Tampa Bay Rays (28 days until pitchers and catchers report)

Rays Anatomy points to a Jim Callis chat at ESPN.com in which Callis believes the Rays catcher in 2010 will be John Jaso. We are big believers in Jaso, a 12th-round selection in the 2003 draft, and eagerly await the opportunity to see him play at Durham this year.

While there is little chance we will see Jaso at the big league level in 2008, if Navarro fails to step-up his game offensively and defensively this season, a Navi-Jaso platoon is not out of the question for 2009. We have argued in the past that Navarro should become a full-time right-handed hitter. In the past three seasons combined, Navarro has posted an .804 OPS right-handed compared to a .635 OPS left-handed. In fact, in one two-game stretch this past season, Navarro was forced to bat right-handed against a right-handed pitcher due to a sore wrist. In one of those games, Navi collected a career-high four hits.

Navi may be perfectly capable of being a successful big league switch-hitter, but the process is much more difficult for a catcher. While other fielders get to spend a large amount of time in the cage, honing their hitting skills, catchers need to work on blocking pitches, footwork on throws to second, sitting in on pitchers meetings, catching pitchers during their bullpen sessions, scouting other team’s hitters, work on calling a game and having their heads rubbed for luck. So the amount of time spent on the offensive aspect of their game is already reduced. Now take that and cut it in half for a switch-hitter as Navarro need to do everything twice…once from each side of the plate.

Jaso, a left-handed hitter, has battled injuries his entire minor league career, but that has not kept him from posting a .300 batting average and .800 OPS each of the past four seasons. He has also posted a very impressive 208:178 strikeout-to-walk ratio during his minor league career. In part due to injuries and in part due to the slow maturation of catchers in general, Jaso has moved through the system slowly but methodically. He has never been promoted in-season and has spent a full season at each level.

Jaso will most likely spend the 2008 season at AAA Durham. If this season is similar to the rest, statistically, and Jaso can remain healthy, he will be given every opportunity to win a job with the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays.

Jaso, The Trio and Other Rays News and Notes [Rays Anatomy]

DEVIL RAYS WEBTOPIA

  • The Heater is reporting that the Rays are close to a deal with Jonny Gomes. The deal would be for approximately $1.25 million, with incentives. If the numbers are accurate, that would be about $500,000 more than we predicted. [TampaBay.com]
  • Armchair GM takes a look at the Rays Top 10 Prospects (according to Baseball America) and looks at each player a little closer. [ArmchairGM]

…most importantly, Baseball America has ranked Tampa’s Minor League Organization number one in all of baseball in each of the past two seasons. Three of their four top prospects are pitchers, and if even two of them make an impact, the Rays will become very good, very quickly. Combined with their already formidable group of young position players (the Rays fielded the second youngest overall team in the majors last season), they should soon be able to hang with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

  • Bill Chastain continues his examination of the Rays. Today’s “position” is the middle infield, featuring Akinori Iwamura, Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist, whom Joe Maddon says is the backup middle infielder as of now. [DevilRays.com]
  • Akinori Iwamura spent the off-season in Japan working with his former infield coach of the Yakult Swallows on his transition to second base. Muu-Rah has set four goals for 2008…He wants to hit .300, score 100 runs, remain healthy and play October baseball. Finally…somebody that get’s it. [TBO]
  • “Ten pitching seasons to forget”. Or as we like to call it…”The 2006 Tampa Bay Devil Rays”. Seriously though. How is there not one single Devil Ray on this list? Not even Ryan Rupe from 2001? In their defense, Jae Seo and Casey Fossum from last season did not pitch enough innings to qualify. And if not for the 4-hit shutout, Edwin Jackson most likely is on the list (his numbers appear to just miss the cutoff). We went back and looked…We were shocked to see that Fossum and Seo only made ten starts apiece. Twenty starts total? Felt more like 50. In fact they were both out of the rotation by June. Wow. And to think the Rays were actually flirting with .500 during that time period. [The Hardball Times]
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8 Comments

  1. Robert Rittner says:

    This is the first time I have seen anyone rate McGee's fastball as average/plus. Generally it is considered outstanding; BA ranked it as the best fastball in the organization. Maybe these ratings consider average/plus as their highest one, but it seems overly conservative.

    I also think that the Niemann comments slightly mislead in saying he is not a hard thrower. It is true that most scouts note he is not throwing as hard as he did before the injuries, but he still gets it into the low-mid 90s and remains a power pitcher who may even reclaim some of his speed as his injuries heal more fully. He is certainly not a Mark Hendrickson type.

