ST. PETERSBURG — Spring training opens in Port Charlotte in little more than three weeks, and the Rays’ roster seems pretty well set.
They still could make a few small moves, such as trading designated hitter Harold Ramirez to open up at-bats for Curtis Mead and others, or adding a veteran catcher potentially on a minor-league deal.
But they feel good about what they have done, where they are in terms of talent, athleticism and versatility and how they should do with a team baseball operations president Erik Neander tabbed “very good and very capable.” The Rays will be seeking to extend their run of consecutive playoff berths to six and to end a seven-game postseason losing streak.
“We have a lot of confidence in this group to continue to win games at the rates that these players have done and we’ve been fortunate to have done over the last several years,” Neander said. “It’s a little bit of a different mix in terms of veteran players and accomplished players with some that are right on the doorstep and ready to take their next opportunity, but we have reason to believe that quite a few of them are primed to do so.”
That list includes several holdovers, including infielders Mead and Jonathan Aranda, catcher Rene Pinto and starting pitcher Taj Bradley; and some newcomers, such as starter Ryan Pepiot, infielder Jose Caballero, and outfielders Jonny DeLuca and Richie Palacios.
The Rays will need their help, having parted with more experienced contributors Tyler Glasnow, Manuel Margot, Andrew Kittredge, Luke Raley, Christian Bethancourt and Robert Stephenson, among others.
Plus, they’ll be without injured starters Shane McClanahan for the full season, Jeffrey Springs likely into July and Drew Rasmussen into August. And they, wisely, are planning to be without shortstop Wander Franco, given his ongoing legal issues in the Dominican Republic. (On the plus side, the Rays would have four open spots on the 40-man roster once camp starts.)
Aranda, a left-handed swinger, will get a chance to play a big part in 2024, the Rays hoping the success he had at Triple A (.328 average, .924 OPS in 199 games) finally will carry over to the majors (.212, .656 in 66 games). There also should be plenty of at-bats for him against right-handed pitchers.
With Isaac Parades at third, Caballero at short, Brandon Lowe at second and Yandy Diaz at first, Mead (who can fill-in at short) seems positioned to join Aranda on the roster, at least until Taylor Walls is expected back from right hip surgery in early May.
With that group in place, 20-year-old top prospect Junior Caminero appears headed to the minors, along with Osleivis Basabe, who filled in late last year for Franco and Walls.
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Rays brass has considerable confidence in Pinto who, like Aranda, has shown just glimpses of his Triple-A success thus far in the majors. Alex Jackson, re-signed to a minor-league deal, is his likely partner behind the plate unless they find an upgrade. Rob Brantly signed a minor-league deal.
Whether Ramirez, who is limited in the outfield and at first base, is traded will impact the final shape of the roster. Randy Arozarena, Jose Siri and Josh Lowe are the primary outfielders, with DeLuca (a righty hitter) and/or Palacios (a lefty) providing depth.
Bradley and Pepiot (acquired with DeLuca for Glasnow and Margot) will get chances in the rotation behind Zach Eflin, Aaron Civale and Zack Littell. Shane Baz, on a restricted workload coming off Tommy John surgery, will join at some point, as could Jacob Lopez. Relievers Tyler Alexander and Chris Devenski will get stretched out in spring to see if they can help. So will Jacob Waguespack, who the Rays liked previously and will be in camp on a minor-league deal after two years in Japan.
Another starter option could be veteran Japanese right-hander Naoyuki Uwasawa, who (after extensive scouting by Tateki “Bori” Uchibori) signed a minor-league deal that has both a late spring out clause and innings incentives that could make him up to $3.5 million.
The bullpen seems set with Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, Colin Poche, Shawn Armstrong, Garrett Cleavinger (back from knee surgery) and Kevin Kelly, plus Alexander and Devenski. That Alexander and Kelly have options adds welcome roster flexibility.
A majors high-matching six Rays made Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list: Caminero, 3; SS Carson Williams, 37; Mead, 65; Baz, 66; 1B Xavier Isaac, 69; 3B Brayden Taylor, 95. … Baseball Prospectus has Caminero 3rd, Williams 18th, Mead 42nd and Isaac 60th. … MLB.com’s top 100 is coming soon, but positional rankings are posting. Isaac (Tampa Bay’s 2022 first-round pick) is No. 1 at first base, just ahead of ex-Ray Kyle Manzardo, who was traded to Cleveland for Civale.
FanFest will be 1-5 p.m. Feb. 17 at Tropicana Field. It is free but requires a mobile ticket via the MLB Ballpark app or raysbaseball.com. … Much about the TV situation remains unsettled, but, as of now Rays 2024 games are expected to still be shown by Bally on cable systems and streamed by Bally and/or Amazon depending on if/when the new deal is completed. … The Rays have arbitration hearings slated with Ramirez (who was offered $3.8 million but sought $4.3 million) and Adam ($2.7 million/$3.25 million). … Diaz was fifth among first basemen and Josh Lowe 10th among rightfielders on MLB Network’s Top 10 Right Now lists. Brandon Lowe didn’t make it at second base (nor did Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies, New York’s Gleyber Torres or Philadelphia’s Bryson Stott). … After being traded, Glasnow told the Chris Rose Rotation podcast he headed to Neander’s nearby Tampa house to talk for a few hours: “Just drank a beer with him and kicked it in his backyard and stuff, so that was cool.” … Infield prospect Ronny Simon, playing for the Toros, was voted MVP of the Dominican winter league. He hit .323 with a .926 OPS. … Raley told MLB Network Radio he was on his honeymoon in St. Lucia playing pool volleyball when he was traded to Seattle. … An arm to watch in spring training? Brendan McKay, who is 28, healthy again after several arm surgeries (he last pitched in the majors in 2019) and throwing well.
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