Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays catchers Casali, Maile deal with uncertain futures

PORT CHARLOTTE — The lockers for Curt Casali and Luke Maile are tucked in the back corner of the Rays' spring training clubhouse, out of sight to anyone who is not looking for the two catchers.

Along the wall to their right is the locker for Wilson Ramos, the free agent catcher signed in December to add offensive punch to the position.

In the corner to their left hangs a flat-screen TV, tuned Thursday morning to the MLB Network, which aired updates on free agent catcher Matt Wieters. The Rays made him an offer. If Wieters accepts, he will be their primary catcher, at least until Ramos returns from offseason knee surgery. The two would then form a platoon.

That leaves Casali and Maile where?

"I try to keep my head out of it as much as I can," Casali said. "I understand they may be looking for another guy. It doesn't change what I have to do. … I know it's a mundane and tedious thing to say, but I can't control it. I can't control any of it. I can only do what I do, and I feel good about that. Hopefully (the Rays) feel good about it, too."

Casali caught a team-high 62 games last season. Next was Hank Conger at 38. Maile caught 34. Bobby Wilson, who joined the team midseason and replaced Casali on the roster, caught 28.

Conger and Wilson are gone. Casali, 28, and Maile, 26, likely will break camp as the catchers, with one being the odd-man out when Ramos, 29, is activated from the disabled list and is ready to play behind the plate.

MORE FROM RAYS CAMP: Rays home in on bullpen help.

The addition of Wieters, 30, would mean one of those two would head to Triple-A Durham in April and the other would join him when Ramos is healthy enough to catch.

Oh, and there is also Jesus Sucre, a catcher with major-league experience acquired this month from the Mariners for cash.

"There are certain things in this game that you can control. That's not one of them," Maile said. "It's probably the farthest thing away from what you can control. It's not worth any time or energy."

Both catchers know they need to improve their offense. Casali's .186 batting average in 2016 was the second-lowest among major-league catchers. Maile hit .227 but needs to cut down on his strikeouts; he had 36 in 119 at-bats.

THE COMMISSIONER SPEAKS: Rob Manfred says changes to improve games' pace could be in place this year.

Both are known more for their defense. Rays pitchers compiled a 3.14 ERA with Maile behind the plate last year, the lowest among the four catchers. Casali threw out 30.6 percent of base stealers, the best on the team.

Casali believes he is an above-average major-league catcher when it comes to calling a game and playing defense.

"But the (batting) average is the thing that's dragging my name down," he said.

He knows he has to have more consistent at-bats. He believes he improved on that last season during his time at Durham. He also believes he put too much pressure on himself last year after making his first opening day roster.

Manager Kevin Cash, a former catcher who lived on the roster bubble during most of his big-league career, knows what Casali and Maile are going through as the Wieters reports persist.

"Sometimes you got to put the blinders on a little bit," he said. "Look, everybody in that clubhouse is thrilled about Wilson Ramos being in here, Curt also. I know he is. We talked about that. That being said, there's going to be opportunities for him and others to go out there and perform."

Right now, that's all Casali and Maile are focused on.

"I get it. We want to win," Casali said. "The team (stunk) last year, and part of that was because of me. I'm a piece of the puzzle, and obviously they want an upgrade on that. All I can do is keep showing I can play, believe in myself and hope for the best and be part of the upgrade."

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