The Tampa Bay Rays have a week to decide who will make the final 25 man roster ahead of Opening Day, and one of the needs the team has facing them is a right-handed hitting outfielder. They currently have a couple of options in camp who are competing to fill that void, and although none has emerged as a clear winner, there is a front runner.
Jason Coats, a longtime member of the Chicago White Sox system, came to the Rays prior to the 2017 season. He looked to be one of the main contenders for the Rays 25th spot heading into that spring, before being undone by a torn UCL that required surgery that ultimately would cost him all of the 2017 season.
Now, finally healthy after a year of rehab, Coats is back and could find himself on the Rays Opening Day roster just as he hoped a year ago.
Never riding Coats tails
A 29th round draft pick in the 2012 draft, Coats displayed impressive power during his first few years as a professional (44 HR over 401 games), with the ability to steal a few bases as well.
After the 2015 season, in which Coats performed excellently at the Triple-A level, he was named the 20th best prospect in the White Sox system by Baesball America.
He jumped to Triple-A Charlotte early in 2015 after a hot start at Double-A Birmingham. Coats lacks an above-average tool, but he can do a lot of things that would suit him as an extra outfielder.
He makes decent contact, hits different pitch types and appears unfazed by big situations. He hit a career-high 17 home runs in 2015, while driving in 81 runs to rank third in the International League.
Coats’ swing is geared more for gap power and taking the ball to right-center field. He can play all three outfield posts, but fits best on a corner with fringe-average speed and an average arm.
During the 2016 season, he received his first promotion to the majors, however over the course of the year, Coats would frequently be optioned and then promoted once more. When it was all said and done, Coats had his contract selected a total of four times by the White Sox over the course of the year.
Ultimately, he played in 28 games for the White Sox in 2016, hitting .200/.298/.340 with 1 home run. He would be designated for assignment in January of 2017, at which time the Rays picked him up.
Unfortunately, that’s when Coats would be diagnosed with the torn UCL and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. The Rays subsequently released and then resigned Coats to a minor league deal, allowing him to rehab the entire year in Port Charlotte. During the first days of camp this year, Neil Solondz spoke with Coats about the injury and his rehab.
A tailored fit for the Rays
A platoon hitter in the corner outfield, Coats has always fared much better against left-handed pitching then right-handed, but that’s perfect for the role the Rays envision for him.
Frequently throughout his years in the minors, Coats would boast an OPS north of .800 against LHP, while just barely holding his head above the .700 marker against RHP.
During his brief taste of the majors during the 2016 season, Coats only received 58 plate appearances (27 vs LHP / 31 vs RHP) and all of his success came against the southpaws, going 9-25 against LHP, while mustering just one hit over his 25 at-bats against RHP.
Whether he makes the Rays opening day roster or not, hopefully his next debut goes smoother than his first appearance with Chicago. which resulted in five stitches...
Coats had no business making it to that baseball, but he did anyway. That moment was scary for the outfielders, but it also shows a plus element to his defense.
Showing he cares about what’s important, following the collision, Coats had to receive five stitches in his mouth but all he was worried about was whether or not he held onto the ball, per Fangraphs:
It was do-or-die. We were both running full speed and we collided pretty good. I got my bell rung a little bit. Fortunately, I was able to hang onto the ball, which is the most important thing.
And he was also good natured about it:
There’s a handshake a bunch of the guys do, and (Shuck) and I do it in a way where we reenact the collision. We bump hands and then I run into his shoulder like I’m getting knocked out again. I kind of stumble back, putting my hand up to my chin. We have fun with it.
He will be limited to the corner outfield for the Rays, platooning with Denard Span and/or Mallex Smith. He doesn’t have the same center field profile as Span and Smith; however, the does not mean his defense is anything to scoff at. During his 102 innings in the outfield in 2016, Coats registered 1 DRS.
Prior to the 2016 season, when Coats was still a prospect, FanGraphs pegged him as being a 50 grade value in the outfield, exactly average for the major league level. That’s enough for the Rays to spell Span in the outfield.
Coats doesn’t project as an everyday outfielder, but for him to find success in the majors he does not need to be. His strengths compliment just what the Rays need.