Why spring training matters more to Rays this year

Rays Tales | Learning where Yoshi Tsutsugo and other newcomers best fit will be a priority in Port Charlotte.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash and new Japanese slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo, shown during December press conference, will have a lot to talk about during spring training.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash and new Japanese slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo, shown during December press conference, will have a lot to talk about during spring training. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jan. 25, 2020|Updated Jan. 26, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — This will be a different spring training for the Rays.

Because more of it will matter.

In many years, the Rays, like other teams, pretty much know going in what they’re going to do with their roster and lineup and, aside from injury issues, don’t put much weight on what happens on the field.

But after a busier-than-expected off-season that saw two major trades plus the departure of two key free agents and addition of one, the Rays have some things to sort out when they get to Port Charlotte in a few weeks.

A central point in that will be determining where Yoshi Tsutsugo, the lefty slugger signed from Japan, can best fit defensively. Specifically, whether he can handle playing third base and how comfortable he looks in left field.

“There’s a lot to be learned,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “A lot of times you come into spring training and you know some things how they’re going to go regardless of performance. It’s going to be pretty important for us to put our heads together. Obviously we’re going to talk to Yoshi a lot, get his comfort on where he is playing defensively.’’

Along with the actual exhibitions, performance in work on the back fields will be key.

Similarly, Cash said they will want to see how Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe, who both returned at the end of 2019 after lengthy leg injury absences, are moving. Diaz is slated for action at first and third, with Lowe at second and potentially some outfield work.

Also on the to-do list is see how trade acquisition Hunter Renfroe looks covering center field when needed in addition to playing the corners, and whether he fits better in right or left. And a sense of how defensively challenged Jose Martinez, another new Ray, really is at first and in the outfield. At some point, they’ll figure out a base batting order.

“There are a lot of pieces, a lot of people that can move around the diamond,’’ Cash said. “We will not be consistent with lineups and positioning. It will probably stay similar (to past years). What we will be consistent (with) is being inconsistent.’’

That wouldn’t be anything new. Last season, Cash used 152 different lineups in 162 games — though that was only sixth most in the AL. (Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, a former Rays coach, used a majors-most 158.)

Rays rumblings

Lefty Shane McClanahan (the USF product), strikeout machine Joe Ryan and sure-handed infielder Taylor Walls are among minor-leaguers to be invited to big-league camp. (And, if you were wondering, no Wander Franco, who is only 18 and hasn’t yet played above Class A.) … Decisions are forthcoming soon on offering flex-packs and/or some other new ticket products, potentially by the Feb. 8 Fan Fest. … The Rays are still looking for bullpen depth, though more likely by bringing another reliever or two to camp on a minor-league deal. Adding to the now-full 40-man roster would be a surprise. … Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell made it clear they felt Houston players who participated in the 2017 sign-stealing scheme should have been punished along with the team sanctions. Current Rays mate Charlie Morton was on that 2017 Astros team, which will make it even more interesting when the always thoughtful Morton makes his first comments on the situation. …

Bench coach Matt Quatraro was a hot managerial candidate early in the off-season and will be in the future, but wasn’t interviewed as the Astros, Mets and Red Sox scrambled for new managers due to the scandal. … Talk about compartmentalizing: Cash hadn’t unpacked his equipment bag from the season-ending trip to Houston until Friday, when he grabbed a cap to wear for the workout at the Trop, and had to tear off the 2019 postseason logo. … A banner marking the wild-card win will be hung from the Trop rafters; the Rays did the same in 2013 when they also were eliminated in the division series. … Opening over/under win totals from have the Rays at 90½, third best in the AL behind the Yankees (101½) and Twins (92½), though with the scandal-scarred Astros off the board. … The Rays kept tabs on ex-mate Steven Souza Jr. in his return from injuries, but may not have wanted to give the outfielder the 40-man roster spot he reportedly is getting from the Cubs. … Infielders Mike Brosseau and Vidal Brujan, and pitcher/DH Brendan McKay attended MLB’s Rookie Career Development Program in Miami. … Franco was No. 1 again on Baseball America’s ranking of the game’s top 100 prospects, but third on Jim Bowden’s top 50 for The Athletic, behind White Sox outfielder Luis Robert and Tigers pitcher Casey Mize. Baseball America had McKay 14th, Bowden 26th. … Keith Law ranked Xavier Edwards, who the Rays got from San Diego, the best prospect traded this winter, and Adam Liberatore, who the Rays sent to St. Louis, second. … Willy Adames had a breakthrough season for the Rays, but still has some impressing to do: He didn’t make Buster Olney’s list of top 10 shortstops, or seven honorable mentions. … Pitching coach Kyle Snyder’s take on the bullpen: “I feel extremely comfortable with the talent that we have. You can measure us up against just about anybody in the league.’’

Ex-Rays rumblings

Quite a welcome to Boston for ex-Rays exec Chaim Bloom, who has had to deal with ownership orders to cut payroll, exploring trading star Mookie Betts, media criticism over a lack of improvements, hiring a manager after ditching Alex Cora due to the cheating scandal and potential sanctions from MLB for 2018 infractions. … Infielder Tim Beckham, with 32 games remaining on his PED suspension, is reportedly in talks to rejoin the Orioles. … Outfielder Carlos Gomez, who spent 2018 with the Rays, plans to retire after playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic (and then do so ceremonially with the Brewers), though could also play in at least the spring Olympic qualifying tournament first. … Former Rays moving into coaching jobs include Pat Burrell (hitting coach, Giants Class A San Jose team) and Reid Brignac (manager, Mets Class A Columbia team). … Infielder Riley Unroe, the Rays 2013 second-round pick, is going to big-league camp with the Braves.

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Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.