Friday, April 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Bobby Wilson catching on with hometown team

BALTIMORE — Nick Franklin is the player to benefit the most from his late season opportunity with the Rays, playing his way, until his Thursday hamstring strain, into a superutility role for next season.

Catcher Bobby Wilson is next on that list.

Claimed off waivers from Texas in early August to provide some depth as the Rays sent struggling Curt Casali to Triple A, Wilson not only worked his way into the lineup on a somewhat regular basis but into at least strong consideration for a job next season.

"Bobby has come in and done a nice job. The guys like throwing to Bobby, and understandably why," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He's earned the right to get to play."

Wilson is 33, playing in his 14th pro season after prepping at Seminole High and has never been more than a part-timer during parts of eight years in the majors. So you could question why the Rays would give him innings and at-bats rather than use them to further develop Casali and Luke Maile.

Wilson has no overwhelming specific physical skills, and he does have something, to put it politely, of a traditional catcher's body. His offense, though better this season (.240, six homers, 32 RBIs, .633 OPS), is not going to get him noticed. His catcher's ERA of 4.62 in 22 games with the Rays is higher than the others'.

But there is something about Bobby …

"The metrics might not look good for him, but there's intangible things that players bring to the clubhouse, and he does that," starter Chris Archer said. "You can look at it analytically, and try to break it down, whatever, this and that, but there is also the human element where guys enjoy throwing to him."

Why?

"I think No. 1, and it's nothing against anybody else, but the way he prepares for a game just by studying hitters," Archer said. "The way he gets to know his pitching staff. The way he sets up. His experience in the American League. The way that he presents the ball to the umpire. The way he communicates.

"I mean, it's everything. It's not just one thing."

Wilson would like very much to stick around and get to keep playing in his hometown. He isn't looking for much, a million-plus or so, though the security of his first guaranteed deal would be a welcome reward.

"You never know what's going to happen, but obviously this is a place I'd like to stay," Wilson said. "And help this team win."

He is definitely more comfortable playing at home this year than last, when he started the season with the Rays but was DFA'd in June and after a stint at Triple-A Durham was later lost on waivers to Texas.

He signed back with the Rangers this year and was traded at the end of spring training to Detroit, then back to Texas in May, but waived when they acquired Jonathan Lucroy. (Dizzying, yes, but also potentially lucrative as it puts him in line for two playoff shares if the Rangers and Tigers both make it.)

Wilson has a better handle now on dealing with having family and friends around all the time, and the requests that come with it. More importantly, he has shed the pressure he felt last year to not make any mistakes "because it's your hometown" to playing more carefree. A similar switch to a more aggressive and confident do-whatever-it-takes approach at the plate has also helped.

"You obviously care, but having an attitude of 'I don't really care' has made me a better player this year, in my opinion," he said.

Seeking a frontline catcher has been something of an annual exercise for the Rays, and should be a top priority again this offseason. Maybe by trading from their stash of starting pitchers they can find one, and if so, Wilson could be the solid backup, providing veteran presence and leadership. Or maybe they try, once again, to piece it together with a tandem or trio, and Wilson could be a big part of that.

Either way, he seems in position to catch on.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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