ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are now old enough to drink. They turn 21 today, as in they start their 21st season in the majors.
And I'd buy them a beer except they're going to have to introduce themselves first.
Who are these guys?
You look around for familiar faces and you only see a few.
There's Chris Archer, the perpetual ace of the pitching staff who still needs to step up his game to pitch like an actual ace.
There's pitcher Blake Snell, who is 25 yet could pass as a junior for Plant High School.
There's centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, with the gold glove and dreamy green eyes.
And there a few others we recognize, such as slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, occasional slugger Brad Miller, catcher Wilson Ramos and pitchers Alex Colome and Matt Andriese.
But many of the guys Rays fans grew to simultaneously love and complain about are gone. No more Steven Souza, Jr. No more Logan Morrison. No more Corey Dickerson. No more Alex Cobb. And, it's still hard to believe, no more Evan Longoria.
How are we going to get through a game without hearing that Tantric violin thing as Longo walked up to the plate?
We're going to have learn all new walk-up songs, all new batting stances, all new numbers, all new players.
I'll repeat: Who are the these guys? And just as important: are they any good?
"I like (this team) a lot,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "It has been the best spring of the four years I've been here. … These guys have brought it every day."
Like who is that guy over there at third base?
Hi, I'm Matt Duffy.
Hi, Matt. You're the guy who the Rays traded for way back in 2016 and who hasn't played a real game since … 2016. Assuming you don't re-injure yourself running out to third base on Opening Day, Thursday will be your first regular-season game in 570 days.
And who's that guy?
Hey, I'm Denard Span.
Ah yeah, Denard Span, the Tampa native picked up in the Longoria trade who wasn't even supposed to stay with the Rays. You were supposed to be traded, too, but ended up staying and playing so well in the spring (.321 average, 11 RBIs, three steals) that you're now one of the players the Rays will lean heavily on in 2018.
There's another new guy.
Yep, the name is Carlos Gomez.
Hey, Carlos, you're the journeyman who has played for five other teams and wasn't picked up until after spring training started. But now you might end up hitting leadoff or cleanup and everywhere else, too. Your three spring homers have the Rays excited. And there's always a chance that one your bat flips could start a brawl.
Who's the big guy over there?
Yes, C.J. Cron, picked up from the Angels to play first base. You have some pop. You average 23 homers and 85 RBI's for every 162 games played so you might fill the void left by Souza without all the goofy antics in the field like Souza used to provide.
The Rays are banking on being able to catch up to the favored Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East by being better at catching the ball. #Rays #RaysUp #RedSox #Yankees @TB_Times @TBTimes_Rays https://t.co/ySQ1fFfSc4— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) March 27, 2018
I'm Joey Wendle.
Hey Joey. You're supposed to be known as a reliable glove at second base with the ability to handle the bat, and you proved that with a .327 batting average during the spring.
I see Mallex Smith is back to play some outfield and run like wildfire on the bases. There's Daniel Robertson, who can scoop up any grounder hit within a football field of where he is standing.
For starting pitchers, there's Archer and Snell, and promising younger arms Jake Faria and Austin Pruitt. So who is pitching the fifth day?
Wait. What? There's like six of you!
Oh yeah, the Rays are reinventing the wheel by using the bullpen as a fifth starter. This has disaster written all over it. Rays starters rarely go deep in games, meaning the bullpen is taxed most days to begin with. Then add into the mix that there are no long-term examples of this ever working anywhere else in baseball and you can understand why we'll have to see it work before believing it can work.
So there you have it. That's most of the 2018 Rays. There will continue to be changes, just like Tuesday when the Rays picked up some outfield help in Rob Refsnyder.
It won't be an easy season, not with the Yankees and Red Sox loaded to kill bear … and kill Orioles and Blue Jays, too. With so many new faces in Tampa Bay, it's hard to know what expectations should be.
"(My expectations) haven't changed — to go win,'' Cash said. "Competitive in this division is not good enough. We know we have good teams that we're playing against, we need to win.''
Rays fans will certainly drink to that.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.