More on the new relievers, Bartlett and Brignac
Here's some more and some leftover fallout from the trade that sent SS Jason Bartlett (and a minor-leaguer to be named) to the Padres for relievers Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes and 2B Cole Figueroa, and made Reid Brignac the starting shortstop, and also the signing of RHP Joel Peralta.
The 6-foot-8, 255-pounder is most likely to have the most impact in 2011, and could turn out to be a key late innings reliever. Since he's
out of options, it's a pretty sure thing that he'll be on the team. He's 27 and has been in the majors parts of three seasons with the White Sox and the Padres. He throws hard, usually in the mid-90s and occasionally getting close to 100 mph. The Rays have been looking at him for a while, and one thing they like is his potential for swing-and-miss stuff, which is vital in the rugged AL East, evidenced by his 54 strikeouts in 54 big-league innings, with only one home run allowed. “He’s got a track record of limiting extra-base hits, he’s a tough guy to square up,'' Rays exec VP Andrew Friedman said. "We still think there’s a little upside there as well.'' The biggest issue will be his ability to throw strikes consistently, as he also has allowed 26 walks.
A college teammate of Evan Longoria at Long Beach State after turning down the Rays as a sixth-round pick in 2002, Ramos, 26, was a starter for much of his time in the minors. He converted to relief last season, and impressed the Rays with his work over five relief appearances after a September callup. “He’s a competitive lefty with a good feel for pitching,” Friedman said. "He got his first true taste of relief work in 2010 and his stuff took a step forward in September while working out of the bullpen.'' He'l come to spring training to compete for the lefthanded specialist role, with Rule 5 pick Cesar Cabral, non-roster invitee R.J. Swindle and others, but could turn into more. “We like him on left-handers,'' Friedman said, "and there’s a chance to develop into a full-inning option down the road.” Ramos was rated the Padres 26th best prospect by Baseball America going into the 2010 season.
A product of Tulane University (where Friedman went), Gomes has been impressive in two seasons at Double-A San Antonio, striking out 193 over 144 1/3 innings, while going 11-3 with a 2.24 ERA and four saves. Gomes, 26 (and not related to ex-Ray Jonny Gomes), sounds headed to Triple-A, with a chance to pitch his way to the big leagues, as he is on the 40-man roster. “We think he’s well-prepared to challenge more advanced competition and heard nothing but great things about his makeup,'' Friedman said. "We feel with his stuff and the type of competitor he is he’s going to fit in well.''
The 23-year-old Tallahassee native and former Florida Gator is considered to have great instincts for the game, the benefit of being the son of former big-leaguer Bien Figueroa and god-son of Luis Alicea. He rebounded from a 2009 knee injury to have a great 2010 season at advanced Class A Lake Elsinore, hitting .303 with 66 RBIs and 26 steals. "He has a great feel for the game, and had a very successful 2010 season at the High A level,'' Friedman said. Figueroa, rated the Padres 30th best prospect going into 2010, seems likely headed to Double-A. As an aside, as a freshman Gator, he faced Rays ace David Price's Vanderbilt team, and had two of Florida's four hits over Price's eight innings, in which he struck out 13.
After posting 20 saves and a 2.08 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse, Peralta joined the Nats in June and had a solid season, going 1-0, 2.02 in 39 games, allowing just a .170 average. He was very tough on righties, a .145 mark, and improved vs. lefties, allowing .212 average.
"He's coming off a very strong season with Washington last year, and he's seen that success carry over to the Dominican Winter League (0-1, 1.26, 9 saves in 14 games, with 22 Ks in 14 1/3 IP)," Friedman said. "He's a veteran guy with a solid track record against righties. Good fastball, breaking ball, split(-finger) guy. He's a fly-ball pitcher who throws a lot of strikes, and we believe there are some fundamental adjustments that helped him against left-handers in 2010, and we're optimistic that the success he had against lefties can carry over to next year."
Friedman acknowledged the disappointment in trading Bartlett, who was a key player in their 2008-2010 run of success. "JB has meant a lot to this organization the last three years," Friedman said. "He's a big part of our success during that time period. When he came aboard, he really solidified our infield defense -- and that infield defense was really a hallmark for us in '08, '09 and '10 -- and had a lot of value offensively and on the bases.''
Bartlett was hoping to stick around, but liked the idea of going back to the Padres organization where he started his career, and said he understood. “I totally understand what they’re doing,’’ he said. “There’s no hard feelings.''
Though Friedman never rules anything out, he said there's no plans to acquire a veteran shortstop as they are comfortable turning the job over to Brignac. The Rays feel good about his defense, but are hoping the 24-year-old can make some adjustments and improvements at the plate. Brignac hit .256 in 113 games last season with 8 homers and 45 RBIs, but struck out 77 times in 301 at-bats and only walked 19 times. The Rays also plan to have Elliot Johnson on the team as a reserve and use him at time, probably against tough lefties. "We feel like defensively it's going to continue to be a strength for us and hopefully we're goign to get some offense out of that position as well,'' Friedman said.