Rays Tales: Six lessons learned this spring

First things first, a trade secret, the lineup and the Lowe-down, swell Snell and more. Plus rumblings.
Ji-Man Choi has been a pleasant surprise at first base for the Rays ... thus far. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Times]
Ji-Man Choi has been a pleasant surprise at first base for the Rays ... thus far. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published March 23, 2019|Updated March 24, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays came south six weeks ago with a pretty good sense of what they knew and what they had to find out. As they relocated to the Trop today, here’s six things learned during the spring:

Ji-Man Choi can play first base.

Choi showed up in shape and motivated to prove he was more than a big bat and, as of now anyway, is the best defensive option at first, ahead of Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe. Worth noting, however, manager Kevin Cash saying “in a spring training setting Ji-Man Choi has kind of shown he can handle the defensive side.” The game gets quicker starting Thursday.

Right-hander Cole Sulser may join the list of trade throw-ins the Rays cash in on.

Acquired with Diaz from Cleveland for Jake Bauers and $5 million, the thus-far career minor-leaguer impressed with consistent strike-throwing and an intriguing slider, and seems likely to make the majors at some point.

There really isn’t going to be a set lineup.

Especially with third baseman Matt Duffy out to start the season, they will be mixing and matching on the field and in the batting order all the time, seeking to maximize depth and versatility. Related, the amount of talent throughout the organization is legit, and will pay off.

Managing the pitching staff will be an ongoing challenge.

Especially if they stay in a rotation with inconsistent Tyler Glasnow starting ahead of back-to-back openers, creating the potential for three straight days of heavy bullpen use. No matter who wins the final bullpen spot between Adam Kolarek, Emilio Pagan and Hunter Wood, expect to see the other two shuttled in early and often.

Lowe is going to be a big part of the lineup.

If it wasn’t obvious before, his new $24 million guaranteed contract made it clear. Some days he might hit cleanup. Learning first base remains “a work in progress,’’ but he will get time at second, corner outfield and DH.

Blake Snell really likes being a Ray.

Appropriately frustrated after getting only a meager raise for his Cy Young season, Snell could’ve stuck to his plan to make the Rays pay in arbitration. Instead, he took their call to discuss a long-term deal and agreed to sign on for five years at a potentially discounted $50 million.

Rays rumblings

GM Erik Neander was either sleep-deprived or being overly inclusive on a media call announcing Lowe’s extension, congratulating him, wife Madison and “your dog Collie.’’ … It would be something if there’s no opening-day sellout, considering Snell vs. Justin Verlander and the Trop’s reduced capacity of 25,025. … The Rays don’t give no-trade clauses, but Snell will get $1 million if dealt, $1.5M if he logs a top-three Cy Young finish first. Also, he gets his $3 million signing bonus up front. …’s six-word Rays preview: Can baseball’s mad scientists surprise again? … Speedy Vidal Brujan moved into’s top 100 prospects list, the seventh Ray. … Curious to see what draws more complaints this week at the Trop: going cash-free, closing the upper-deck or opening gates only 90 minutes before first pitch (two hours for opening day)? … Rays lefty Jalen Beeks gets a World Series ring, having pitched in two games for the Red Sox before the July 25 trade. … Senior VP Chaim Bloom was among eight potential GM candidates in a recent Baseball America piece. … Former Rays reliever Brandon Gomes was promoted to Dodgers VP and assistant GM under former Tampa Bay boss Andrew Friedman. … Unless something changes soon, it’s weird that neither James Shields nor Denard Span will be playing anywhere. … DJ Fresh has a radio commercial for a car/truck dealer; how many Rays players do? … Great note from The Athletic’s Jayson Stark: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado signed for a combined $1.32 billion; the Rays’ total payroll through 21 seasons is $1.01 billion. … So the Rays took over running the Rowdies, whose roster changed extensively from last season. Hmmmm.

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.