The Tampa Bay Rays didn’t have a particularly large contingent of winter ball players this offseason and none of their premium prospects were involved. There were, however, some interesting names that popped up on the radar.
Mayo Acosta, a Dominican-born catcher, played at home this offseason with some very good results, hitting .292 with four doubles and three home runs in 72 at bats in the Dominican Winter League. Acosta spent 2013 in Double-A Montgomery and didn’t hit well but re-signed with the Rays after becoming a minor league free agent this offseason.
32-year-old infielder Wilson Betemit recently signed on to a minor league deal with the Rays, playing just six major league games last year due to a PCL injury in his knee. Betemit showed off his health by hitting .267/.351/.349 in 86 at bats in the Dominican Winter League, hitting two doubles, a triple and a home run.
Darryl George, a 20-year-old infielder from Carlton, Australia scuffled a bit playing for Melbourne in the Australian Baseball League, hitting .217/.295/.312 in 138 at bats. The young Australian played in 61 games for the Short-Season A class Hudson Valley Renegades, hitting a much better .286/.363/.339 in 258 plate appearances.
Patrick Leonard, 21, also headed to Australia this winter and hit .228 but showed some of the power in his 6’4″, 225-pound frame by hitting six doubles, a triple and three home runs in his 145 at bats. Leonard hit nine home runs in his first full minor league season, spending the year in Class-A Bowling Green.
The Australian contingent continues with Justin O’Conner, 21, who didn’t react well to the pitching down under: he hit only .200 in 115 at bats despite showing some decent extra-base pop with five doubles and three home runs. A first round pick in 2010, O’Conner was Leonard’s teammate in Bowling Green where he struggled to make contact (.233 average with 111 strikeouts in 439 plate appearances) but showed a great deal of power potential with 17 doubles and 14 home runs.
32-year-old big-league veteran Ray Olmedo signed a minor league deal with the Rays and got into 26 games in Venezuela, hitting just .233 with only one extra-base hit (a triple) in 43 at bats Olmedo has 484 major league plate appearances over six seasons stretching back to 2003 and spent 2013 entirely in Triple-A with the Rochester Red Wings, the Minnesota Twins’ International League affiliate.
Joey Rickard, 22, went down to Australia and played for the Brisbane Bandits, having some great success Down Under, hitting .287/.354/.421 with 10 doubles, a triple, four home runs and 14 stolen bases. A ninth-round pick in 2012, Rickard played for Bowling Green in 2013 and had a tremendous .390 OBP and stole 30 bases (in 40 attempts).
First baseman Jerry Sands, who was selected off waivers by the Rays from the Pittsburgh Pirates, played in the Puerto Rican winter league this winter, slamming five doubles and four home runs in 84 at bats despite a relatively weak .238 batting average. Sands took 13 walks and struck out 26 times, giving him a solid .330 OBP to go with a very good .440 SLG. Sands has some big league experience with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2011 and 2012 and could end up with more big league time with the Rays if he can make more contact.
Ali Solis (or Roman Ali Solis), a backup catcher last year in the Pirates organization, played in his home country of Mexico this winter, racking up 175 at bats and hitting .263/.323/.434 with nine doubles and seven home runs. Solis hasn’t hit more than six home runs in a season playing in affiliated baseball, accomplishing that feat in 2011, hitting six with the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League.
6’5″ righty Victor Mateo re-signed with the Rays after becoming a minor league free agent this offseason. The 24-year-old Dominican pitched in the Puerto Rican league this winter, throwing 44 1/3 innings with a 3.05 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 11 walks and 46 strikeouts. He adds those innings to the 153 1/3 that he threw with Double-A Montgomery, posting solid numbers there.
33-year-old Juan Sandoval also re-signed with the Rays. He pitched in the Dominican League, throwing 22 2/3 innings with an outstanding 1.99 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, just four walks and 10 strikeouts. Sandoval split the season between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham in 2013 for the Rays after spending the two previous seasons in the Mexican league.
Bruedlin Suero made appearances in both the Dominican and Venezuelan leagues this offseason, throwing 26 innings with a 4.15 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8 walks and 18 strikeouts. Suero, 23, only made 16 appearances in 2013, spending time mostly in the Florida State League and Midwest League.
Lefty Alex Torres, 26, returned to the majors in 2013 (after a cup of coffee in 2011) and pitched 58 very effective innings in relief, striking out 62 and walking just 20 with a 0.90 WHIP and 1.71 ERA. Torres pitched in his native Venezuela this winter, starting seven games and throwing up a 2.38 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 34 innings while striking out 34. The only wart on his winter league record is the 22 walks he allowed.