11:03am: Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the operations O’Conner have undergone this winter were to address disk issues in his lower back that impacted him during the regular season (Twitter links). He appears to be facing a lengthy recovery, as senior vice president Chaim Bloom told Topkin that the team is “a ways away from [O’Conner] being able to play,” adding that the 2017 season isn’t entirely lost. (The very fact that the entire season was even referenced as a possibility speaks to the nature of the rehab, however.) Per Topkin, the Rays could look to bring O’Conner back on a minor league deal if he clears outright waivers.
9:40am: The Rays announced on Monday that minor league catcher Justin O’Conner has been designated for assignment. His spot on the 40-man roster will go to Wilson Ramos, whose two-year deal with Tampa Bay is now official.
O’Conner, 25 in March, was drafted with the No. 31 overall pick by the Rays in 2010 and rated as one of the organization’s top 30 prospects (per Baseball America) each year since. Prior to the 2015 season, BA rated him as highly as No. 3 on Tampa Bay’s top 30, and MLB.com entered the season with O’Conner ranked 61st overall among MLB prospects that same season. That ranking came on the heels of a very solid .278/.316/.466 batting line compiled between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, but O’Conner limped to a .231/.255/.371 performance in 2015 — his first full season at Double-A.
Injuries have been an issue for O’Conner, though, and the Rays announced today that he’s undergone a pair of back surgeries after being limited to just 20 games in 2016. He also underwent a pair of hip surgeries early in his career, so durability concerns aren’t exactly a new phenomenon for O’Conner.
Last winter, O’Conner rated 13th among Rays farmhands, per BA, though their scouting reported questioned his ability to hit breaking pitches and changeups while also raising questions about his “decision-making on defense and aptitude for game management.” BA does note that he’s gotten 80 grades on his throwing arm — O’Conner has halted 46 percent of stolen bases attempted against him in his career — and has above-average raw power.