ST. PETERSBURG — Coming off a dazzling 2018 performance, lefty Jose Alvarado looked like he would be a powerful weapon in the Rays’ bullpen for years to come.
Two disappointing seasons later, Alvarado was traded because the Rays needed to open a spot on their 40-man roster, shipped to Philadelphia in a three-team deal that brought back two minor-leaguers from the Dodgers. One is first baseman Dillon Paulson, who played at the Class A level in 2019; the other will be named later.
Alvarado was set back in 2019 by two stints on the injured list, including the final month due to elbow inflammation, and a month-long absence he said was to attend to his ill mother in their native Venezuela, as her condition had been wearing on him.
Though Alvarado, 25, reported to spring training in 2020 saying he was of sound mind and body, his season didn’t go much better. He made only nine appearances, sidelined from mid-August on due to shoulder inflammation. He was added to the roster for the American League Championship Series, then dropped again for the World Series. Strike throwing also was an issue.
Because the Rays are prioritizing the depth of their starter/bulk-inning pitching options, and put more of a value on multi-inning relievers, Alvarado, who is eligible for arbitration, was considered expendable.
Rays general manager Erik Neander said Alvarado could rediscover his form with the Phillies, who sent lefty pitcher Garrett Cleavinger to the Dodgers.
“Look at his age; there’s plenty of time left,” Neander said. “And I think we saw some real signs of continued development, emotionally, mentally, this past year (including moving his family to the United States). …
“It wouldn’t surprise me in the least that the stuff is going to continue to show up and it’s harnessed and he gets back to the zone a little bit more. That he cuts through adversity a little bit better and does a nice job for Philadelphia.”
Paulson, 23, is a lefty hitter and thrower taken in the 13th round of the 2018 draft from Southern Cal. In his one full minor-league season in 2019, Paulson hit .243 with 16 homers, 64 RBIs and a .798 OPS at two Class A levels, promoted from Great Lakes after being named a Midwest League midseason All-Star to Rancho Cucamonga.
The Rays needed a roster spot to add pitcher Luis Patino and catcher Francisco Mejia, who were acquired from the Padres in the Blake Snell trade.
Plans for the new guys
Patino (pah-TEEN-yo) was the centerpiece of the return from San Diego, and Neander said the Rays “think the world of him.” Though only 21, he made his big-league debut last season, and Neander said once the coaching staff gets to know him in spring training they will have a sense of how quickly the hard-throwing right-hander can help the big-league staff.
Though Mejia (meh-HE-uh) has had some time in the outfield, Neander made it clear the Rays acquired the switch-hitter as a catcher. Further, that the 25-year-old, a former top prospect in Cleveland, needs to improve his defense, “that there’s parts of his game behind the plate that he’s going to need to continue to develop,” and the Rays have plans to help him do it.
Kevan Smith returns
The Rays added to their catching depth Tuesday in re-signing Kevan Smith to a minor-league deal. Smith, 32, played in 17 games (nine starts) for the Rays last season, hitting .258. He joins Mejia and the recently re-signed Mike Zunino as catching options.