The Tampa Bay Rays announced this morning the following minor league contracts (with an invitation to major league spring training):
LHP Jonny Venters
Venters continues to defy odds with his baseball career. Once among the best relievers in baseball, Venters has undergone three Tommy John surgeries and ended his 2016 season with a fourth elbow injury that did not require surgery.
He returns to the Rays for his fourth season in the organization in 2018, having risen to the Triple-A level last season. This time, the signing finally comes with an invitation to major league Spring Training. Is this the season he returns?
RHP R.J. Alaniz
Alaniz, 26, split time between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo in the Detroit system over the past two seasons after signing as a free agent out of Houston organization. With Detroit he pitched to a 2.94 ERA (144-IP, 47-ER) in 95 appearances (10 starts).
RHP Cody Hall
Hall, 29, has made a combined nine appearances in the majors with the San Francisco Giants (2015) and Miami Marlins (2016). Per the team press release, he started last season pitching for Lancaster in the independent Atlantic League, and finished the season with Double-A Richmond in the Giants organization.
RHP Colton Murray
Murray, 27, signed out of the Philadelphia Phillies organization, where he made 32 appearances in the majors from 2015-16. Last season he pitched at Double- and Triple-A.
UTIL Brandon Snyder
Snyder, 31, is a previous first round draft pick from 2005, and has appeared in the majors in parts of five seasons with the Orioles (2010-11), Rangers (2012), Red Sox (2013) and Braves (2016). Per the team press release, he spent all of last season with Triple-A Syracuse in the Washington Nationals organization, batting .263/.356/.490 (110-for-418) with a career-high 23 home runs.
LHP Adam Kolarek and LHP Vidal Nuño
Previously announced, these pitchers were signed early in the off-season, and their presence allowed the Rays to move on from veteran LHP Xavier Cedeno at the 40-man roster deadline.
Nuno is a journeyman who could function in a long relief role, while Kolarek (who debuted with the Rays last season) is known for an extreme groundball rate.
In addition to the seven free agents above, the following minor league players have received invites to major league spring training: outfielder Jason Coats, catcher Nick Ciuffo, outfielder Johnny Field, right-handed pitcher Ian Gibaut, first baseman/outfielder Joe McCarthy and infielder Kean Wong.
Coats was claimed off waivers last offseason, but had a season lost to injury in 2017. Read more about Coats here. He and Field have the right handed bat profile the Rays need to platoon with Mallex Smith in LF next season.
Ciuffo, a multiple time system defender of the year, was at risk to be taken in the Rule 5 draft, but fortunately remained with the club. He ranks third on the catcher depth chart and could easily make his MLB debut in 2018. Read more about Ciuffo here.
Gibaut is likely to join 40-man roster relievers Diego Castillo, Chih-Wei Hu, Andrew Kittredge, Austin Pruitt, Jaime Schultz, Ryne Stanek, and Hunter Wood on the Durham shuttle next season.
McCarthy is an early success from the 2015 draft, and has rocketed up through the Rays system. The left handed hitter boasted a 149 wRC+ in Double-A last season with a staggering 16.2% walk rate and seven home runs, and was profiled by Fangraphs in a piece looking for the next Matt Carpenter:
Rays prospect Joe McCarthy‘s capacity to elevate hasn’t translated to markedly above-average power numbers. He’s recorded an isolated-power figure of .150 this year, not significantly higher than the Southern League average of .124. His home park suppresses left-handed homers a bit, it seems, so you can mentally adjust for that a little bit. At a basic level, though, McCarthy possesses the foundations of a Carpenter-type profile. It wouldn’t be surprising to find that, after a small change to his swing, he’s able to take advantage of his uncommon approach.
Finally, second baseman Wong was a key player on the Triple-A Championship winning Durham Bulls. He has long projected to have a major league floor, but is not expected to have the same potential as his brother in St. Louis of becoming a starting infielder at the major league level. He hit .265/.328/.361 (94 wRC+) in his age-22 season.