ST. PETERSBURG — As they traded away veterans in a massive makeover of their roster, Rays leaders insisted they were not taking a step back from fielding competitive teams.
But the leading player on their team, 3B Evan Longoria, said Saturday that he sees the net result of the moves as a shift back in time to when the Rays started their run of success.
"There's going to have to be some pieces that fall into place, much like, I look at it as 2008 where I'm the old guy and not the young guy," he said during Fan Fest at the Trop. "There's definitely a ton of ability there in the guys we've acquired. Now it's just a matter of those guys going out and proving — not so much that they have to prove it — but I think for us to be successful, we're going to have to have some guys step up. There's no doubt about that. Some young guys, guys that haven't yet proven it at the major-league level but have the ability to do so."
Longoria, 29, said he will do what he can to help OF Kevin Kiermaier, C Rene Rivera, OF Steven Souza and others try.
"Now that I'm in the position that I'm in, I don't know if weird is the word, but the dynamic is completely switched around," he said. "When I was a rookie, I didn't feel any pressure. I feel more pressure now because it's going to be my job to tell these guys, 'Hey, you don't have any pressure on yourself, go out and play the game and enjoy doing it and all the rest will take care of itself.'
"So I think it's going to be a fun year for me because I really like to teach and talk to the guys and kind of try to help them in the right direction, because I had such good direction when I was a young player. I think it's going to be one of those years for me hopefully where I do a lot of growing emotionally and mentally because I'm able to help some other guys."
Longoria said watching the moves from afar was tough, albeit part of the business of being in a small market, as many friends, notably Ben Zobrist, were shipped out. "It's a completely different team," he said.
But he said he has gotten good reviews on the return in the trades, primarily from scouting and coaching friends. And he likes what he has seen and heard from new manager Kevin Cash, who came to Arizona to talk and have dinner with him.
"I think we're all excited that he's here," Longoria said. "He's bringing a fresh attitude, fresh ideas. Just being as young as he is (37) and as shortly removed as he is from the game, I think it's going to translate well to a young team."
TV UPDATE: Emily Austen, a Tampa native who had been working as a reporter and host for the NBA Celtics website, was hired as the new in-game reporter for Sun Sports TV broadcasts. Austen, who debuts March 26, replaces Kelly Nash, who left to pursue other opportunities.
MISCELLANY: The team estimated Fan Fest attendance at 16,000 and said about $97,000 was raised for the Rays Baseball Foundation. … Noted during the Fan Fest "yard sale" of collectibles and memorabilia was that Joe Maddon items — Joe-Tato heads, blankets, aprons, etc. — were marked down to $5. … Improvements at the Trop include "a complete makeover" of the concession and activity stations along the outfield street concourses, including a wall of 4K super-high-def TVs.