establish himself as a legitimate prospect. So, he decided to introduce a knuckleball to his repertoire. The results didn't change that much, but the Orioles liked him enough to add him to the 40 man roster and actually promoted him to the majors in 2015, before sending him back down before making a single appearance. He would be non-tendered following the season, allowing the Rays to pick him up.
The first Rays draftee represented, Garton was selected in the 34th round of the 2012 draft and has quietly worked his way up the ladder. He will likely start the season with Triple-A as he has progressed one level for each year he's been in the system. A reliever throughout his career, Garton stymied opposing hitters, holding them to a .211 average. With the current weak bullpen, Garton has only an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster.
In 2016, Marinez will be spending his second consecutive year in the Rays organization with the hopes of pitching in the majors for just the third time in his career (and the first time since 2012.) A former top prospect and Futures' game participant, Marinez has struggled the past few years. He put together the best season on his career in 2015 and he'll hope to build off that this coming year.
A 39th round pick in the 2010 draft, Markel is on the cusp of reaching the majors, having finished the 2015 season with the Durham Bulls. After splitting time between starting and relieving, it seems that Markel now has a fixed spot in the bullpen. He saw his best year in 2012 when Baseball America rated his change-up the best in the system, and ranked him 25th overall in the organization. However, he has struggled since then. If he's able to turn it around, we may see Markel gracing the mound for the Rays at some point in 2016.
A former third round pick in 2009, Marks had a mediocre start to his professional career but he was able to work his way up and reach the majors (pitched in just one game) in 2014 with the Royals. Marks spent the 2015 season in the Arizona organization, but never reached the big league team.
Once a top six prospect in the Pirates system, McPherson's career was derailed by Tommy John Surgery in 2013. The Rays picked him up the following off-season and he spent the 2015 season rehabbing between three different levels, spending the most time with Double-A Montgomery. He has ten games of successful major league experience under his belt, pitching solidly in 2012 for Pittsburgh.
He spent the 2015 season playing in Mexico after playing 2010 to 2014 in Triple-A. He has never made the jump to the majors. He displayed excellent numbers while in Mexico, but we'll have to wait and see if that will translate back in the states.
Acquired last off-season for Cesar Ramos, Sappington is likely heading for Durham once the season starts as he has spent the past three seasons pitching in Double-A. He was twice a top ten prospect in the Angels organization, but following his transition to the pen, his value plummeted. However like the others above, if he puts on a nice display and impresses the coaches, he could find himself pitching at the Trop soon enough.
Drafted by the Rays in the 14th round of the 2013 draft, Schultz is quickly become one of the best, under-the-radar prospects in baseball as pitched well as a started at each level as he has progressed up the latter. After a strong performance with Montgomery in 2015, Schultz is set to join a rotation in Durham that will feature Blake Snell and Taylor Guerreri, but may be quick to establish himself.
A former left-hander flame thrower for the Braves, Venters career has been ravaged by injuries as he has gone under the knife three times. He hasn't pitched a single inning since the 2012 season, but previously he has really been tough on lefties, maintaining a 38.0% strikeout rate against them. If he is miraculously able to return to form, he'd bring a very nice addition to the Rays bullpen.
A minor league journeyman, Wagner has made several stops in the majors with various clubs. But, he, like a few others on this list, would have to undergo Tommy John surgery, missing the 2015 season. The Rays are taking a flier on him and giving him a chance to turn some heads in spring training.
A finesse pitcher, Wilk used to be one of the better pitching prospects in the Tigers system, having the best control from 2010 to 2012. He has made the jump to the majors a couple of different times with generally poor results. He'll more than likely be starting rotation depth for the Bulls this upcoming year, but there's always the possibility he could be needed at some point for the Rays.