Making the 25 man roster of an MLB team is the dream of anyone that ever played the game of baseball. With spring training fast approaching, getting one of those coveted spots is on the minds of every minor league player in the league and the month of March will be the decision maker. It’s kind of daunting to think that some many people’s’ hopes and dreams could be made or dashed between March 2 and April 1, but not all teams are created equal.
Although the Rays get a bad rap for having one of the lowest payrolls in the league, if you are a player in their minor league system you are actually very fortunate. One of the reasons I love the Rays (and a few other teams) is that they use their farm system vs buying talent. A cynical Yankees or Red Sox fan would criticize this strategy but I applaud it; the world champion Royals also use this model.
There are a few players that we already know will be taking the field on April 3, 2016 against the Blue Jays for Opening Day. Players like Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brad Boxberger are in no danger of losing their spot on the roster, but with all the changes the Rays made in the off season who else will be there with them?
Since pitchers and catchers are always first to the spring training party and report February 21, let’s start with them.
Barring any trades the Rays starters should line up as follows; Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore and a pitcher to be named later. The number five spot is likely to be decided during spring training. With Alex Cobb not expected to return until early August, whomever gets that coveted fifth spot will have big shoes to fill. The most likely candidate is Erasmo Ramirez since he did absorb a lot of starts last season but there has been some chatter about Blake Snell.
Snell had a strong season in the minors in 2015, clocking 15 wins and keeping his ERA under 2 across all clubs. Additionally, he is a lefty and is touted as one of the MLB’s top prospects. Even if we don’t see Snell this season, he is definitely worth keeping your eye on.
At the other end of the battery, the catcher. Going into 2016 the Rays have three main catchers, Rene Rivera, Hank Conger, and Curt Casali. It is possible that the 25 man roster has a place for all three, but it is unlikely. Most teams keep two catchers unless they have a catcher that can play another position proficiently.
Although I personally felt like Rivera started to come into his own toward the end of the season, that does not erase his poor performance at the plate for most of it. With the signing of the switch hitting Hank Conger, Rivera’s days seem numbered.
Conger has spent most of his career with the Angels until last year when he was acquired by the Astros in a trade. Although, he has provided some power from the catcher’s position in the lineup, my memories of Conger are mainly of him calling lackluster games as Chris Iannetta’s back up for the Angels; until I saw him catch for Dallas Keuchel. Hank Conger has a lot of experience in the American League and may be the catcher the Rays have been looking for.
On to the Rays infield. We already know that Longoria, Forsythe, and Loney (unless he is traded) have solid spots but that still leaves a few questions on the table.
With a lot of Rays spending time on the DL last season we got to see quite a bit of great, young talent. The two standouts in the infield in have got to be Tim Beckham and Richie Shaffer. Of the two, Beckham played the most games (82) and therefore had the most time to adjust to being in the majors. He finished out the season with a batting average of .222 and scored 24 runs; not too shabby considering Beckham only played about half the season. Shaffer, by comparison, only got to play in 31 games (less than half the number of Beckham) and finished with a .189 batting average and 11 runs scored.
What about Brad Miller and Logan Morrison? Given that Miller and Morrison have exponentially more experience in the majors, I would be shocked if they didn’t get the most playing time of any of the question mark players in the Rays infield. There is no doubt the Rays made these offseason moves to bolster their lineup so them not using them would be a waste.
The Rays outfield is on overload right now. Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr, Brandon Guyer, Desmond Jennings, Steve Pearce, Corey Dickerson, and Logan Morrison (1b, RF); just thinking about who should be on the roster makes my head hurt. As a fan I love seeing Souza Jr in right, Kiermaier in center, and Guyer in left. The hustle in that trio is something to behold, but realistically the Rays made some moves and there is no way they can support all these outfielders. No matter my feelings of the perfection that of the hustle in the outfield, Pearce and Dickerson were added for a reason.
Rays fans should be familiar with Steve Pearce since for the last three seasons he played the the Baltimore Orioles. Although Pearce seems to have been on an offensive roller coaster for the time he was with the Orioles, it’s possible a change of scenery and coaching style will be what he needs to put his batting average on the upward curve. Corey Dickerson has only about a third of the time in the majors as Pearce, but his first three seasons were productive. In Dickerson’s first full season in the majors (2014) he played 131 games with a .313 batting average. It is true that he did spend over half the games in 2015 on the DL due to a foot injury so staying healthy will be a priority for this young slugger. My main concern for Dickerson is him adjusting the American League pitching.
So what does this all mean? What are the Rays going to look like Opening Day 2016?
The starting rotation should be no surprise; Archer, Odorizzi, Smyly, Moore, and Ramirez. The bullpen may be a little more fluid depending on spring training but I’m thinking it will shape up to look like Boxberger, Geltz, Romero, Cedeno, Colome, Farquhar, and Andriese. Catching for this group will be Rivera and Conger.
Before spring training is over, Loney will most likely be traded and if so that leaves an opening for either Morrison or Pearce to take over first base. Forsyth has strong footing at second base. Shortstop will likely be rotated between Miller and Beckham. Rounding out the infield, of course we have Longoria on third base.
With the surplus of outfielders in the Rays clubhouse, someone is bound to be traded and that someone looks to be Guyer. With Guyer gone the outfield will be Souza Jr, Kiermaier, and Dickerson.
DH will be rotated between resting starters and bench players Jennings and Shaffer.
As a Rays fan, there is only one that that I know is certain every year and that is change. If you want to watch a team that’s going to have the same lineup every night, the Rays are not for you. A healthy mix of veteran players mixed with young, dynamic talent always makes for an exciting season. Like sand through the hourglass, so are are the Rays of our lives.
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