Will it be “Sonny” in 2010?


Chris O’Meara / AP

Coming into Spring Training in 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays might have all five of their rotation spots sewn up before the February 19th reporting date. That would be the first time in franchise history that the team had a solid 5-deep pre-Spring rotation set-up in advance of the reporting date. And that possible starting pitching affirmation, it might not bode well for Rays starter/reliever Andy Sonnanstine to crack that line-up in 2010. Because of his up and down moments since his first MLB appearance in 2007, Sonnanstine could be on the outside looking in this year because of the 2009 seasons posted by the Rays three rookie starters.

As of this moment it seems that the Rays pitching trio of starters’ David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis look pretty secure in their fight to again have a rotation spot with the Rays. But as we all know, an early injury, or a fall from grace could make a  starting spot suddenly available for Sonnanstine to shine and make the late March decision difficult for the Rays.

But there is a large dark cloud hanging over Sonnanstine right now. The basic fact that Sonny has had problems making adequate adjustments on the mound during games doesn’t guarantee him a spot either in the Bullpen or the rotation. And the odd fact that his pitch selection might be deep, but not overpowering like Price or Davis, or having that extreme downward angle of  the 6’9″ Niemann makes him the pitcher on the outside right now.

Since Sonnanstine’s abbreviated 2007 season when he posted a 6-10 record with a 5.85 ERA, Sonnanstine has  seen his game prove  to again be a rollercoaster ride in regard to consistency. After that personally disappointing 2007 season, Sonnanstine did make the needed adjustments to his game and rebounded with a solid 13-9 record in 2008. But a glaring trend was developing where the hitters’ were beginning  to predict his pitch selection, and that hampered his growth as a starter.

Since that 2007 season, Sonnanstine has changed his finger grips on the ball slightly and made some break variations to his pitching, but still his arm angles and pitch speed did not change enough to camouflage his pitch selection to the hitters. His evolution as a starting pitcher worked out great in 2008 when he posted 125 K’s during the season, and brought another element to his game. It was his first time Sonnanstine ever posted over 100 strikeouts in a season during his three year Major League career.

Sonnanstine came into the 2009 season with a new level of confidence and a sense that he could pitch at the Major League level. He earned early praise during Spring Training from Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey, and this new confidence helped him secure the fourth spot in the rotation before the end of March 2009. 

But Sonnanstine did not start the season  the way either he or the Rays envisioned it. During his first start in Baltimore on April 5,2009, Sonnanstine was in trouble from the first pitch of the game and lasted only 4.2 innings, giving up 8 hits and 5 runs on only 92 pitches. It was not the kind of start of the season that would give him or the Rays, a  dose of confidence in his abilities.

Gail Burton /AP

From that first start, Sonnanstine began a trend of an up and down season where he posted dismal results one outing, and seemed to rebound in the next.  But the fact that he had allowed 18 runs in 19.2 innings during April for the Rays, raised more than a few eyebrows. But the game that seemed to define his 2009 season was the May 27th game on the road against the Indians.

In this contest there were early signs it might be a long night for the Rays. First, they had to endure a two hour rain delay before finally taking the field. Then Sonnanstine immediately got rocked after his squad stakes him an early lead. Sonnanstine got hit hard in the game by the Cleveland hitters’ and lasted only 3 innings while surrendering 8 runs on only 75 pitches.

The Rays stuck by Sonnanstine for another month before finally optioning him to the Durham Bulls (Triple-A) on June 27,2009. At the time of his demotion, Sonnanstine had the highest ERA (6.61) in the American League and the most Earned Runs allowed (60). Sonnanstine’s season total of 7 losses combined with his .305 opponents average put him solidly as the second worst  starter in the American League at the time. He had sunk to rock bottom and needed to go to Durham to regain both his pitching and personal confidence.

And Sonnanstine worked on his pitching and regained his confidence and ability to throw strikes.  He made 9 starts for the Bulls, which included seven quality starts and a 5-3 record with a 4.40 ERA. He had rebuilt himself as a pitcher and was awaiting a chance to again prove himself to the Rays. He got his shot after the trade of Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels and came up on September 1st and took Kazmir’s slot against Boston at Tropicana Field.

