Rays' Guerrieri Gets First Taste Of Majors





ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Rays winter development program, now three years old, has its obvious benefits. More than two dozen prospects come down in January to work out, visit with the trainers, meet some of the major league staff, and get talked to about media relations and community appearances.

But there is also an intangible benefit, and one that righthander Taylor Guerrieri, their top 2011 draft pick, was quick to pick up as he walked through the same Tropicana Field clubhouse where the big leaguers will soon take up residence.

"When you come here, you have to think about it,'' Guerrieri said. "It's motivation.''

Guerrieri has had plenty of time to ponder, after holding out until last year's signing deadline for a $1.6 million bonus, and thus sitting out the entire summer.

As a result, hisonly pro experience was the limited exposure of instructional league at the team's Port Charlotte, Fla., complex.

"You put on a professional uniform, and that's a big part of it,'' he said. "There weren't a lot of people out there, but being on the mound with a new team, it felt good. I liked it.''

As much as he wavered between the Rays and attending South Carolina, Guerrieri said in retrospect it was the obvious right call. "Best decision I ever made,'' he said. "I'm so happy I signed.''

Guerrieri said the biggest transition he expects to make this season will be pitching every fifth day rather than on a once-a-week high school schedule, and getting back into the regular season routine.

He has big plans for himself, hoping he'll get to make his pro debut at low Class A Bowling Green. "That's a big goal for me,'' he said, "but you might as well set your standards high."

Similarly, he isn't expecting it to take too long for him to get back to the Trop to stay.

"Hopefully, two years,'' Guerrieri said. "I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't want to be up there right now. It really just depends on how I progress. And hopefully if I keep progressing good I'll be up there sooner than later."

COOL RAYS

• Facing the possibility of a sixth consecutive season at Triple-A Durham, outfielder Justin Ruggiano declined an outright assignment after being designated and elected free agency, signing a minor league deal with the Astros.

• Catcher Mark Thomas spent part of his offseason with the Canberra Cavalry in the Australian Baseball League and hit .308/.375/.631 over 65 at-bats.