LAKE BUENA VISTA — LHP Jonny Venters got as far as Triple A in September. Now the former All-Star is positioned to make it all the way back to the majors for the first time since 2012, re-signing with the Rays and headlining Thursday’s announcement of 13 players invited to spring training.
Venters, 32, has spent the past three years with the Rays, recovering from his third Tommy John elbow surgery and then an additional 2016 procedure. Overall, he pitched in 24 games last season, working his way up from the Gulf Coast League to Triple-A Durham in posting a 2.28 ERA.
Others with previous big-league experience coming to camp on minor-league deals include RHP Colton Murray and INF/OF Brandon Snyder, plus previously reported RHP Cody Hall, LHP Adam Kolarek and LHP Vidal Nuno. Also invited is eighth-year minor-league RHP R.J. Alaniz.
Murray pitched in 32 games for the Phillies in 2015-16 with a 6.18 ERA, splitting last season between Double A and Triple A. Snyder has spent parts of five seasons in the majors, last with the Braves in 2016, hitting .242 with nine homers in 120 games. He hit .263 with 23 homers for Washington’s Triple-A team last year.
Nuno, 30, might be the most likely of the group to make the opening day roster, posting a 5-21, 4.29 record over parts of five seasons in the majors, last with the Orioles.
The Rays also invited six of their returning minor-leaguers, with the most intriguing being RHP Ian Gibaut, a reliever with impressive numbers through Double A, and 1B/OF Joe McCarthy, a Double-A All-Star. Also invited: OF Jason Coats, C Nick Ciuffo, OF Johnny Field and INF Kean Wong. (For more information, see tampabay.com/blogs/rays.)
Rule 5 frenzy
The Rays guessed right that C Nick Ciuffo wouldn’t get taken in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, and they didn’t feel that bad about losing RHP Burch Smith, who was taken for the $100,000 fee.
Ciuffo, a 2013 first-round pick who got a $2 million bonus, was left exposed as the Rays didn’t think a team would consider him ready to stay in the majors all season, as required by the draft rules. Though advanced defensively, Ciuffo has made it only to Double A, hitting .245 with seven homers, 42 RBIs and a .704 OPS.
"We said when we left him off that it’s a calculated gamble," senior VP Chaim Bloom said. "We like Nick, and we think Nick is a major-league prospect. We were just taking a gamble that it wasn’t his time yet.’’
Smith, taken sixth by the Mets then traded to the Royals, has spent two-plus seasons working back from Tommy John surgery and complications.
"We knew there was a chance we were going to lose him,’’ Bloom said. "Even though we would have liked to have had him in our camp and given him that opportunity here, we’re still going to be pulling for him elsewhere.’’
In the minor-league phase, the Rays lost INF Riley Unroe, their 2013 second-round pick who got a $1 million signing bonus, to the Angels, plus OF Angel Moreno (Cardinals) and C Rafelin Lorenzo (Pirates). They took RHP Francisco German from the Tigers.
Assistant minor-league operations director Jeff McLerran said Unroe, who has yet to get past Double A, has been surpassed in their improved system: "The performance hasn’t quite matched the tools to date.’’e_SClBMiscellany
• Free agent RHP Steve Cishek, who had a strong August-September with the Rays, reportedly agreed to a two-year deal for $12 million to $14 million with the Cubs, reuniting with pitching coach Jim Hickey. Among other former Rays, RHP Fernando Rodney signed with the Twins, and RHP Kevin Jepsen signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers.
• The Cardinals traded OF Stephen Piscotty to Oakland, where he can be close to his mother who is battling ALS, for two prospects. St. Louis also finalized its acquisition of OF Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins.
• The Orioles are continuing to listen to offers on INF Manny Machado, including unexpectedly from the White Sox; RHP Brandon Kintzler is re-signing with the Nationals; and the Angels are looking for a third baseman as the winter meetings ended.