Rays Sign Three To Minor League Deals

Scott Munter

The Tampa Bay Rays remained busy with their offseason efforts this week, signing three players to minor league deals with invitations to spring training—left-handed reliever Brian Anderson, right-hander Scott Munter and Josh Paul, who was the team's backup catcher in 2007.

Similar to Buster Olney's blog on ESPN.com, this post will link to you the latest baseball coverage across the web, specifically focusing on the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Tampa Bay Rays remained busy in their offseason efforts this week, signing three players to minor league deals with invitations to spring training—left-handed reliever Brian Anderson, right-hander Scott Munter and Josh Paul, who was the team's backup catcher in 2007.

Perhaps Anderson, selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the first overall pick of the 1997 Expansion Draft, is best known for his stellar pickoff move, which was considered one of the best in the majors during his days as a starter. He has gone through some ups and downs over his 13-year career, compiling an 82-83 record, 4.74 ERA and 723 strikeouts. The highlight of his career, though, came during 2001, when he played an important role in the Diamondbacks' run to a World Series title.

Brian Anderson (AP)

Anderson, 35, is coming off consecutive elbow surgeries, however, and has not pitched in a major league game since the beginning of 2005, when he made his last outing for the Kansas City Royals. Following Tommy John surgery after his season ended prematurely in '05, he then re-injured his surgically-repaired elbow while rehabbing.

Headed into spring training, Anderson is not expected to be healthy enough to pitch right away. With the Rays still searching for a left-handed reliever to add to their bullpen, though, he has the potential to make an impact down the stretch, and at a relatively low cost, too—$475,000 for one year.

If his latest comeback does not workout, he can always fall back on his latest career endeavor, broadcasting, or, going on his latest blog post, perhaps he can become a doctor, too; he gives a telling description of the intricacies of the human elbow on his personal blog here.

Munter, 6'6, 250 pounds, is an intimidating presence on the mound, due to his size and velocity. He primarily relies on an effective, heavy sinker, which usually sits in the low-to-mid 90s, and constantly prompts hitters to roll over their hands. Originally a first baseman in college at the University of Oklahoma, he transferred to Butler Community College (KS), where he transformed into a pitcher.

Munter developed his excellent sinker during his stint with Double-A Norwich in 2004, just three seasons after being selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 47th round of the 2001 draft. Within a year he was a weapon out of the Giants' bullpen in a brief stint in the majors, posting a 2.56 ERA in 38.2 innings pitched over 45 appearances. Perhaps due to the lack of a reliable breaking pitch, he regressed the next season while continuing his comeback from elbow surgery. Although he made his first Opening Day roster, he was quickly optioned to Double-A, where his struggles continued. Munter, who made only 12 appearances with the Giants last season, has a career 3-2 record and 4.75 ERA in 84 games. For someone with his demeanor on the mound and height, however, his strikeouts totals are surprisingly low, again perhaps due to his failure to successfully develop a breaking pitch.

Along with Anderson, he is one of five non-roster invitee pitchers who the Rays have invited to spring training—Wade Davis, Christopher Mason and Jake McGee, none of whom has a realistic chance of starting with the Rays, being the three others. If he can effectively add another offering to his repertoire, he has perhaps the strongest chance of the aforementioned pitchers of latching on with the Rays at the end of Grapefruit League play.

Paul was nagged by several injuries in '07, finishing the year with less than stellar statistics—(.190, .234, .248)—in 35 games behind the plate. He is a favorite of manager Joe Maddon, though, due to his upbeat attitude and work ethic. Paul, who is working on a book about the art of catching and pitch selection, is a marginal defensive catcher, too, but has a decent track record of managing games and working with young pitchers. Perhaps, as a Vanderbilt alumnus, he could prove to be a mentor top pitching prospect David Price. Price, of course, shares the same alma mater as Paul, coming off one of the most prolific careers in Commodores' history.

