Why Johnny Field making the majors is cause for Rays’ celebration, and concern

When he finally reached the majors, Fields was a symbol of perseverance ― and what’s gone wrong with the Rays.
Rays new player Johnny Field in the dugout during the Rays game against the Phillies at Tropicana Field Friday night 4/13/2018. He did not play. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
Rays new player Johnny Field in the dugout during the Rays game against the Phillies at Tropicana Field Friday night 4/13/2018. He did not play. JIM DAMASKE | Times
Published April 14, 2018|Updated April 14, 2018

Friday’s promotion of OF Johnny Field to the majors made a lot of people happy. Obviously Field. Certainly his parents, other family, friends, teammates. Probably at least a couple really serious fantasy baseball dudes.

But also the Rays scouts, who had been tracking Field over many nights since his high school days in Las Vegas and then in college at Arizona before making him a fifth-round pick in 2013.

And the Rays minor-league coaches, who started working with Field at short-season Class A Hudson Valley right after he signed for $250,000 to teach him how the pro game is played as well as how to be a professional as he moved through their system without the accommodation accorded higher-rated prospects.

“I’m sure there was a lot of shaking hands,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Indeed. Both Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics and scouting director Rob Metzler said there were considerable excitement among their staffs.

“When all of the time invested, in Johnny’s case dating back to his high school days, produces a big-league player for our club, it is incredibly rewarding for the amateur scouting staff as a whole and the individuals most directly involved,’’ Metzler said. “Having said that, a ton of credit goes to our player-development team. And even more so to Johnny himself, who competed and improved his game on every rung of the minor-league ladder.’’

They should be excited.

But they also need to do better.

For as much as the Rays, as a small-market/low-revenue team, count on the draft, they haven’t had much success in getting position players to the majors.

After the gold standard of 3B Evan Longoria — who was the third overall pick in 2006 and played 10 mostly stellar seasons for the Rays — the total number who were drafted by and played in the majors for the Rays is just nine.

Tilter that by players who had any real impact for the Rays, the list is pretty much CF Kevin Kiermaier, who deserves much of the credit for working his way up as a 31st-round pick in 2010, and OF Desmond Jennings. Factor in those the Rays traded and/or gave up on, and you can add late-blooming Stephen Vogt, and some might say Tim Beckham.

“Few and far between,’’ Cash acknowledged. “But hopefully we can start impacting that in a different way. I know we like a lot of our guys that we have in player development, and maybe Johnny is the first of many.’’

Maybe. Though most of the advanced position player prospects, such as Willy Adames, Christian Arroyo, Jake Bauers, Lucius Fox, Nick Solak and Justin Williams, were acquired in trade. And Jesus Sanchez and Wander Franco were international signs. Among the most promising drafted prospects are Joe McCarthy at Triple-A, Brandon Lowe at Double-A, 2017 top pick Brendan McKay and now injured Garrett Whitley at Class A.

Of the 13 position players currently with the Rays, only Kiermaier and Field are homegrown. (Pitchers Jake Faria, Austin Pruitt and Blake Snell were Rays draft picks; Jose Alvarado, Yonny Chirinos and Alex Colome international signs.)

“You look around this clubhouse and pretty much everyone was acquired through trades or whatnot,’’ Kiermaier said. “The draft? We had a lot of good guys throughout the years, some didn’t pan out like we thought. So it’s one of those things. … I don’t really care where guys come from. I just want guys who can come up here and play. But at the same time it’s nice to kind of have someone else in here who can say, the Rays is all we know.’’

And another reminder for the Rays to know they have to have more like him.

Homegrown harvest?

The Rays haven’t had much recent success in drafting, signing and advancing position players to the majors. Here is the complete list since 2006, separated by those who debuted for Rays and those who moved on first, ranked by WAR.

