For a moment Friday, it looked as if a young businessman, accountant or computer guy had won one of those charity auctions to spend a game in uniform in the Rays dugout.
Actually, it was Rays analytics director Jonathan Erlichman, a Princeton grad with a mathematics degree, and the apropos nickname J-Money.
Though he looked a bit out of place next to the players and coaches, and takes some good-natured teasing about it, Erlichman was totally welcomed as part of an interesting Rays spring training program to integrate the onfield and front office crews, specifically from the data departments.
"Over the last few years we've done a really good job because our players are open-minded and our coaching staff is open-minded of kind of integrating our (research and development) department," manager Kevin Cash said. "They play a huge role every single day during the season for us."
The program is a joint idea the Rays expect to be mutually beneficial for all parties to get a better sense of what the others do and are looking for, as they all work toward the same goal.
Erlichman is first of a list of guests that include senior data scientist Will Cousins, baseball performance science analyst Winston Doom and predictive modeling analysts (who knew?) Kevin Ferris and Anirudh Kilambi.
"It's probably as much for them as it is the actual players because it gives them a closer perspective, a closer look at how guys react to when they have success and when they don't," Cash said.
"J-Money made a really good point in that he couldn't believe how fast the game was. He just couldn't believe the reactions, the decision-making. And I think he also valued watching the guys coming off the mound like if a guy struggled or didn't make a play. That's a perspective they're going to value maybe a little bit more."
With the signing of OF Carlos Gomez set to be finalized this week, the Rays will get to see how their reworked team looks and fits together on the field. Even after adding 1B/DH C.J. Cron and Gomez, it wouldn't be a surprise if they seek another right-handed hitter who can play outfield. If so, an interesting option could be Jose Bautista. Now 37, coming off a rough year in Toronto, the longtime Tampa resident is said to be in great shape, focused, able to play corner infield spots and keenly interested in playing for the Rays, presumably knowing it would be for a low salary.
Besides players such as RHP Alex Cobb and 1B Logan Morrison, another big free agent with Rays ties sitting home without a job is pitching coach Neil Allen, most recently with the Twins. … Minor-league players to be named going to the Angels (for Cron) and from the D'backs (for Steven Souza Jr.) will soon be chosen from a small group of candidates. An interesting name from Arizona would be RHP Joey Krehbiel, a Seminole High product. … Kevin Cash was 20th on Nick Cafardo's Boston Globe ranking of managers; Houston's A.J. Hinch was first. … INFs Matt Duffy and Brad Miller are living in traded 3B Evan Longoria's spring home and plan to do the same during the season in his St. Petersburg house. … Having no spring Saturday home games was the combination of a bad draw from the MLB schedule makers and opposing team requests. … The Charlotte Sports Park ranked fourth best among Florida spring stadiums overall in a USA Today study of online reviews, and No. 1, including Arizona sites, for food and drink.
Second of our weekly semi-educated guesses at the makeup of the 25-man opening day roster, assuming formal signing of Carlos Gomez:
PITCHERS (12): Jose Alvarado, Matt Andriese, Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Nathan Eovaldi, Jake Faria, Dan Jennings, Daniel Hudson, Andrew Kittredge, Chaz Roe, Sergio Romo, Blake Snell
CATCHERS (2): Wilson Ramos, Jesus Sucre
INFIELDERS (6): C.J. Cron, Matt Duffy, Adeiny Hechavarria, Brad Miller, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle
OUTFIELDERS (5): Carlos Gomez, Kevin Kiermaier, Mallex Smith, Denard Span, right-handed hitter TBA-*
x- has to be added to 40-man roster