Rays retain Kapler, but outfield still in doubt

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The Rays assured themselves of entering 2010 with a fourth outfielder by re-signing free agent Gabe Kapler to a one-year, $1.05 million contract on Tuesday, but it’s still a mystery just who he’ll be playing behind next year.
Kapler’s role in 2009 was to start over Gabe Gross in right field against lefties. The platoon worked out exquisitely early on. Kapler had an 839 OPS in 113 at-bats prior to the All-Star break, while Gross came in at an OBP-heavy 802 as the starter against righties. Maybe that’s not spectacular, but they also played quality defense and they combined to cost the thrifty Rays a total of $2.225 million for the year.
Unfortunately, Gross, in particular, collapsed after that. He hit just .160 with a 512 OPS after the break and lost most of his playing time to Ben Zobrist after Akinori Iwamura returned. Kapler also fell off to a 681 OPS. For the season, he hit an exceptional .276/.379/.552 in 145 at-bats against lefties and a dreadful .150/.190/.167 in 60 at-bats versus righties.
Gross is unlikely to return next year, so it’s unclear what Kapler’s role will be. The Rays could opt for only a minor change and stick with Carl Crawford in left and B.J. Upton in center, with Matt Joyce, the return from the Tigers for Edwin Jackson, taking over as the right fielder against right-handers. However, the Rays were clearly disappointed by Joyce’s play this season and didn’t even give him a September callup.
The Rays have other options. Crawford is a year away from free agency and would fetch a high price in trade. Upton’s stock is well down, but he’s also getting talked about as a trade possibility. He’s more likely than Crawford to go. Zobrist appears to be penciled in at second base, but the Rays could throw a changeup and opt to keep Iwamura, forcing Zobrist to the outfield. Sean Rodriguez, a longtime Angels prospect acquired in the Scott Kazmir deal, could also compete for outfield time, and top prospect Desmond Jennings may be a factor by the middle of the season.
If the Rays don’t have a left-handed-hitting outfielder for Kapler to platoon with, he’d likely be useless to the team. He’s a liability when starting against righties, so he’s not someone who would fare well if forced into the lineup on a regular basis by injuries. The 34-year-old is worth the $1.05 million committed to him, but he needs to be used correctly. The Rays should have waited to see if he was still going to be the right fit for the team.

Twins’ top prospect Nick Burdi will undergo Tommy John surgery

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Twins’ right-hander Nick Burdi is set to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the team announced on Friday. Burdi made 14 appearances for Double-A Chattanooga before succumbing to a torn ulnar collateral ligament and is not expected to make his major league debut until mid-2018 at the earliest. A UCL tear doesn’t always require Tommy John surgery — less severe cases can be treated with platelet-rich plasma injections, for example — but Twins’ chief baseball officer Derek Falvey told the press that surgery was unavoidable as Burdi had sustained a “full thickness tear” in his elbow.

Entering the 2016 season, Burdi was widely considered a top ten prospect in the Twins’ system. His exceptional velocity and potent fastball-slider combo made him a fearsome relief option as he came off of his first season in Double-A Chattanooga in 2015. During the 2016 season, however, the 24-year-old experienced a significant setback after a bone bruise cut his season short in late July. Prior to Friday’s diagnosis, he appeared to be staging an impressive comeback with the Chattanooga Lookouts this spring, decorating his efforts with a sparkling 0.53 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 10.6 SO/9 over 17 innings.

It’s a tough break for the Twins, whose farm system was ranked 21st in the league by Baseball America. “Obviously he’s proven when he’s healthy he’s an absolute premium prospect, and the Twins are treating him that way,” Burdi’s agent, Matt Sosnick, told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. “We just want to make sure everything we do ultimately leads to the goal of getting him back on the field as quickly as he can.”

Brock Holt has been shut down from game activity

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Things have gone from bad to worse for Red Sox’ outfielder Brock Holt, who was shut down “for the foreseeable future” on Friday after meeting with head trauma specialist Michael Collins. The Red Sox placed Holt on the 10-day disabled list in April after he began experiencing vertigo, the latest in a series of head injuries he’s sustained since last spring.

According to the Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato, the outfielder was initially advised to attempt playing through his symptoms, but it quickly became apparent that the strategy wasn’t going to work. Now, the plan is to shut him down from any game activity in the hopes that he’ll be able to recover from all lingering symptoms before returning to the roster. Club manager John Farrell told reporters that the 28-year-old is still cleared to take batting practice and work on his defense, but won’t continue his rehab starts in Triple-A Pawtucket for the time being.

Holt had been making regular appearances for the Pawtucket Red Sox and was batting .209/.292/.372 with two home runs through 14 games this spring. This season marks his fifth run within the Red Sox’ organization. He experienced a bit of a slump at the plate in 2016 and slashed .255/.322/.383 after breaking out during his first All-Star year in 2015.

Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe suggests that the team’s concern for Holt extends past his setbacks at the plate. It’s still a long road to a full recovery, and while Farrell told reporters he believes the outfielder is on track to make a return sometime in 2017, he’ll need to make sure that Holt is both physically and mentally prepared to do so.