Rhymes Appreciates Rays' Merit Based Approach

In recent years, players like Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman have come to the Rays on minor league deals and quickly become starters while in the meantime resurrecting their careers. Infielder Will Rhymes is looking for the same opportunity to prove himself and says that the Rays' merit based approach was a huge reason why he decided to sign with the team this off-season.

All that anyone can ask for or expect in life is a legitimate chance to prove themselves.

And that is all that Will Rhymes wants.

In his case, it is a chance to prove that he can be major league baseball player.

The 28-year-old infielder, who has spent the last seven years of his professional career in the Detroit Tigers organization, thinks that he has found just such a chance in Tampa Bay.

"It came down to just an opportunity to come in and compete," Rhymes said as he organized his locker last week in the Rays clubhouse at their spring training facility in Port Charlotte, FL. "We had a couple of offers. But the strength of the organization in general is a huge draw. They do things the right way."

Rhymes was the Tigers Opening Day second baseman in 2011 after winning the job on the strength of a hot spring, but lost the role with a slow start after 19 games. He would later be recalled in September and got some key hits down the stretch for the eventual American League Central Division Champions. In between stints with the major league club, he hit .306 for the AAA Toledo Mud Hens and made the International League All-Star team.

This season with the Rays, Rhymes is hoping for another shot at sticking with a major league club and knows that if he capitalizes on his opportunity that it could catapult his career.

"Every year there are guys that they bring in and they give them chances and if you perform it can turn your whole career around."

The Rays willingness to populate their roster with players based on performance on the field and not the size of their salaries was a big selling point with the native of Houston, who counts fellow Texan and Rays' pitcher Jeff Niemann among his closest friends.

"They have a track record of being merit-based," he continued. "If guys deserve to be there, they're going to be there. That's a huge thing. You don't necessarily get that in every organization."

In addition to being close with Niemann, the former 27th round pick has played with several other current Rays when they were all members of the Tigers organization. The combination of opportunity, comfort and the reputaion of the franchise ended up being the right formula for Rhymes to decide to take the Rays offer of a minor league deal with a spring training invite.

Rhymes in the field during batting practice at Rays spring training early last week.

"I played with Joyce. I played with Badenhop. Basically, the front office was just really positive when I was trying to decide. I talked to Joe (Maddon) and I just liked the way they do business. It seemed like it would be a good fit for me - not only personality-wise because of guys I know - but also opportunity-wise."

While Rhymes doesn't have one set of skills that set him apart, he does a variety of things well, including being a good baserunner, a serviceable defender and a hitter who consistently puts the ball in play.

In many ways, the left-handed swinging Rhymes is a very similar player to Jeff Keppinger, albeit from the opposite of the plate - a high contact hitter, with little power, who can play several positions.

Rhymes believes that his ability to play all over the infield (and potentially in the outfield in a pinch) makes him the kind of position-flexible player that the Rays favor when filling out their roster. In that vein, he tailored his off-season routine to make sure that he maintained his defensive abilities at multiple positions.

"I try to work on playing different positions. I only played second when I was with the Tigers. The past couple of years when I was in the minors, I kind of played all over. So I tried to make sure I took balls at shortstop and kind of floated around a little more than I usually do this off-season."

Rhymes, who has compiled a career .291 batting average and 138 stolen bases over seven minor league seasons, is ready to play wherever he might be needed and knows the importance of positional-flexibility and the options it offers the team.

"With Detroit, I didn't really get a chance to do that. When I was there I was playing every day, more or less. That's something I think that's an asset to teams."

The Rays, who normally carry 12 pitchers, seemingly don't have many - if any - open roster spots. Fourth outfielder Sam Fuld, Jose Molina's yet-to-be-determined backup at catcher and infielder Jeff Keppinger are all pretty much locks to make the squad. The final spot would likely go to the loser of the Sean Rodriguez/Reid Brignac shortstop spring battle or perhaps Elliot Johnson or young outfielder Brandon Guyer. Still, with injuries an inevitable part of the game - sooner or later - Rhymes is likely to get a look by the Rays.

Rhymes realizes that should he find himself in a Rays' uniform at some point in 2012, that he will play consistently and points to manager Joe Maddon's use of the entire roster as one of the keys to the Rays' continued and sustained success.

"That's one of the reasons they have so much success. They mix and match. Joe does a great job with that. When you look at the roster, even the 25th man is getting in a lot of games and getting a lot of at bats. That's an asset to the team, keeping guys fresh and involved like that."

John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.


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