During the early days of September, Sonnanstine made  3 starts in his first four appearances back up with the Rays, but did not impress the Rays enough to secure that rotation spot for the rest of the season. But in hindsight, the Rays might have been waiting for the Bulls to complete their Triple-A Championship season before bringing up Davis to take Sonnanstine’s spot. 

Ted S Warren / AP

Sonnanstine was subsequently put into the Rays Bullpen and after a spot start against Baltimore in Camden Yards, he made his last three appearances of the season out of the Bullpen as a long reliever. His demotion to the Rays Bullpen was the first time Sonnanstine had pitched out of the Bullpen in his Major League career. The last time Sonnanstine had pitched in relief during his professional career at all was during his rookie debut season with the Hudson Valley Renegades (Rookie level) and the Charleston Riverdogs ( Class-A) in 2004. As a Rays reliever during his 3 appearances in 2009, Sonnanstine had a 5.79 ERA out of the Rays Bullpen.

And the 2010 season might be the final chance for him to  make an impression on the Rays coaching staff that he can be a starter in the Major Leagues. I personally think that he will either have to make some radical speed adjustments to his arsenal, or he might again face being sent down to the minor leagues. The Rays still have minor league options left on Sonnanstine, and he might just be used as an “insurance policy” against injury for the Rays this upcoming season.

But what is upsetting to me is the pure fact that this is not a pitcher who doesn’t only throw two or three pitches, but has an arsenal of five possible pitches to use at vari
ed points during a game. His cutter can be thrown from two different arm positions, and is an adequate different approach to his 2-seam fastball. Sonnanstine also mixes in a nice slider, and a 12-6 curveball.  And his change-up has developed a nice sinking action to it, but his main problem is that from his fastball (86-90 mph), to his change-up (81-82) there is not a huge amount of velocity difference, which  can easily translate into hitter adjusting on the fly to him during an at bat with ease.

But I love Sonnanstine’s work ethic and the way he approaches the game of baseball.  He never wears his emotions on his sleeves like Matt Garza, but stays cool and calm on the mound. Sonnanstine has the same off-speed abilities to dominate the plate like James Shields. You just do not win 13 games in an MLB season without knowing how to throw the ball for strikes. But for Sonnanstine to again secure a possible spot at the Major League level, he either has to rediscover that mode of consistency,or he might never get another clear shot with the Rays.

I expect to hear his name surface a few times in trade chatter due to the fact he does have a MLB arm and has minor league options that would benefit a team taking him on and maybe using him in a duo role. But I really do not see him in a long reliever role for the Rays unless they intend to not offer Lance Cormier arbitration in the off season. Sonnanstine’s limited relief appearances aside, Sonny is not a reliever yet at the MLB level. If the Rays did decide to go that direction, he will need time in the minors to adjust his pitching approach in that direction.

J Pat Carter / AP

So the Rays brain trust must decide what type of role Sonnanstine will play within the Rays organization in 2010. Could he be that MLB experienced insurance policy against possible injury for the team? Or could the Rays consider him expendable with the pitching depth in the minors and trade him away for some catching or possible relief help?

We have around 128 days before the 2010 Rays team reports to Port Charlotte, Florida for Spring Training. As Rays fans have discovered over the past year,anything can happen between that period of time. Rays fans never even anticipated the Edwin Jackson trade coming before it was completed and announced to the media. Could the same happen to Sonnanstine this off season? 

Maybe he will be a nice addition to a package deal that could land the team a experienced reliever or catcher? Or maybe the clock has finally stopped ticking and it is his time to possible leave the Rays? 128 days is a long time. But within that time we hope to discover and learn the possible avenues that the Rays could use Sonnanstine in 2010. What do you think the team should do with Sonny?


I’m no expert on the Rays, but it sounds like Sonny is worth keeping around – at least until it’s absolutely clear that he doesn’t fit into the team’s plans. Live arms are hard to find, so if he still has potential…..on the other hand, he might be good trade bait. This is why I’d make a terrible GM. I vacillate!