Debuted with the Rays

Draft Round Player Current team G Avg OPS WAR
2006 1 Evan Longoria Giants 1447 .269 .820 49.5
With Rays 1435 .270 .821 50
2010 31 Kevin Kiermaier Rays 473 .259 .741 21
2006 10 Desmond Jennings None 567 .245 .716 13.4
2007 12 Stephen Vogt Brewers DL 521 .251 .726 13.4
With Rays 18 .000 .074 -0.6
2008 1 Tim Beckham Orioles 302 .257 .742 4.6
With Rays 238 .247 .720 2.5
2012 8 Luke Maile Blue Jays 107 .194 .526 0.3
With Rays 57 .214 .572 0.2
2011 1 Mikie Mahtook Tigers 224 .250 .723 0.2
With Rays 106 .231 .685 0.1
2012 1 Richie Shaffer Indians 51 .213 .720 0.2
With Rays 51 .213 .720 0.2
2011 17 Taylor Motter Mariners 129 .194 .581 -0.8
With Rays 33 .188 .590 -0.1
2013 5 Johnny Field Rays (yet to debut)

Debuted elsewhere

Draft Round Player Current team G Avg OPS WAR
2010 2 Derek Dietrich Marlins 472 .252 .761 4.1
2012 3 Andrew Toles Dodgers-AAA 79 .294 .824 1.9
2006 5 Shawn O'Malley Rockies-AAA 124 .231 .632 0.7
2012 9 Joey Rickard Orioles-AAA 196 .255 .659 0.3
2006 6 Nevin Ashley NA 12 .100 .293 -0.2
2011 1 Tyler Goeddel Reds-AAA 92 .192 .549 -1.5
2014 12 Braxton Lee Marlins 8 .176 .399 NA

Short stops

* Um, Mr. Yarbrough … : Rookie LHP Ryan Yarbrough was the victim of some Tuesday dinner pranking by teammates. They rigged the “credit-card roulette” to watch Yarbrough squirm when he thought he was stuck with the roughly $1,500 bill for eight at Chicago’s Maple & Ash steak/seafood place, then laughed at his relief when RHP Chris Archer paid. “I was sweating a little bit,’’ Yarbrough said. “I was thinking, “Okay, good, we get paid in a couple days.’ Then I I thought (the server) was going to come back and go, “Sir, your card didn’t go through.’’ That’s what I was more worried about. … But it was all fun and games. I was oblivious. I should have seen it coming. They got me good.’’

* Candid, or a concession? Interesting and telling quote from a Rays exec ― under the shield of anonymity ― to the Wall Street Journal explaining why they felt the need to try their different pitching plan: “If we occupy the wake of both the Yankees and Boston and our behavior is aligned with theirs, we’re never going to step out and pass them ― ever. Never, ever, ever will we ever step out and pass them short of some incredible run of luck and good fortune.’’

* The Who? Rays: Perception of the Rays around ― not necessarily in ― the game is not good. Media in each road city, and several national types, openly question what they’re trying to do, which can be a fair point. But I don’t get those ridiculing the anonymity of the roster: Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Carlos Gomez and Wilson Ramos are former All-Stars; Kevin Kiermaier a two-time Gold Glover; Matt Duffy, Adeiny Hechavarria and Denard Span legit big-leaguers. It’s not like they are the Marlins or the Reds. (Try to name five of those.)

Rays rumblings

If the suddenly catcher-depleted Mets had enough interest in Wilson Ramos to take even most of his team-high $10.5 million salary, the Rays would love to talk. … Forbes′ latest franchise valuations has the Rays worth $900 million, up 9 percent from 2017 but last in the majors. That’s with the second lowest revenues, $219 million, but, interestingly, middle third operating income (described as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $23 million. … As LHP Matt Moore returns to the Trop with Texas, you wonder if the Rays knew something in trading him to San Francisco Aug. 1, 2016? Moore is 12-23, 5.29 since the deal; 39-28, 3.88 before, with April 2014 Tommy John surgery. … Average first-pitch temperature for the eight-game trip to New York, Boston and Chicago, including a balmy 59 in the Wednesday finale, was 44 degrees. … LHP Blake Snell was called Nate Snell by the Associated Press and Ian Snell by White Sox PR, but at least not confused with Matt Snell, a star in the New York Jets’ Super Bowl III victory. … Ex-Ray Johnny Damon is among the contestants on the latest Dancing with the Stars.