ST. PETERSBURG - Player of the year slugging 1B Nate Lowe headlines a group of 16 players on minor-league contracts invited to Rays' major-league camp, expanding their spring roster to 64.
Minor-leaguers from the Rays system include INF Mike Brosseau, INF Jake Cronenworth, INF Lucius Fox, RHP Mike Franco, C Mac James, LHP Dalton Moats, LHP Colin Poche, C David Rodríguez, INF/OF Nick Solak, RHP Curtis Taylor and INF/OF Kean Wong.
Also invited were three pitchers who had time in the big-leagues last year but were outrighted off the roster: RHP Oliver Drake (who pitched for five teams in 2018), RHP Andrew Kittredge and LHP Hoby Milner. Also, RHP Ian Gardeck, a minor-league Rule 5 draft pick from the Giants who returned to action impressively in 2018 after missing two-plus years while having two Tommy John surgeries and hip surgery.
As expected, there was no invite for two-way prospect LHP/1B Brendan McKay, the 2017 top pick who played at Class A last year with mixed results and missed time with injury.
Lowe, 23, earned Rays minor league player of the year honors after working his way from advanced Class A Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery to Triple-A Durham, hitting a combined .330 with 27 home runs, 102 RBI and a .985 OPS in 130 games. The lefty-swinging first baseman is expected to start the season at Durham but could play his way to the big leagues by mid-season. (If you were wondering, minor-league pitcher of the year Brock Burke was traded to Texas during the off-season.)
Also of note, Poche, 25, was named the Rays top minor-league reliever after a season with standout stats: 6-0, 0.98 with 87 strikeouts in 31 games for Montgomery and Durham. The dominating lefty was acquired from Arizona in the spring three-team Steven Souza Jr. trade taand was called by fangraphs.com "the most unhittable arm in the minors.'' Add in his stats before the May 1 announcement and he had an 0.82 ERA with 15.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Per the Rays, no minor league pitcher who threw as many innings had a better ratio.
Solak, 24, was also part of the Souza return from the Yankees, and earned team MVP honors at Montgomery. The righthander hit .282 with 19 home runs, 76 RBI, 21 steals and an .834 OPS in 126 games for Montgomery, splitting time btween second base and the outfield.
Wong, 23, earned top player honors at Durham, hitting .282 with nine home runs, 50 RBIs and a .751 OPS while playing second, third and outfield. That wasn’t good enough for a September callup, as the Rays gave Brandon Lowe and Andrew Velazquez opportunities. Wong’s older brother, Cardinals 2B Kolten, voiced his displeasure, and Kean said he was frustrated.
Here is information provided by the Rays on the others:
Brosseau, 24, spent last season with Double-A Montgomery, batting .262/.327/.449 (97-for-370) and recording career highs with 13 home runs, 61 RBI and 11 stolen bases. He finished the season with a .968 fielding pct. while spending time at third base (64 games, 63 starts), second base (16 games, all starts), first base (10 games, nine starts) and shortstop (one game). He was signed by the Rays as a non-drafted free agent following the 2016 June Draft out of Oakland University in Michigan and is a .295/.372/.450 (252-for-854) hitter with 20 home runs and 124 RBI over three minor league seasons.
Cronenworth, 25, spent most of last season with Montgomery, aside from a short stint with Triple-A Durham in April and a promotion for Durham’s run to the Governors’ Cup. Between the two levels, he hit .253/.321/.345 (112-for-443) with four home runs, 52 RBI and a career-high 22 stolen bases while making starts at shortstop (60), third base (32), second base (18) and first base (one). He tied for fourth in the Southern League with 75 runs scored. He was selected by the Rays in the seventh round of the 2015 June Draft out of the University of Michigan and is a career .272/.363/.367 (422-for-1,550) hitter with 12 home runs and 174 RBI over four minor league seasons.
Drake, 32, was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays on January 4 in exchange for cash considerations and was outrighted to the minor leagues following the signing of Avisaíl García. Last season, he pitched in the majors for the Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels, Blue Jays and the Minnesota Twins, becoming the first player in major league history to pitch for five different teams in one season. He has spent parts of four seasons in the majors, going 5-6 with a 4.59 ERA (137.1-IP, 70-ER) in 135 appearances, all in relief.
Fox, 21, split last season between Class-A Charlotte and Montgomery, batting .268/.351/.341 (122-for-455) with three home runs, 39 RBI and 29 stolen bases in 116 games. He was named to the Florida State League midseason All-Star Team and finished the season fifth in the league with a .371 on-base pct. and eighth with a .282 avg. He also played 21 games for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, batting .326 (28-for-86) with one home run, 11 RBI and seven stolen bases. He was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 23 prospect in the Rays system following the season, and the publication also tabbed him as the Best Defensive Infielder in the organization. He was originally signed by the San Francisco Giants as an international free agent in July 2015 and was acquired by the Rays in the Matt Moore trade on August 1, 2016.
