Reward worth risk on kid pitcher

Published December 14, 2004

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Devil Rays left the winter meetings still working on several signings and trades to add established major-leaguers to their team.

Monday, they spent $150,000 to land a minor-league pitcher they hope can pay off in a big way, making a Rule 5 draft trade to acquire Angel Garcia, a 21-year-old Twins prospect who has been dazzling scouts in Puerto Rico.

Garcia is big and strong (6 feet 7, 200 pounds) and apparently fully recovered from September 2003 Tommy John elbow surgery based on a fastball that has been clocked in the mid to high 90s. The Rays like Garcia enough that they paid the Diamondbacks $100,000 to take him with the first pick, then trade him to Tampa Bay.

"We like his upside and his potential," Rays director of player development and scouting Cam Bonifay said. "Everything you like to see in a power pitching prospect; he has size, strength, fine arm action, a good delivery. And he has a feel for his secondary pitches, a changeup and a breaking ball."

The Rays have to keep Garcia, a fourth-round pick in 2001, on the big-league roster or put him on waivers or offer him back to the Twins for half the $50,000 drafting price. The Twins considered him a decent prospect but figured he would pitch at Class A after working only 18 innings last season.

"He's a big kid with a good arm who is still developing his pitches," Twins minor-league operations director Jim Rantz said. "You never think you are going to lose somebody (in the Rule 5 draft) who didn't pitch much in the last year and has never pitched above A ball."

But Bonifay said he is good enough to compete for a job on the Rays' staff.

"Absolutely," he said. "The philosophy in our organization whenever we take a player in the Rule 5 draft, we feel like they can be either an everyday player or they have the potential to be a pitcher with a meaningful role, and that's at the back end of the game or as a starter. And I think Garcia has a chance to be that type of pitcher."

General manager Chuck LaMar plans to continue talks this week with several free agents, including infielder Mark Grudzielanek, outfielder/DH Juan Gonzalez and outfielder Danny Bautista. The Rays have talked about several trade possibilities (including Washington first baseman Nick Johnson) and could deal a right-handed reliever, such as Jorge Sosa, and/or an outfield prospect, such as Joey Gathright and Jonny Gomes.

Also Monday:

The Rays confirmed the signings of seven players to minor-league contracts with invitations to major-league spring training. The biggest name is right-hander Jimmy Haynes, who won 15 games for the Reds in 2002 but was 2-12 in 2003 and released after an 0-3 start last year. The others are outfielder Damon Hollins, infielders Earl Snyder and Luis Ordaz and pitchers Joe Beimel, Tim Corcoran and Gerardo Garcia. Corcoran and Garcia have been in the Rays' minor-league system.

The Rays were active in the minor-league portions of the Rule 5 draft, stocking up on pitching. They took five players, at $12,000 each, in the Triple-A phase: pitchers Jean Machi (from the Phillies), Thomas Fulmer (Mariners), Richard De Los Santos (Indians), Brett Wayne (Dodgers) and shortstop John Raburn (Brewers). They also took two, for $4,000 each, in the Double-A phase: outfielder Jhonny Rivera (White Sox) and pitcher Philip Wilson (Angels).

The Rays lost two players. Infielder Vince Harrison, who hit .281 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs at Class A Bakersfield but will miss half the season because of wrist surgery, was taken by Texas in the Triple-A phase, and third baseman/outfielder Dan DeMent was taken by Washington in the Double-A phase.

Chad Orvella, who led all minor-league relievers with 116 strikeouts in 732/3 innings, was invited to spring training.