The Rays still have plenty of their own questions as they enter the first full week of Spring Training games. However, there was one question lingering out there in the minds of many Rays fans and it involved a player in a different organization all together. This past off-season, the Chicago Cubs selected Josh Hamilton from the Rays in the Rule 5 draft and then traded him to the Cincinnati Reds. At the time, most thought that it would be a long shot, at best, for Hamilton, the former first overall pick (1999) to make the Reds’ 25-man roster. We are talking about a player that has only played 15 games since 2002 (all at short season low-A Hudson Valley) and has only played 23 career games above A-ball. Most thought that Hamilton would find his way back to the Rays or the two teams would work out a trade so that the Reds could send him to the minors for further seasoning. At the very least we assumed this would be underlying storyline throughout Spring Training with the final decision coming down to the last round of cuts by the Reds.
Well, the Reds are four games into their Spring schedule and the story may be a non-story already as Hamilton is tearing up the Grapefruit league. He has 9 hits in his first 16 at bats with 2 doubles and his first home run since 2002, a 500′ game-winner versus the Pirates, that cleared the batter’s eye in center field. We admit that we were a bit torn about the Hamilton situation. We are always for the team before the player, but we do have a soft spot for Josh Hamilton. Part of us wanted him to fail so that we could get him back, but another part of us smiles every time we see a Reds box score and Hamilton has multiple hits. The Rays have three young and extremely talented outfielders already in place. We are not saying that down the road Hamilton could not have been better than one or more of the starters, but it is not a position that the Rays are desperately looking to fill.
The complaint, and it is a legitimate one, is that the Rays lost Hamilton with anything to show for their investment. Not a single major league at bat. Not even a player to be named later. Should Hamilton have been protected on the 40-man roster? Hindsight says yes, but after his performance and injury at low-A Hudson Valley last summer, nobody could have seen this performance coming so soon.
Many Rays fans were still holding out hope and until the final 25-man rosters are announced many will be watching the Reds situation closely. That door is shutting fast and Josh is firmly entrenched on the other side.
[Update: Josh has a single and a walk in his first two plate appearances this afternoon and will likely be in the starting lineup tomorrow at Prospect Energy Park against the Rays]
[Update 2: Now it looks like Josh will not even make the trip to St. Pete tomorrow]