Franco, 27, split the season between Montgomery and Durham, going 4-3 with a 3.16 ERA (62.2-IP, 22-ER) in 41 apps (one start). He was named Southern League Pitcher of the Week for April 30–May 6 and earned a promotion to Triple-A shortly thereafter, spending the rest of the season with Durham. He was placed on the disabled list near the end of the regular season and missed the postseason due to right shoulder impingement. He was selected in the seventh round of the 2014 June Draft out of Florida International University and is 19-14 with a 2.48 ERA (308.2-IP, 85-ER) over five minor league seasons.
Gardeck, 28, was selected from the Giants in the Triple-A phase of the 2018 Rule 5 Draft. He split last season between the AZL Giants, Class-A San Jose and Double-A Richmond, going 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA (13.2-IP, 4-ER) in 14 apps, his first professional action since 2015. He underwent Tommy John surgery and hip labrum surgery in March 2016 and a second Tommy John surgery in April 2017. He was selected by the Giants in the 16th round of the 2012 June Draft out of the University of Alabama and is 13-13 with a 4.07 ERA (223.1-IP, 101-ER) over five minor league seasons.
James, 25, split last season between Montgomery and Durham, batting .192/.290/.210 (32-for-167) with 14 RBI in 54 games between the two levels. He spent time at catcher (30 games, 29 starts), first base (13 games, 12 starts) and third base (eight games, three starts). He was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 June Draft out of the University of Oklahoma and is a career .238/.306/.289 (252-for-1,057) hitter with five home runs and 89 RBI in five minor league seasons.
Kittredge, 28, was outrighted off the 40-man roster in November. He made 33 apps (three starts) over five stints with the Rays, including his first career Opening Day roster, and held left-handed hitters to a .232/.348/.393 (13-for-56) line. He recorded his first career win on April 25 at Baltimore and made nine straight scoreless outings from September 5-19. He also made 21 apps (one start) with Durham, where he went 6-0 with a 2.74 ERA (46-IP, 14-ER) and 58 strikeouts. He was acquired by the Rays in a November 2016 trade with the Seattle Mariners and has spent parts of the last two seasons in the majors.
Milner, 28, was outrighted off the 40-man roster in November. He split last season between Triple-A and the majors in the Philadelphia Phillies and Rays organizations. He made four apps over two stints with the Rays (July 15-20 and September 20 through the end of the season) and totaled four stints in the majors. He was designated for assignment by the Phillies on July 10 and acquired by the Rays in exchange for cash considerations on July 14. In 40 apps (one start) between Durham and Lehigh Valley at the Triple-A level, he went 1-0 with a 2.88 ERA (40.2-IP, 13-ER) and 49 strikeouts. He was selected by the Phillies in the seventh round of the 2012 June Draft.
Moats, 23, spent last season with Montgomery, going 2-3 with a 5.34 ERA (62.1-IP, 37-ER) in 41 apps (10 starts). He pitched to a 0.84 ERA (10.2-IP, 1-ER) in seven outings for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League and was named to the AFL Rising Stars Game. He was selected in the 15th round of the 2016 June Draft out of Delta State University and is 11-6 with a 3.36 ERA (155.1-IP, 58-ER) over three minor league seasons.
Rodríguez, 22, split last season between Charlotte and Montgomery, batting .256/.316/.376 (91-for-356) with six home runs and 64 RBI between the two levels. He was named to the Florida State League midseason All-Star Team and earned a May 22 promotion to the Double-A level. He played for the Bravos de Margarita in the Venezuelan Winter League, batting .322 (38-for-118) with three home runs and 19 RBI in 35 games. He was signed as an international free agent in August 2012 and is a career .254/.326/.370 (411-for-1,618) hitter with 31 home runs and 229 RBI in six minor league seasons.
Taylor, 23, split last season between Charlotte and Montgomery, going 6-4 with a 2.54 ERA (78-IP, 22-ER) in 38 apps (four starts). He recorded at least four outs in 29 of his 38 apps and went at least two innings in 21 apps. He was selected by the Diamondbacks in the fourth round of the 2016 June Draft out of the University of British Columbia and was acquired by the Rays in November 2017 in exchange for Brad Boxberger. In three minor league seasons, he is 10-8 with a 2.81 ERA (156.2-IP, 49-ER) and 188 strikeouts in 68 apps (17 starts).
The Rays open spring training Feb. 13 with the first workout for pitchers and catchers.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.