Minor league players have always played a pivotal role in the Rays' franchise.
Casey Kotchman far outperformed his deal last season and after starting in Durham made his way back to the majors and finished the season with the eighth best batting average in the American League.
Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb are among the players that made contributions to last season’s wild card berth even though they spent a significant part of the year in the minors.
Here is a snapshot of Matt Mangini, Juan Miranda, Jhonny Nunez, and Ricky Orta, the four signees that hope to contribute to the still developing history of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Mangini was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2007. He has a career batting average of .280 over his five minor league seasons in the Mariners system. Last season he had a .336 batting average with the Tacoma Rainiers in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
Miranda has five professional seasons under his belt including four stints in the majors playing for the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks. Last season, in 65 games with the Diamondbacks he hit .213 with seven home runs and 23 RBI. His career numbers include a .226 batting average and 11 home runs in 111 games in the majors.
Although a .226 batting average may not seem high it still would have been higher than five players that appeared in at least 70 games for the Rays last season.
Miranda and Mangini offer corner infielder options that the Rays can develop to either eventually fill the first base spot or add injury depth for 2012. On the team’s current 40 man roster there are no options as backups at either first base or third base that aren’t starters at other positions.
Although Dan Johnson provided one of the most memorable moments last season with his game 162 heroics, his .119 average over 31 games left much to be desired. Although Miranda and Mangini won’t likely be everyday options, they could see time as platoon players or as injury fill-ins during the season.
Nunez combined to go 4-4 with a 4.73 ERA in the minors at Bristol and Charlotte in the Chicago White Sox organization last season. He has played six professional seasons including a seven-game stint with the White Sox in 2009. He was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 2003 out of the Dominican Republic and has spent time in the Dodgers, Nationals, Yankees and White Sox over the course of his career. He has a 3.77 ERA and 475 strikeouts over 489.1 career innings pitched in the minors. He will provide some additional bullpen depth for the Rays in 2012.
Orta is actually re-signing with the Rays. He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2006 and signed with the Rays May 14, 2010. He attended the Rays major league camp last spring. Last season he had a 1.12 ERA (8.0-IP, 1-ER) in four games with the Gulf Coast League Rays (Rookie) as he recovered from an elbow surgery performed in April 2010.
The likelihood of these players being regular contributors to the major league team this year is slim. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ability to play in the majors at some point this season, even in a brief stint, and make an impact for the Rays sometime in 2012.