Hank Blalock changes mind, accepts assignment to Triple-A

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Last week, when the Rays were still deciding whether or not to keep him around, Hank Blalock made it abundantly clear that he would not accept an assignment to the minors.

I don’t have any plans on playing minor-league baseball this year. At this time in my life, if there’s no major-league opportunities for me then I’ll find something else to do.

Two days later the Rays Bay opted to keep Reid Brignac over Blalock as their final bench player and Blalock reportedly spent the weekend searching for one of those “major-league opportunities.” Apparently he came up empty, because today the 29-year-old former two-time All-Star indeed accepted an assignment to the minors and will try to work his way back to the majors with an impressive stint at Triple-A Durham.

The reason that I would go and play in Durham, if no other team wants to pick me up right now, is because I love baseball and I’m going to continue to play and not going to do that would be quitting. And that’s not an option for me. I’ve changed my mind about that. Mentally, I feel very positive regardless of the fact I was told I’m not going to be on the Opening Day roster. I’m staying focused and I’m going to keep playing baseball.

I give Blalock some credit for not simply opting out of his contract with Tampa Bay after not making the Opening Day roster, because while his pride was no doubt damaged remaining in the Rays organization is likely his best shot to make it back to the majors for good. They obviously have some level of interest in him, whereas clearly no other teams feel strongly about giving him a chance right now, and a strong month or two at Triple-A could get him into their plans as a designated hitter option or backup corner infielder.
Of course, Blalock hasn’t been healthy and produced an OPS above .750 since way back in 2004, so his name is definitely much bigger than his actual upside at this point. He also hasn’t played regularly at Triple-A since 2002, when he hit .307 with an .821 OPS in 95 games as a 21-year-old to help cement his status as a top prospect in 2002. In fact, that year Baseball America ranked him as the third-best prospect in all of baseball, behind only Josh Beckett and Mark Prior.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.