ST. PETERSBURG — Because elite talents with great bats at marquee positions are rare, the Rays officially invested almost $3 million in one Monday, even though Dominican SS Adrian Rondon just turned 16.
"We feel that combination is a very hard thing to find," director of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said in a statement from the team.
Baseball America calls the 6-foot-2 Rondon this year's top international prospect, with a strong bat and the potential to skyrocket through the system like the Cubs' Starlin Castro, who made his major-league debut at age 20.
"It's a dream come true, truthfully, not for the money, but for the chance to compete in the major leagues," Rondon told the team after signing for a $2.95 million bonus on his birthday. "It's truly going to change my life."
The Rays typically aren't big spenders on the international market but were committed to landing Rondon, despite the penalties they'll face.
The Rays had a pool of about $2 million to sign international prospects. They added to that Monday by trading RHP prospect Matt Ramsey — 1.07 ERA in 24 appearances for Double-A Montgomery — to the Marlins for three of Miami's bonus slots, worth slightly more than $1 million.
But with Rondon and other prospects, the Rays exceeded their pool by more than 15 percent and will be taxed dollar-for-dollar on the overage. They'll also be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $300,000 in the next two signing periods.
HELLICKSON UP: RHP Jeremy Hellickson is hopeful his 2014 debut goes better than his first rehab start in Triple-A Durham did: four runs allowed in 2⅓ innings.
"Hopefully I don't have the butterflies I had in my first start in Durham," he said.
Hellickson is scheduled to start tonight for the first time this season after having elbow surgery in July. Manager Joe Maddon said he expects Hellickson to be ready to go for his usual 100-110 pitches, and Hellickson said he feels better now than he typically does after spring training.
Hellickson's return bumps LHP Erik Bedard from the rotation and into the bullpen, likely as the long reliever. Maddon said that could mean more significant opportunities for LHP Cesar Ramos, who was reinstated from the paternity list after Sunday's game.
But Maddon also hinted that more moves could be coming for a team with only three position players on the bench. SS Yunel Escobar (shoulder) had his rehab start for the Gulf Coast League Rays rained out Monday, but he's scheduled to play shortstop for Class A Charlotte today and could come off the DL later this week.
"We're going to have some tough decisions to make down the road," Maddon said, "and that's a good thing."
NO RELIEF: LHP Jake McGee said he was a little disappointed about being left off the All-Star team, but he understands how challenging it is for a noncloser reliever to make the squad.
"It's kind of hard to compete with that sometimes," McGee said.
MISCELLANY: RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo's seven hits were the most he has allowed as a reliever, and his four runs were the most he has given up since 2011. But Maddon said Oviedo "did not throw the ball badly." … The defeat ended Maddon's goal of the team climbing to 50-50 after 100 games. … The game paused in the first inning thanks to the distraction of three pigeons that made their way into the dome and were flying near the field.