Thursday, November 23, 2017
Sports

Rays: We have the depth for a sweet '16

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There are plenty of things Rays officials don't know as they head to Port Charlotte this weekend to open spring training. But one thing the Rays seem certain of is that the combination of players they brought in during an active offseason and the returnees has the potential, if healthy, to be very good, propelling them from an 80-win club back to playoff contention.

Here's a breakdown:

Starting rotation

The rotation is the strongest element of the roster and the most stable going into the spring. Assuming all are healthy, which Silverman and Co. found last spring is far from a given, it has the potential to be the best in the whole league.

With Chris Archer at the front and Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez providing solid support, the keys are lefties Matt Moore and Drew Smyly.

Both finished last season strong after missing significant time with injuries: Moore recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and Smyly rehabbing a shoulder that had a tear in the rotator cuff. The Rays are counting, obviously, on both to pick up where they left off.

Trading Nathan Karns to Seattle definitely left the Rays a little thin depth-wise, but they have Matt Andriese to fill in and top prospect Blake Snell looming.

The lefty almost certainly will open the season at Triple-A Durham. But, after some "seasoning", Snell could be a viable option if there is an injury or the rotation needs a jolt. Snell, whose workload will be watched, could also be a factor if the Rays were to decide Ramirez could be of more use bolstering the bullpen. Plus the Rays expect reinforcements with Alex Cobb, who is aiming for a late July return from Tommy John surgery, and waiver claim Chase Whitley, on a similar timetable.

Bullpen

The bullpen is full of questions, exacerbated by the trade of lefty Jake McGee. The only certainties going into camp are Brad Boxberger is the closer, Xavier Cedeno is a key lefty weapon and Alex Colome and lefty Enny Romero, who are both out of options, are part of the squad.

How the Rays will fill the other three (or at times four) spots will be an evolving narrative as they need more help.

Steve Geltz, impressive until tiring at the end of his 70-appearance rookie season, will be part of it, as will Danny Farquhar, acquired from Seattle. One key is having some roster flexibility so they can shuffle in fresh arms when needed. Geltz, Farquhar and Andrew Bellatti have options, so they'll likely to be part of it.

Infield

The Rays couldn't be more locked in at two of the spots, with third base manned by Evan Longoria, the team leader coming off a solid .270, 21-homer, 73-RBI season; and second base by 2015 team MVP Logan Forsythe, who went .281-17-68. And they are well set at shortstop with newcomer Brad Miller, the lefty swinger with some pop acquired from Seattle.

But they have a three-way mess at first base, with James Loney, and his $8 million salary, returning to find newcomers Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce in his place. It's obvious something has to happen. Morrison and Pearce could become a potent platoon at first, but the Rays have to move Loney and are willing to pay some of the money to do so.

Outfield

The acquisition of power-hitting Corey Dickerson from Colorado (for McGee) seemed to leave the Rays with too many outfielders. But the plan is to keep them all. Expect Dickerson primarily as the DH, making Desmond Jennings, who is supposedly healthy, the leftfielder. That puts Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier in center, Steven Souza Jr. in right and Brandon Guyer as the top reserve — and a starter somewhere vs. lefty pitching.

Catcher

Curt Casali's 2015 power burst — 10 homers in 101 at-bats for an MLB-best 10-1 ratio — thrust him into the starter's role. And when the Rays picked up lefty-hitting Hank Conger from the Astros, it seemed Rene Rivera, coming off an abysmal offensive performance was done.

But the Rays have hung on to Rivera, who in theory is still the most complete catcher of the three. Rivera just spent a month working on his hitting at Luis Alicea's Delray Beach academy, so it will be interesting to see if he looks this spring like the hitter that the Rays expected.

If so, it could make for a tougher choice between him, Conger and even Casali.

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