ST. PETERSBURG — Things happen.
Players show up not feeling right or get hurt during spring training. Some with small setbacks need more time. New faces are added when an unsigned free agent takes a bargain deal, or a surprising trade offer is presented. A rookie or non-roster veteran makes a strong impression, or someone being counted on looks terrible.
But with just a week and a couple days until the Rays open spring training, it appears that if everything goes as expected, don’t expect there to be much competition.
Maybe for a couple spots in the bullpen and on the bench, three total, but that seems to be about it. (Which given the World Baseball Classic-related absences is probably a good thing.)
The starting staff is set, with newcomer Zach Eflin joining Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen in what should be one of the league’s best rotations.
Most of the eight bullpen spots are filled, with right-handers Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam and Shawn Armstrong in, along with lefties Jalen Beeks, Garrett Cleavinger and Colin Poche.
Ryan Thompson likely is also in, leaving one spot for Calvin Faucher, Rule 5 pick Kevin Kelly, non-roster invitee Trevor Kelley or someone else to earn. (That would also mean starting candidates Luis Patino and Yonny Chirinos, coming off past injury issues, and Josh Fleming are headed to Triple-A to get regular work.)
The position player group also looks stable.
Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejia are in line to return as the two catchers, with Rene Pinto likely providing depth at Triple-A.
The infield seems set with Brandon Lowe, Wander Franco, Isaac Paredes, Taylor Walls and Yandy Diaz, who looks to be the primary first baseman. And the outfield, with Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot, Harold Ramirez and Jose Siri.
That would leave two spots for some combination of these four candidates: Jonathan Aranda, Vidal Brujan, Josh Lowe, Luke Raley. Three are lefties and Brujan is a switch-hitter. Lowe and Raley are outfielders only. Aranda seems best at first, but can possibly move around a bit. Brujan can play anywhere and brings speed.
Could the Rays, after spending most of the offseason unsuccessfully looking for a veteran lefty hitter, still make a move? It seems unlikely.
But there could be one possibility that also seemed unlikely a few months ago: Re-signing outfielder David Peralta.
His unimpressive performance after being acquired form Arizona last July — .255 average, .652 OPS, no homers, 18 RBIs in 47 games — may have been due to back issues, specifically a low back disc herniation, which has since been corrected with a procedure. He would also add the veteran presence the Rays would like in the clubhouse.
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Fields of dreams
The Tropicana Field infield will be smaller this season — 2 feet all the way around. Under new MLB rules, tied to the shift restrictions, infields must be a uniform size in all stadiums, 95 feet from the front side of the pitching rubber to the outer boundary. The Trop infield was originally built at 97 feet, so workers had to dig out the clay, pour concrete and add new turf, trying hard to get it to match. …. With a $50,000 investment and extensive work by head groundskeeper Dan Moeller’s crew, the Rays have upgraded the Huggins-Stengel complex near downtown St. Petersburg to use for outdoor workouts during March, when they hold spring training at the space-limited Trop. The infield was rebuilt to big-league quality, mounds were improved, and batting cages were added. The St. Petersburg High team, which plays regular-season games there, also will benefit. … The Rays clubhouse staff has been working tirelessly to prepare the Disney complex facility, where the Rays will hold the first two weeks (Feb. 14-28) of camp, given the unavailability of the Port Charlotte complex due to Hurricane Ian damage. … Charlotte County commissioners, meanwhile, approved an emergency order to begin repairs on the facility so it is ready for spring 2024, and they will also discuss what upgrades can be made to keep the team there past the 2028 end of its current lease.
Unless he agrees to a multi-year deal that has been discussed, Adam is one of four Rays headed to arbitration hearing this week, joining Thompson, Poche and Ramirez. … The spring camp roster is up to 75, with invites to four more minor-leaguers: catchers Roberto Alvarez and Logan Driscoll, outfielders Tristan Peters and Jordan Qsar. … Adam is on the 50-man preliminary list for the U.S. World Baseball Classic team, with final rosters due this week. … Though the rules allow it, Diaz said he had no interest in playing in the WBC for Cuba, where he was jailed four times for trying to escape before making it out. “Really didn’t put too much thought on it,” he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. … With an announcement likely this week, expect Fred McGriff’s Hall of Fame plaque to feature either an Atlanta cap or one with no logo, in a nod to playing for six teams, including parts of five seasons each with the Rays, Jays and Braves. … The Rays are sending their players weekly reminders about the rule changes, such as shifts, pitch timing and pickoffs. … New third-base coach Brady Williams will keep the No. 4 he wore as Triple-A Durham manager, the first for the Rays since Blake Snell was traded in December 2020. Infield prospect Curtis Mead will wear 25 and pitching prospect Taj Bradley 45. …The Ray and Rowdies foundations are accepting applications for the annual Racial Equity Grant Program, having committed $100,000 annually to fight systemic racism. … The Rays got a B for their offseason moves in grades by The Athletic. … McClanahan, last year’s All-Star starter, was not among MLB Network’s top 10 starting pitchers. … In signing with Arizona, Evan Longoria gets to go back to the favored No. 3 he wore with the Rays. He had to wear No. 10 for five years with the Giants as No. 3 was retired for Bill Terry. … League owners meet this week in Palm Beach, with an update expected on the Rays stadium plans as part of the Trop redevelopment project.
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