Can Winston Abreu make the Rays Roster?
Coming into the middle of February in 2010 when the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catchers begin to report for Spring Training in Port Charlotte, you have to realistically visualize the picture that there might only be one lone slot left on the Rays 25-man roster for another reliever. And considering this Spring invitees will include Durham Bulls relievers like Randy Cromier, Dale Thayer and Calvin Medlock, there is still one name missing off this list who I think might have a real legitimate shot at securing that solo seat on the Rays Bullpen bench for 2010.
Sure, we can debate back and forth for days as to the merits of the other three guys I have mentioned, or a even the merits of other relievers currently on the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits roster who could also make some huge advances and impressions both the field and in the minds of the Rays organizations Coaches minds by the end of March 2010. And the one name missing from this group is Winston Abreu. I think that Abreu has the stuff on the mound and the acquired veteran wisdom needed to secure his first Opening Day roster spot of his 14-year professional career.
Sure some people will certainly point to his extended journeyman minor league career with only two prior Major League promotions to the before the 2009 season with the Baltimore Orioles (2006) and Washington Nationals (2007) as a bit of negative fodder that his name should not even be uttered with such confidence. But then again, in all of his past promotions to the Major League, he has been a stop-gap guy filling in for a veteran persence missing on that Major League roster, and that shows you teams knew he had the abilities.
But again, in 2009, Abreu did appear to fill that same type of gap for the Rays securing a limited role with the Rays Bullpen after the team put veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen on the Disabled List on June 14th and only gave Abreu two appearances before designating Abreu for assignment after veteran reliever Chad Bradford was ready to rejoin the Rays Bullpen after an injury.
And sure you can also throw the added negative bonus of the Rays then trading Abreu to the Cleveland Indians on July2,2009 and Abreu only spending about a month on the Indians roster before they also designated him for assignment on August1,2009. But Abreu quickly rebounded and signed with the Rays again and was sent to the Triple-A Durham Bulls for the second time during the 2009 season. And within 30 days of Abreu rejoining the Bulls, he was selected as the International League Pitcher of the Week for August 30th after only surrendering 1 lone hit in his last ten appearances of 2009.
And even if Abreu’s stats while pitching with the Indians held up a gaudy 23.14 ERA for the whole baseball world to see in his only three appearances for the Tribe, most people around baseball seem to remember his actions during a July 27,2009 game at Safeco Field. Abreu took the mound in the ninth inning after Mariner’s starter Chris Jakubuska’s hit Ben Francisco square in the back with his first pitch after surrendering a 2-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera earler in the top of the ninth inning.
Abreu countered in the bottom of the ninth inning with an action that should happen according to the unwritten rule book of baseball and plucked M’s Third Baseman Jack Hannahan. Sure both benches and Bullpens’ cleared and came out onto the field, but order was quickly restored and the game started up right after the Home Plate Umpire ejected Abreu because of the retaliation pitch. Abreu was subsequently given a 3-game suspension for his part, along with a fine for good measures. Most people would see that as a negative blemishe on a pitcher’s mental make-up to try and incite a brawl, but I actually see it in a different light as a veteran pitcher understanding the unspoken code of the game, and doing the right thing for his teammate.
But the main reason I think that we will see Abreu make this year’s Rays 25-man roster might have come about with MLB.Com naming him the Triple-A Reliever of the Year after posting a 3-1 record with a 1.94 ERA during 37 appearances for the Bulls last season. That might have been the cherry on top of that Triple-A Championship sundae. But with abreu coming back to the Bulls after his Indians disaster and showing his rubber mental consitution by getting 15 saves, you can see Abreu as a reliever who has that proverbial ice water in his veins that the Rays seemed to be missed most of last season.
Abreu has that veteran mustard and wealth of past experience that the Rays Bullpen will need during their 2010 season. And sure he might have a few quirks like carrying his glove with him to the Bullpen restroom during his time up with the Rays, but the guy truly understands the game from A to Z. The Rays farm system has a bevy of ample arms sitting down in the minor leagues, but they do not have any relievers with prior Major League experience besides Thayer and Abreu right now. When the Rays resigned Abreu on December 14th, I felt they made the move for his expertise, not as a reward for winning a Triple-A title or a post season MLB.Com award.
The guy has take a long journey through the farm systems of the Braves, Cubs,Dodger, Diamondback, Orioles, Nationals, Indians, Royals and now the Rays during his career. And the abundance of knowledge he has as a veteran pitcher could be a valuable asset in 2010 for the Rays. I mean if he was such a middle-of-thepack reliever, then how did he pitch for Bobby Valentine’s 2008 Chiba Lotte Mariner’s squad over in Japan? You know Valentine stresses pitching on his teams. So coming into this Spring, I am going to be watching Abreu to see if he is one of the guys to get a lot of reps in Spring Training contests.
Last season Abreu made it all the way up with the Rays Spring Training roster until March 16th when the Rays sent him to the minor league camp also located in Port Charlotte, Florida. Hopefully during this this Spring Abreu can make a lasting impression on the Rays Spring Training coaching staff to get a chance to stay and earn a roster spot. Abreu has everything you want in a reliever at the major league level.
Abreu has pitching ability, the vast experience and a yearning to succeed at the highest level of the game.
And we also know from his little incident in Seattle, that Abreu also understands the little things that
revolve just under the surface around the game of baseball. I guess all Abreu needs now is a chance on the mound to show he should be one of the last decisions of the Rays this Spring, and be sitting on that Rays Bullpen bench watching the first pitch of the 2010 season.