    I also was a bit surprised to read that Hellickson has no plus pitches. I thought the point about him is that despite his size, he throws very hard with terrific bite on his breaking pitches. Of course, I am basing this only on what I have read, so I cannot attest to it. But again, I had not read this particular analysis anywhere else and wonder at the author's source.

    I am glad you linked to this article as it seems very positive in general, but also adds a bit of cold water to temper the enthusiasm of many fans.

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  2. The Professor says:

    I am not sure about McGee. From what i understand he can touch 94-95. I am not sure what else they are considering. Can he consistently hit 93-94 with the occasional 95? or is he consistently 90-91 and can occasionally touch 95? big difference. Also, at the big league level it takes more than heat. Kyle Farnsworth can throw as hard or harder than most. But he has never been successful even as a closer (who often can get by with one pitch) because his fastball is straight as an arrow. Does McGee's fastball have natural movement? I dont know the answer? Or maybe they just consider guys that throw 98+ to have a "plus fastball".

    Niemann is a bit of an enigma. From what I understand he is back in the low 90s. That is definitely not a soft-tosser, but not the 94-95 we would like to see. Hopefully he will come to spring training with a couple more inches on the heater.

    As for Hellickson. From what I have read he has 2-3 "above average" pitches. Which is actually a good thing and why he is rated fairly high for being so young. Usually it takes a pitcher 2-3 years to develop complementary pitches and to have 2 already is excellent. He is low 90s despite being rail-thin. In other words, he throws hard "for his size". He was only upper 80s when he was drafted is I recall corectly. So he is already adding some to the fastball. And as he fills out his frame he projects to be able to hit 94-95, but we will see.

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  3. Big Mike says:

    So what happens if Navarro has a decent or even a good year offensively and defensively? A platoon would not work then. But would the team be willing to let Jaso be the backup and give him 40 starts and 200 at bats? or would they leave him stuck at AAA another year?

    And what if Navarro is just so-so this season but Jaso excels in AAA? Would the team try and trade Navarro? Would they be willing to make a playoff run in 2009 with a rookie catcher?

    It is going to be interesting to watch this story all season long and next off-season to see how the team approaches it.

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  4. The Professor says:

    conceivably the Rays could keep Jaso down on the farm for the next three years, but it will be interesting to see how long they want one minor leaguer hogging a spot on the 40-man roster.

    What is even more interesting right now is how the Rays plan to handle the Jaso/Riggans situation at Durham. Platoon? Does the other player DH on the off-day?

    We will most likely get our first look at Jaso in Spring Training next year. After that??

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  5. Robert Rittner says:

    I will defer to your information as I do not remember my sources, but I was pretty sure that McGee is supposed to sit in the mid 90s reaching 97-98. And the point is usually made that a lefty with such velocity is very unusual, making his fastball all the more impressive.

    The article says he does have good movement on his fastball, something I have read elsewhere. I don't think he has the Farnsworth problem of straight pitches.

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  6. The Professor says:

    I've heard the 97-98 number before, but I always just assumed that was a "fast" gun.

    For those that are not familiar, the same pitch can register different velocities on different radar guns. Some are considered "fast" guns. These are often used at ballparks, because 98 is more exciting to the fans than 94.

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  7. The Professor says:

    to finish my thought...always thought the 97-98 number might be a little high because I have also seen 94-95. Maybe the 97-98 guy caught him on a good day? Maybe the 94-95 guy caught him on an off-day? Maybe they were different guns?

    I would definitely love it if the 97-98 was more accurate. and if it is, and there is movement, that most definitely qualifies as a plus-fastball.

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  8. Robert Rittner says:

    3) I swear I’m not just in a pitcher-happy mood. Travis Snider was the first guy I thought about at No. 3, but I later decided that I couldn’t hold off on Jake McGee any longer. McGee slid to the 5th round of the 2004 Draft because he was a skinny kid with little to offer besides a good fastball. Three years later: 1) He has grown to be 6-foot-3, 245-pounds. 2) His fastball has gone from good to great. 3) His breaking balls and changeup have made massive strides. McGee struck out 30.8% of the batters he faced between High-A (470 batters faced) and Double-A (99) last year. And he only walked 8.3% in High-A – this after walking 11.6% in Low-A in 2006. At the rate he has been maturing, McGee is suddenly a solid bet to become a very good No. 2 starter.
    ______________________________
    This is from Project Prospect. I am not claiming it is an infallible source, but I am sure I have seen their comments on his fastball repeated in every other site I've read.
    Your point about fast guns is excellent, but I do not think the evaluations of his fastball are based on just one or two samples.

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