With the addition of Paul, the Rays now have three legitimate candidates to back up starting catcher Dioner NavarroMike DiFelice, an original Ray, and youngster Shawn Riggans. As of right now, DiFelice appears to have the edge on the backup job headed into spring training, with Riggans, also coming off an injury-plagued, disappointing season, projected to start the season at Triple-A Durham, where John Jaso should see a number of innings behind the plate.

Odds are, Paul will be remembered more for his legendary "porn star" mustache than actions on the field, but he is said to know how to handle a pitching staff well, perhaps evident (or not) during his stint as hard-throwing right-hander Seth McClung's personal catcher a few seasons back.

Regardless of all that, though, Paul will still always be known as the catcher who was involved in this play, first and foremost:

Ensberg Considered Signing With Rays:

Perhaps the most frequently asked question about the Rays headed into spring training is: Where will top third base prospect Evan Longoria begin the season, Durham or St. Petersburg?

According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, veteran infielder Morgan Ensberg, who recently signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees, was close to coming to terms on a deal with Tampa Bay. If he did, in fact, opt to sign with the Rays instead of his taking his chances in the competition for the Yankees' first base job, then Longoria probably would have began the season in Durham, at least for the first few weeks of April.

Rosenthal:

Morgan Ensberg could have signed a major-league contract with the Rays and started at third base until the team promoted top prospect Evan Longoria.

Ensberg, who has played only one career game at first, puts tremendous pressure on himself, a trait that seemingly would make him better suited for Tampa Bay than New York.

Still, the Rays could promote Longoria within the first six weeks of the season, if not by Opening Day. Ensberg, 32, is gambling that he can beat out Duncan, who remains unproven, and/or Betemit, who might be more valuable off the bench.

Evan Longoria (AP)

Does that definitely mean he is guaranteed to be in the Rays' lineup on Opening Day? Of course not, but, Rays' MLB.com beat report Bill Chastain penciled him in his projected lineup in his "spring training quick hits" piece. Willy Aybar, recently acquired, along with minor league infielder Chaise Fontaine, from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Jeff Ridgway, and Joel Guzman could also fill in at third base until Longoria is ready.

In the Rosenthal piece, you can even vote on whether or not Ensberg made the right choice by signing with the Yankees, as he will be competing for time against a mix of Wilson Betemit, Shelley Duncan, Jason Giambi and Jason Lane, as Rosenthal mentions.

Speaking of Longoria: He was recently selected (subscription) by ESPN Insider Keith Law of Scouts, Inc., as the top prospect in Major League Baseball. Law, a former special assistant to Toronto Blue Jays' general manager J.P. Ricciardi, is arguably one of the top ten baseball journalists out there today. And according to his rundown of the Top 100 prospects in the game, Longoria is the easy pre-season favorite for the 2008 American League Rookie of the Year, in a class that also includes Clay Buchholz, Joba Chamberlain and Jacoby Ellsbury, among several other talented young AL newcomers with rookie status.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus also recently released his Top 100 prospect list. Differing from Law, however, Goldstein lists Longoria at number three, behind Cincinnati outfield prospect Jay Bruce and Buchholz, who, of course, tossed a no-hitter for the Boston Red Sox last September.

Kevin Gengler, the newest columnist over at DRaysBay, analyzes the two lists in further detail, comparing them to his own.

Three other Tampa Bay prospects—speedster Desmond Jennings (11), Wade Davis (15) and David Price (16)—cracked Law's Top 20.

Other Rays Content From Around the Web:

Sticking with the whole rankings theme here: Rob Neyer, also an ESPN Insider, selected Rays outfielder B.J. Upton as "the best center fielder of the next five years" in his blog post this morning (subscription).

With such a diverse crop of talented center fielder under the age of 30, it is a great sign to see Upton get some love, especially from a baseball writer as respected as Neyer is.

More love for Tampa Bay over at the four-letter: In ESPN's latest edition of superfluous baseball debate, Sean McAdam feels that Tampa Bay will be better than its in-state rival, the Florida Marlins, in 2011.

Due to the Rays' tremendous stable of young arms in the minors, this was clearly a no-brain decision, in my opinion.

You can reach Tyler Hissey by sending an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.

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