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No surprise, Rays spring training has a different look

With major-leaguers locked out, minor-league camp opened Wednesday without familiar faces and scenes.
Rays minor league players congregate on a field for instructions from coaches and trainers while rotating through training drills during a workout session Wednesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.
Rays minor league players congregate on a field for instructions from coaches and trainers while rotating through training drills during a workout session Wednesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Mar. 2|Updated Mar. 3

PORT CHARLOTTE — The fields at Charlotte Sports Park weren’t as crowded Wednesday morning as they normally would be, and less than a dozen fans looked on.

The most accomplished players working out were probably pitchers Chris Mazza and Aaron Slegers.

And the major-league staff that was around, including coaches Kyle Snyder and Jonathan Erlichman, and head athletic trainer Joe Benge, kept low profiles.

Related: Rays' Tyler Zombro enjoying "miraculous" return to mound

Welcome to spring training 2022.

At least for now.

With major-leaguers and prospects on 40-man rosters locked out as a result of the ongoing and somewhat contentious negotiations for a new labor deal, the Rays opened minor-league camp with the first official workout for 100-plus pitchers and catchers, plus 15-20 early-arriving position players.

Rays minor league catchers receive instructions Wednesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.
Rays minor league catchers receive instructions Wednesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“It definitely feels like normalcy for us,” said Michael Johns, the minor-league field coordinator running the camp. “Obviously, we’re in the minor leagues and we’re getting these guys ready to play in the major leagues, so nothing changes for us. …

“We’re excited. It’s just really cool to see all the players here and get to see them back on the field. And perfect weather for it. So it’s business as usual for us.”

But it actually was quite unusual.

Certainly to players like Mazza, a 32-year-old reliever who pitched in 14 games for the Rays last season.

He was among the players under the complicated free-agency rules allowed to sign minor-league deals after the lockout went into effect on Dec. 2. He opted to rejoin the Rays, though there aren’t many familiar faces in camp yet.

“It is definitely a little different,” Mazza said. “I think the biggest thing is you’re here. You get to get your work in and get ready for a season kind of just like you would be doing up there (in big-league camp).

“’It’s just a little different atmosphere. Over here, I really feel like the old guy. I’d never seen so many kids born in the 2000s. I think me and the coaches are the only ones that are ‘80s and below that. That’s a little different, but when you’ve got a bunch of younger guys, you’ve got to compete and show them up a little bit.”

Mazza also gets a chance to show the big-league coaches and staff that are around what he can do.

“It sucks we don’t have major-league camp right now,” he said. “But being here and being able to still work with Snyder and (Triple-A coach Brian) Reith, all those guys, being able to get my face here and show them, ‘Hey, I’m ready to go. Whenever the word gets called, I’m ready to go.’ So, I’m excited.”

The situation also has created unusual opportunities for young, lower-level minor-leaguers and new coaches and staff members to meet and make an impression on manager Kevin Cash and his full staff, as they were in town last week to watch the work in several minicamps.

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“For them to see what exactly we do is really cool,” Johns said. “They just listened, and we got to talk after and during. It’s an opportunity that hopefully we never have again, where they didn’t have a whole lot of other responsibility. They were able to kind of be invested in the minor leagues, which they are, but not to the extent of what they were last week. So it was really cool.”

This also has been a different spring for starter Tyler Glasnow, who was back in the Tampa Bay area doing Tommy John surgery rehab work with a private physical therapist Wednesday instead of working with the Rays training staff and being around his teammates.

Rays minor-league players participate in a training drill during a workout Wednesday in Port Charlotte.
Rays minor-league players participate in a training drill during a workout Wednesday in Port Charlotte. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

But Glasnow, the Rays’ player representative, is keenly aware of the circumstances, as Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced Tuesday that the first two series of the season were canceled and no date has been set for owners and players to resume negotitions.

“It’s unfortunate MLB decided to cancel games,” Glasnow said. “The league has acknowledged problems within its current system but won’t take steps in order to change them. Hopefully we can get back to the negotiating table and get a deal done soon.”

And get spring training back to normal.

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