Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' lower-round draft picks had to work to get here

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Last week's third suspension, and potential last strike, for OF Josh Sale illustrates the challenge that the Rays, and other teams, face even with young players deemed worthy of a first-round selection and million-plus-dollar investments. Besides headaches from a holdout and the two drug and one disciplinary punishments, all the Rays have gotten after making Sale the 17th pick of the 2010 draft — ahead of Marlins OF Christian Yelich and Mets RHP prospect Noah Syndergaard, among others — and investing a $1.62 million bonus plus many thousands more in development costs is a .238 average and 11 home runs over 224 games no higher than the Class A level. And that stands in immense contrast to what they've gotten from their 31st-round pick that year, OF Kevin Kiermaier, and other low-round or undrafted players who were determined and dedicated to work their way to the big leagues. When Sale's latest suspension came down last week, Kiermaier had strong words, saying it's up to each player to make the right decisions, to control his own destiny and to do whatever he can to take advantage of "the greatest opportunity to play baseball for a living." Pretty much the way Kiermaier has. He signed for $75,000, hustled and played hard to work his way through each level of the minors, battled back from a lost 2012 season at advanced Class A Charlotte when he broke bones in both hands two months apart and refused to be derailed by anything or anybody.v"It's something I'll never forget — I was the 941st pick, and I use that as a chip on my shoulder," Kiermaier said. "When everyone says it's all about the opportunity, it might sound cliche, but it's true. And for me, I wanted to make the best of it.

"I knew I'd surprise a lot of people. It's kind of a cool feeling when people ask, hey, what round were you drafted, and I say 31st, and they're like, what? Little things like that, it's a compliment when they're so shocked by it.

"I'm here now and I've kind of let everyone know what I can do. So looking back, I'm actually happy I was drafted in the 31st round. I wasn't at the time. But now, I can always say I was expected to pretty much do nothing, but if you work hard and put your mind to it then you can do a lot of things."

And typically those players have to do much more than the chosen ones who are high draft picks and/or bonus babies.

"I had to earn absolutely everything I got," said RHP Kirby Yates, an undrafted free agent who signed for $1,000 and a plane ticket. "I had to earn every promotion. I had to earn every roster spot of spring training, whereas a guy like (Sale), a lot of stuff is just handed to them. I'm not saying they can't play or they're not talented, it's just the way the business is — they've got money invested in him so he's going to get every opportunity to succeed where my opportunity is not anything great, it's a very, very small window to success, and to keep advancing."

LHP Jeff Beliveau, an 18th-round pick of the Cubs in 2008, battled the same bias.

"It's the same game, but you're just given way more opportunities, you have a lot more things handed to you the higher pick you are. That's just how the game is," Beliveau said. "A lot of the later-round guys don't really skip levels, they have to prove themselves over and over again. And they still kind of get sc----- along the way somehow."

Talent, obviously, is a major factor in any player's chance for big-league success. But, clearly, as Kiermaier and others have shown, it's not all that matters.

Commish rumblings

The Rays have reason, as principal owner Stuart Sternberg said, to see the election of Rob Manfred as the next commissioner as "an exciting opportunity." Manfred acknowledged Thursday "competitive balance is the bedrock of the product we sell," is said to keenly understand how teams like the Rays want it improved and seems more open to change, not just financially through revenue sharing but also via the draft, scheduling and other vehicles. Also, he has a longer-term focus than Bud Selig, who was cementing a legacy.

It's not clear where Manfred (bottom left) stands — or if he has a public stance yet — on the Rays' stadium issue. But any action is likely to come at the direction of the other owners, and in collaboration with Sternberg (top left), so nothing dramatic is expected when Manfred takes office in January.

Sternberg, per the New York Times, played a key role in pinning down Manfred opponent Tom Werner, the Red Sox chairman, on a major omission in his presentation, asking directly if he would increase revenue sharing, to which Werner said no.

With 20 home games left, the Rays haven't heard yet when Selig will make his third-ever visit to the Trop as part of his planned farewell tour.

Rays rumblings

Opening day for manager Joe Maddon's Ava restaurant in south Tampa has been pushed from Sept. 18 into early October. … The Rays talked to C Chris Gimenez last week, but offered only a slot at Triple A and no promise of a September call-up (unless there was an injury), so he stayed with the Rangers' Triple-A team, though with an out clause. … OF Wil Myers' pending return from the disabled list will create interesting lineup and roster questions given how in his absence Kiermaier has emerged as such a key player. … Jeremy Hellickson became the fourth pitcher in franchise history to make 100 starts, joining James Shields (217), David Price (170) and Scott Kazmir (144). … It will be interesting to see the fan reaction Price gets when he starts for the Tigers against the Rays on Thursday; an ovation would seem in order since neither really got a chance to say goodbye. … Already a JFK conspiracy theorist before touring the assassination site last week, Maddon is already plotting a more in-depth tour for next season's trip to Texas. … Interesting seeing former Devil Rays broadcasters Joe Magrane and Charlie Slowes sitting side-by-side on MLB Network last week. … Double-A Montgomery pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein will work for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League.

Got a minute? | Jeff Beliveau

Best meal you can make? I know my way around a kitchen and I can follow a recipe. I like making risotto, so usually my go-to is risotto, chicken and a vegetable.

Must-see TV? Currently, it's Ray Donovan. But I like Seinfeld reruns, too.

Karaoke song, if you had to? Fat Bottomed Girls, by Queen.

Food you hate? I don't really hate any foods, but tofu.

Celebrity crush? Jessica Biel.

     
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