Give him one more chance in Spring Training. Then again, if you sent him to Philadelphia, you could say, “It’s always Sonny in Philadelphia”

Some people think the hardest job in baseball is being a Team Manager.
I think the hardest job is the guy in the front office who makes those tough decisoin no one else wants to make on a daily basis.
Andrew Friedman came from a Financial world background, and maybe that makes him a better GM because he doesn’t only look at personal and physical attributes, but at potential and risk factors with no emotional ties.
Heaven help the team that has a GM who gets personal and takes blows to the ego and critics to heart.
For they will destroy themselves before the fans and the media ever get a chaince to sink their teeth into them.

Rays Renegade


That was corny, but it is still funny.
He is a homegrown Rays talent, so you have to think they will exhaust all avenues before they abandon the project.
I actually see him maybe being one of those journeyman pitcher who lasts 10-15 years, but more in the National League.
Still, he is a great competitor, so i am hoping he fights to the last breathe in Spring Training and makes it very difficult for the Rays.

Rays Renegade


I kinda wondered what was going on with Sonn. It looked like he was going to be at least a solid middle-of-the-order guy, and then he all but disappeared. Ginny (The Watercooler), a Rays fan who often joins us often on Brownie Points (where I am a regular), has often pointed a finger at your pitching coach, Jim Hickey. I gather from the featured article in your archives (listed in the “interest” box) that you might agree. Yes? Ginny thought Hickey had a role in Kaz’ inconsistencies, also.

I agree more with Nolan Ryan on pitching than Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey.
I think the Rays system is perfect for Sonny actually, but not for power pitchers.
That said, Sonny is a breaking ball kind of guy, which helps when you are throwing to a quadrant around the plate.
Considering his breaking stuff dips and clips the strikezone with a bit of consistency, he is a low walk kind of guy.
Yes, Kazmir would not work effectively in this Rays system.
I am still surprised that Matt Garza’s game as adapted so well to it.
Maybe there still is hope for the Rays Republic and this system………..maybe.

Rays Renegade


Niemann, Niemann, Niemann, Niemann! What a horse he was! Sonnanstine has had his moments. I’d say Davis’ spot would be the most available. Will David Price ever live back up to expectations? I dunno, but I do know that Niemann is the one to watch… and yeah, Sonny might be watchin’ too.

The Tall Texan definitely hussed his critics in 2009. Still think he should have been more a wrecking ball in the ROY voting, but such is life.
Price I think will be fine. He was tweaking his change-up a lot in 2009, and hopefully by reporting day will have it where he wants it.
Davis, well he will have competition. I still think personally Jeremy Hellickson is a better pitcher, and Mitch Talbot is out of options, so it is a make it or break it year for him with the Rays.
Should be fun in 127 days and counting.

Rays Renegade


It seems like the Rays should keep Sonny – with some work he could be a fine pitcher.


He at one time was the most consistent pitcher down the stretch in 2008, but he lacked the velocity to be considered anything but a number 4 or 5 starter.
It is a weird juncture for Sonny right now. He has 2 minor league options, and the Rays still have financial control of him.
But in the end, it might just be better for him, like Jason Hammel, to get another start somewhere else.
I guess we shall see soon enough.

Rays Renegade


Really love reading your articles. You have talent. I also have an offer for you though. Don’t take this as spam or anything, but I have a baseball forum going on right now, and would love for you to join and share your articles etc. We also have a writing team going on where your articles will be posted on bleacher report etc.

URL is http://baseballhaven.net/index.php register and post around etc. If you are interested in being on the writing team, PM The Brew Crew. Have fun on the site as well.

Homegrown talent is the best I think and I think Sonny has more to give in Tampa, they should definitely keep him, I think he’ll flourish next year….
Outside the Phillies looking In

Thank you for the offer, but I like it here.
I have had more than a few offers and chances to go somewhere else in the past.
Even did my own website until it got too expensive with the monthly and yearly fees to continue.
Guess it would help if I was working (lol).
Anyways, thank you for the compliment, but I am staying here where I like the blogs and the people involved with them.
That is no disrespect intended to anyone else, just always been a MLBlogs.com kind of guy.

Rays Renegade


Homegrown talent is the way for small market teams to compete on a higher level for a few years before either arbitration of free agency takes an athlete out of that teams hands.
It is the main difference between the top echelon of the MLB and the middle.
The Rays took huge strides in 2008, and this season found out how hard it really is to repeat it when people know you are coming.

Rays Renegade


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