SARASOTA – Brandon Guyer arrived at camp this spring healthy, and that might be all he needs to earn a spot in the Tampa Bay Rays outfield.
The Rays like everything else about Guyer’s game – offense, defense, base running.
“As an extra outfielder he does everything you’re looking for,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “If he was a left-handed hitter it would be less appealing. That he hits left-handers makes him more appealing.”
The Rays need a fifth outfielder, and the time seems ripe for the 28-year-old Guyer, who is out of options. The problem is, the Rays haven’t decided whether they want a traditional outfielder for the fifth outfielder spot or if they will cover the position with an infielder who can play one of the corner outfield spots.
“I did play third base in high school and college,” Guyer joked.
Not going to help.
“Yeah, we have a pretty good one here,” Guyer said.
The Rays risk losing Guyer on waivers if they choose to stock the bench with versatile infielders, and that may not be a risk they want to take.
“You’re growing him, you’re growing him, you’re growing him and all of a sudden you have to cut him because there’s no room in the inn,” Maddon said.
The Rays did that with Justin Ruggiano only to see Ruggiano put together a pair of successful seasons with the Miami Marlins. Are they ready to develop another outfielder for another team?
“You’re always looking to pick that 27-year-old from somebody else’s group that’s going to benefit you,” Maddon said. “I just think it’s a sweet spot for young baseball players to arrive and thrive in the major leagues. ... We talk about guys in the winter time and the first thing I want to know is how old is he? And if I hear 27, 28 I get really excited.”
And Guyer is 28.
Guyer entered spring training in 2013 still recovering from the shoulder surgery that ended his 2012 season. That surgery cost him a chance to return to the big club during the Rays injury-riddled season.
Guyer was in the middle of a successful 2013 season when he was hit by a pitch July 25 and fractured his right middle finger. Two weeks later, Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings fractured his left middle finger.
“It is frustrating when I look at it. I’m getting hurt, a person in my same position gets hurt. It’s bad timing,” Guyer said. “But I’m thinking there’s a reason behind it. Maybe even thought I knew I was ready, maybe I wasn’t ready. Maybe I needed more at-bats in the minors. That’s the way I look at it. It helps me to stay positive and keeps me mentally sane so I can work hard to get back here.”
Maddon sensed from the beginning of camp that Guyer carried himself with the confidence of a player who knows he can play at the major league level. Guyer agreed.
“Maybe it took the last two or three years, going through spring training, being up and down, to get me through this point, I don’t know,” Guyer said. “For whatever reason, when I got to spring training this year, I felt like, not a new person, but I felt a new confidence about my game, and I think it comes down to my health. And when I feel that good, I know my ability, when I’m healthy I can do a lot out there.”
Maddon sees Guyer as someone who can play all three outfield positions and play them well. He sees Guyer as a player who can come off the bench as a pinch-hitter or a pinch-runner. As a pinch-runner, Maddon sees Guyer as someone who can steal a base and put himself into scoring position.
Guyer is playing well this spring, batting .345. He extended his hitting streak to four games Thursday with a third inning single. He is the right age to excite the manager, and he has the minor league resume that seems complete.
“I know I’ve done everything (in the minors),” he said, “and I know it’s time for that next step.”