Rays to host annual development camp this week
The Rays say their "lifeblood" is their minor league system, which they depend on more than most other teams in the majors.
And a large part of Tampa Bay's future - it hopes - will be at Tropicana Field Monday through Thursday, when several of their top prospects participate in their annual development camp.
There headliner will likely be OF Wil Myers, the prized chip of the RHP James Shields trade to the Royals. But there will also be several former first-round picks, including 2008 No. 1 overall SS/2B Tim Beckham, OF Josh Sale, RHP Taylor Guerrieri, 3B Richie Shaffer and OF Mikie Mahtook. And there will be pitchers that could make an impact on the Rays big-league bullpen at some point in 2013, including LHP Frank De Los Santos and RHP Alex Colome.
During the four-day camp, which is not open to the public, the 31 players will work out, receive media training and on-field instruction, as well as make some community apppearances.
And, considering what happened last year, there will likely be even more education on the league's drug policy. Six Rays minor leaguers received 50-game suspensions in 2012 for violating the program, including first-rounders Beckham (marijuana) and Sale, who was one of four to test positive for methamphetamine and amphetamine. Sale, the 17th overall pick in 2010, said, through his agent, he did nothing wrong and 2B Ryan Brett claimed his positive test was the result of a one-time use of Adderall that he thought was an energy pill. OF Cody Rogers was suspended for refusing an offseason drug test.
Mitch Lukevics, Rays director of minor league operations, doesn't believe there's a widespread organizational problem, but admitted the number of suspensions were concerning.
"It stunk, very disappointing," Lukevics said. "I'd be lying to say anything different. As much education as we do, and when we tell them all 100 times, we tell them 101 times. We spend as much time on the education of "Do's and Don'ts" and derailers as much as we do hitting or pitching or throwing. It was very disappointing, there's no getting around it."
The Rays weren't alone, with the performance-enhancing drug topic an issue across all of baseball (just look at the recent Hall of Fame voting shutout). There were eight player suspensions for positive tests in the majors last season, the most since 2007. MLB and the players association reached an agreement last week to expand the sport's drug program to include random in-season blood testing for human growth hormone and a new test to catch players using testosterone.
Education, at every level, becomes even more important.
"I'm not naive as a parent to think that kids don't make mistakes," Lukevics said. "But they're willing to learn from their mistakes."
-- JOE SMITH