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Are you ready to become a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays, who've finished below .500 in 14 of the 20 years the franchise has existed?

Me neither.

But the Rays are worthy of a look if you're interested in major league players with Arkansas ties. A whirlwind rookie season for Jalen Beeks continued last week when the former Razorback and Prairie Grove High School graduate was traded from the Boston Red Sox to Tampa Bay.

He joined a Rays pitching staff that includes Hunter Wood, who graduated from Rogers Heritage, and Ryne Stanek, a former Razorback from Overland Park, Kan. Beeks, Stanek and Miami Marlins Rookie of the Year candidate Brian Anderson were teammates at Arkansas in 2013, when the Razorbacks finished 39-22.

So, if Beeks wants to start a conversation about fishing on Beaver Lake or strolling the square in downtown Fayetteville, there's guys in Florida who'll know exactly what he's talking about.

"Jalen and Ryne were neighbors and good buddies at Arkansas, so he's pretty excited," said Scott Beeks, who spoke with his son soon after the trade. "Boston is a great organization and they gave Jalen his first shot. But Jalen feels like this is opportunity for him. Tampa Bay is a young team and the plan is to let them mature together to where they could eventually become a really good team."

Beeks likely made his first appearance for Tampa Bay in relief Saturday night after Stanek took the mound first. That's a scene Arkansas fans were quite familiar with in 2013 when Stanek was often followed to the mound by Beeks, who was an effective middle man for the Razorbacks. The Hogs then turned to Colby Suggs, who had 13 of the team's 19 saves in 2013.

Stanek, Wood and Beeks now play for a Tampa Bay team that routinely uses relief pitchers to start games. It's an unorthodox approach that's helped Tampa Bay compile a 53-51 record before Saturday's matchup with the Orioles.

"We're not trying to do anything that's cute," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash told reporters who questioned the strategy. "We're trying to do something that's right for us to win games."

Unlike Stanek, Beeks and Wood were not highly recruited out of high school. Wood spent one year at Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, before he signed with Tampa Bay after being selected in the 29th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball draft. Beeks took a detour to Crowder College in Neosho, Mo., before returning home to play two years for the Razorbacks. Beeks then signed with the Red Sox after being selected in the 12th round of the 2014 MLB draft.

Beeks, 25, was pitching at Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) when the trade from Boston was made and he joined the Rays in Baltimore for the series. Wood, 24, got Tampa Bay off to a good start on Thursday when he threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings in a 4-3 victory over the Orioles. He lowered his ERA to 2.65 with three starts in 10 appearances.

Stanek, 26, brought a 1-2 record with a 1.86 ERA into Saturday's game. Beeks did not pitch well in two appearances with the Red Sox after he was called up from Pawtucket. But the Rays are confident he can transfer the success he's had in the minors to the major-league level.

"Some guys get there with power. Some guys get there with pitch-ability," Cash told the Tampa Bay Times. "From what we understand, (Beeks is) a pitch-ability guy. We want him to find that comfort and use that same repertoire he's been using throughout his whole career in the big leagues."

The Rays could be fun to watch, or at least worth a peek, with three guys with Arkansas ties now on the roster.

Sports on 07/29/2018

Print Headline: Rays look to future with help from players with Arkansas ties

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