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Tampa Bay Rays deal with impact of drug suspensions in minors

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 09:37 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Josh Sale read the letter with its detailed explanation of the situation and the consequences he faced and had one thought: "You came up dirty."

An outfielder with the Tampa Bay Rays' low Class A Bowling Green (Ky.) team who was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, Sale tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamine in August, a violation of minor-league baseball's performance-enhancing drug policy.

"I wasn't expecting that at all," he said. "I looked down at the bottom of the page and there it was, 50 games."

Sale, 21, was one of seven players in the Rays' minor-league system since the beginning of the 2012 season to receive a 50-game suspension for either testing positive for PEDs, declining to take a drug test or, in the case of Triple-A infielder Tim Beckham, testing positive for marijuana.

"Obviously we're disappointed in the number of suspensions in our organization," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "We have to remember that these are young kids, and as much as you try to educate them, mistakes will happen. The important part is that they learn from them. We will tolerate guys making mistakes. We'll talk through it again, and it's incumbent upon them to learn from their mistakes and make sure that it doesn't happen again."

Mitch Lukevics, the Rays farm director, said the players are educated on which supplements are approved and which are banned; which medicines are OK and which are not. He said complete lists are available in every minor-league clubhouse.

Plus, the trainers with each team are up to speed on what is legal and what is illegal.

"We talk constantly about the dos, don'ts and derailers that can take these kids where they shouldn't go," Lukevics said.

And still … seven players have served, are in the process of serving or will begin to serve a 50-game suspension at the start of the 2013 season.

"That puts a dent in a kid's career," Lukevics said. "You can't make progress in this game when you miss 50 games."

Also receiving suspensions are Sale's Bowling Green teammates Ryan Brett, Charles Cononie and Justin Woodall, each for methamphetamine and amphetamine, Charlotte Stone Crabs outfielder Cody Rogers for refusing to take the drug test, and Double-A catcher David Wendt, whose 50-game suspension for testing positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine was announced earlier this week.

"Hopefully with young men making a mistake in their life that they learn from that mistake and they get on with their career in a very positive manner," Lukevics said. "I'm not naive to think that with upwards of 290 players that we can have at one time that it's not a constant challenge the way society is. We're teachers of not only the game of baseball, but we're teachers of life. … Educating them in life skills is equally as important as teaching them hitting and infield and pitching are, and that's our challenge in player development. We welcome that challenge."

Sale released a statement soon after he was suspended claiming he did not knowingly use a banned substance. He reiterated that Tuesday after his workout at Tropicana Field during the Rays annual Winter Development Program for top prospects.

"It's not known how I came up dirty, to be honest," he said. "I was taking a certified supplement. I take simple multivitamins, fish oils, stuff to help you stay healthy. Just one of those things. I guess being around a lot of people that aren't necessarily your core group can lead to things that can happen."

Sale will attend minor-league spring training and will serve the remainder of his suspension at the Rays spring training complex in Port Charlotte in the extended spring program. He said he has learned from the incident and is anxious to resume his career, knowing full well that missing 50 games at this stage of his development can be the derailer Lukevics mentioned.

"With all that's happened I try and look at it from life's perspective. It's something that comes with life," he said. "A lot of mistakes are made. You have to learn from them."

Sale said he also wants to shake the stigma of being a tainted prospect.

"The way I look at it is people who are looking from afar will want to judge me," he said. "… through my game and showing them my game, hopefully that will show them I'm not what people may make me out to be."


rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227 Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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