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Why is Joseph Odom on the Rays roster?

The Rays made a surprising addition to the 26-man roster on Saturday. Here’s why:

2021 Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Rays found themselves in a bind during the first week of the season when LHP Ryan Sherriff was placed on the Restricted List. Sherriff’s reasons for stepping away from the game are not known nor are they any of our business. Neil Solondz reports that Sherriff, “has the club’s support.” Sherriff surprised in 2020 as a late addition to the club that allowed zero runs across his appearances in the majors and the World Series; we wish him well.

What this article is concerned with is that the Rays were in a situation they did not expect: they had an opening on the 26-man roster the third day of the season.

Major League rules require that a player optioned to the minors cannot be recalled during the first 10 days of the season unless there is an injury, and separate pandemic rules meant the Rays could only look to their taxi squad during a road game in Miami to fill the opening.

As Sherriff’s departure was not related to injury, this left Tampa Bay with only two options, both of whom were non-roster invites from spring training that were not encumbered by MLB’s rules for optioned players:

  • RHP David Hess
  • C Joseph Odom

As the coming third game of the season was to be played in a National League ballpark, the Rays would not be able to utilize a DH and could further anticipate needing many pinch hitters when most opportunities for the pitcher to hit arose. Furthermore, this game would be preceding an off day when all pitchers would rest. There was only one logical choice for the Rays needs in what was essentially one game of need: the catcher.

Joseph Odom was a 13th round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves in 2013 out of Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. After making the spring training roster for Atlanta in 2016, he was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the minor league Rule-5 draft in the following season. Odom was promoted for the first time from the pandemic taxi-squad in 2020 and made his major league debut on July 28, and per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times he had a circuitous role to that opportunity:

After not getting an invite to the original 60-man player pool for summer camp, Odom was added to the alternate training site and immediately placed on the taxi squad on July 23 when Tom Murphy went on the 10-day injured list with hairline fracture in his foot.

Odom is considered one of the best defensive catchers in the organization in terms of receiving and framing pitches and working with young pitchers. He split last season between Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma, posting a combined .235/.302/.339 slash line with 18 doubles, six home runs and 34 RBI. He was named a Texas League Mid-Season All-Star with the Travelers.

Odom was DFA’d by the Mariners following the 2020 season and signed a minor league deal with the Rays. As a non-roster invite to spring training and batted a .333 AVG over 13 games with 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 BB and 8 K, which contributed to some positive vibes around his performance with a new organization.

While ready and waiting catchers like Odom have their value — just ask Rays manager Kevin Cash — they are also the sort to likely pass through waivers easily or, if claimed by another team, are lost painlessly, whenever the time comes that the Rays need to regain a 40-man roster spot.

Odom did not make his Rays debut in game 3 of the season, a 12 to 7 shellacking that prevented a Rays sweep in Miami, and will continue with the team to Boston, another series that precedes an off day. Unless there is an injury, the Rays can be expected to continue to have Odom on the roster into the homestand and possibly beyond, as neither Ji-Man Choi or Brett Phillips are expected to make quick returns from the injured list.

If the Rays do choose to option Odom once the 10-day window has passed, they may return to a three-man bench in the interest of adding another pitcher, or may consider versatile infielders like the right handed hitting Kevin Padlo or — in the case of prioritizing defense — switch-hitters like Taylor Walls or Vidal Brujan. Among those players, Padlo and Walls are current members of the Rays taxi squad.

Whatever the length of stay for Odom, this may not be the only time this season we see the Rays carry three catchers.

Another Rays switch-hitter, Francisco Mejia may have many opportunities to pinch hit in 2021; however, burning his roster spot on a pinch hit means that in the rare scenario that the catcher is hurt the Rays would need to use a non-traditional position player at catcher (likely Mike Brosseau).

The presence of a third catcher like Odom eliminates that risk, and even though it reduces the defensive flexibility of the roster overall, it is worth remembering how malleable the Rays roster can be positionally with infielders Brandon Lowe (35 games), Joey Wendle (18 games), Yoshi Tsutsugo (16 games), and Brosseau (14 games) all capable of manning an outfield corner.