PORT CHARLOTTE — A year ago, Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows were young players in their first spring training with the Rays, hoping to show they were ready to play regularly in the majors.
Sunday, they reported to camp having not only established themselves as front-line big-leaguers and key pieces of the lineup for a postseason team, but also American League All-Stars.
A lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t.
“It gives you a little bit of confidence," Lowe said. “But baseball is a very humbling game and every time that I’ve gotten uber confident about anything it’s come back and smacked me down really quick.
“So I’m not going to go in with any arrogance or anything like that. Just go out with the same attitude that I’ve always had, to prove I belong and do what I can do to help the team win."
Meadows said things were “a lot different” because of his performance, but that his process would be the same.
“As a team, confidence-wise it’s sky high knowing that we can compete and being able to get a taste of the playoffs last year," said Meadows. “Me personally, being able to do what I did last year, and kind of establish myself and prove myself being an All-Star and all the accolades that I received last year is a testament to the coaching staff, all the people that support me and are around me, my teammates, just to keep going. Just to keep going and only improve."
In his first full season in the majors, Meadows, 24, hit .291 with 33 homers, 89 RBIs and had a .922 OPS; he was named Rays co-MVP with Charlie Morton.
He stuck with his regular offseason routine but did add some muscle, reporting around the same 222 pounds at which he finished last season, though he did work on getting quicker first steps defensively and “made a lot of improvements" on his arm. “Just focusing on some small things I can improve on in the outfield."
Manager Kevin Cash said the key for Meadows now is being consistent.
“What he did was pretty remarkable," Cash said. “He made the most of every situation. ... He does such a good job mentally of staying even-keeled. He doesn’t let playing well or not playing well at times affect him too much. He kind of trusts the process with his cage work. He got a heck of a lot better as a defensive outfielder for us, and I think that will continue to be a point of focus for him. And kind of stay out of his way, because it was pretty awesome what he did."
Lowe, 25, returned in late September after missing more than 2 ½ months with foot and leg injuries and spent much of the offseason working to strengthen his lower half. In 82 games, he hit .270 with 17 homers, 51 RBIs and an .850 OPS, and was voted the team’s top rookie.
Wendle ready to roll
The good spirits Joey Wendle reported to camp in showed when he jokingly thanked reporters for not staking out the parking lot for his arrival, as they did Saturday for Japanese free agent Yoshi Tsutsugo.
Excited by the Feb. 3 birth of his and Lindsey’s second son, Wendle said an offseason program of rest, then hard work has him confident the right wrist injury that sidelined him twice last season is healed.
“It feels really good," he said. “I don’t foresee it being an issue whatsoever this season, and I’m looking forward to hopefully a fully healthy season."
Wendle, who hit only .231 with a .633 OPS, did some tinkering with his swing and stance, but said most of his work was on gaining flexibility and strengthening his arm to “be a little bit better on the left side of the infield."
That could be important because depending on the Rays’ final roster configuration, he could be the primary backup at shortstop and third base."
Pitchers, catchers and early reporting position players will work out at 11 a.m. Monday at the Charlotte Sports Park (2300 El Jobean Road); the team is hosting a free “Fan Day” event starting at 10:30 a.m. … Cash again praised pitching prospects Shane McClanahan and Joe Ryan for their throwing sessions and was impressed with his first look at non-roster righty John Curtiss. ... Infield coach Rodney Linares is working with Jose Martinez on his defense at first base. … All but five players reported to camp in time to work out Sunday: Randy Arozarena, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, Lucius Fox and Nate Lowe. The first first full-squad workout is Tuesday. … The new Korean interpreter for Choi, Steve Nam, did report on Sunday. … Tsutsugo took ground balls and swings in the batting cage and may hit on the field for the first time Monday.