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Versatile Guyer brings interesting game to Rays

Out of options, five-tool player hoping to make the club as a bat off the bench

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Brandon Guyer held a modest lead off first base in the eighth inning of a game against the Twins at Charlotte Sports Park on March 11 when Curt Casali doubled to left.

Seconds later, the Rays outfield hopeful crossed the plate. The ease with which he circled the bases spoke volumes about Guyer's ability.

"He's the proverbial five-tool guy," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's fast, he runs well, defense, he throws well. Hitting-wise, he's capable of hitting for average and power. He's the kind of guy that you really have to pay attention to. He's had injury problems that have really held him back. But physically, he's a very interesting player."

Guyer, 28, also is a player without options, which means if he does not make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, the Rays could lose him. Other players in the same boat this spring include right-handers Chris Archer and Josh Lueke, left-handers Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos and outfielder Matt Joyce. Thus, Guyer is in a unique situation -- one that he maintains has not been a distraction.

"I came into Spring Training very confident," Guyer said. "I put together really good years in [Triple-A] Durham. Now I just feel like I belong. My confidence is higher than ever. Honestly, I don't ever really think about the options thing, because I know whatever's going to happen is going to happen. If I play the way I can, I really think I have a good chance of making it and helping this team win."

Guyer would like to play for the Rays, but like any professional baseball player, the idea is to play in the Major Leagues. The best baseball in the world is played there and the compensation fits accordingly.

"I love being here," Guyer said. "That's the ultimate goal is being in the Major Leagues with the Rays. They're going to be such a good team. I'd love to be a part of that with these teammates. But when it comes down to it, the ultimate goal is to be in the big leagues. But like I said, I would love for it to be here, but we'll see what happens."

Guyer came to the Rays in a trade with the Cubs along with Archer, catcher Robinson Chirinos, outfielder Sam Fuld and infielder Hak-Ju Lee that sent right-hander Matt Garza, outfielder Fernando Perez and left-hander Zac Rosscup to Chicago.

During Guyer's first season with the organization in 2011, he made his Major League debut at Camden Yards and homered in his first at-bat, making him the first player to ever achieve that feat at Camden Yards and the 108th player in Major League history to do so.

He had three stints with the Rays in 2011, finishing with a .195 batting average, two home runs and three RBIs in 15 games. He's only played in three Major League games since due to injury. He missed the last four months of the '12 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The native of West Chester, Pa., spent all of 2013 at Triple-A Durham, where he hit .301 with seven home runs, 41 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 98 games.

"Guyer is starting to make some strides," Maddon said. "With guys like Brandon, it's like all of a sudden his mental attitude is starting to catch up with his physical attitude. He's always been physically talented. But now he believes he can play here. So all of a sudden you have this baseball player. It's great."

Hitting coach Derek Shelton said he's seen a lot of improvement in Guyer from when the Rays acquired him to now.

"He's adjusted to a lot of things," Shelton said. "I wouldn't say his swing is different, just a lot more functional. It's good. The fact that he's made adjustments in his swing and the fact that he's gotten more experience helps."

Having accrued 2,122 Minor-League at-bats, Guyer has more than paid his dues. But the education derived from those at-bats is invaluable for a hitter.

"Having all those at-bats helps with pitch recognition, learning your hitting zones, learning what pitches basically to swing at, not to swing at, as much not to swing at as anything," Shelton said.

There is one other concern should Guyer make the team: He won't be an everyday player. Would he be better off -- even if he played in the Minor Leagues -- playing every day as opposed to coming off the bench in the Majors?

"Of course I want to play every day, but I want to be in the Major Leagues," Guyer said. "If that means platooning or if that means whatever situation it is -- defense, pinch-running late in the game -- I'm willing to do whatever it is, because I feel like I've done whatever I can in the Minor Leagues. Now it's my time to show what I can do in the Majors. And if that means not playing every day in the beginning, or whatever happens, I'm all for it."

The Rays understand the player they have in Guyer and what they could lose if he does not make the team this spring.

"You've got to consider the option situation," Maddon said. "There's no question. There's no denying that, it's true. It plays into a decision sometimes. But when you've got a guy like Brandon, who you perceive to be ready for the big leagues, it makes it a little bit easier to work with.

"[Dealing with options is] part of the rules," Maddon said. "And that's how it works. And they're there to help the player also. And as you move forward, he's definitely at that point. He is a Major League baseball player. But I'm not going to deny those things are considered."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays, Brandon Guyer