With pitchers and catchers officially reporting to camp on Wednesday the long, not so cold, and frankly, pretty damn weird offseason will transition into Spring Training — a time of optimism and high expectations. For the Tampa Bay Rays, the ultimate goal will be to refine their roster into a cohesive behemoth that can top their 2019 campaign, which culminated in Tampa Bay’s first postseason berth since 2013.
The Rays invited 65 players to camp, all of which are listed below.
Jose Alvarado, Nick Anderson, Anthony Banda, Jalen Beeks, Paul Campbell*, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Dylan Covey*, John Curtiss*, Oliver Drake, Pete Fairbanks, Josh Fleming*, Sean Gilmartin*, Tyler Glasnow, Brent Honeywell**, Andrew Kittredge, Aaron Loup*, Shane McClanahan*, Charlie Morton, Brendan McKay, Sam McWilliams*, Colin Poche, Trevor Richards, Chaz Roe, Joe Ryan*, Phoenix Sanders*, Ryan Sherriff*, Aaron Slegers*, Blake Snell, DJ Snelten*, Ryan Thompson*, Ryan Yarbrough, Tyler Zombro*.
Ronaldo Hernandez, Chris Herrmann*, Michael Perez, Rene Pinto*, Kevan Smith,* Brett Sullivan*, Mike Zunino
Willy Adames, Mike Brosseau, Vidal Brujan, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, Lucius Fox, Tristan Gray*, Dalton Kelly*, Brandon Lowe, Nathaniel Lowe, Jose Martinez, Kevin Padlo, Daniel Robertson, Taylor Walls*, Joey Wendle.
Randy Arozarena, Dylan Cozens*, Kevin Kiermaier, Ryan LaMarre*, Manuel Margot, Miles Mastrobuoni*, Austin Meadows, Brian O’Grady, Hunter Renfroe, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
One asterisk (*) appears next to players that are non-roster invites, while two asterisks (**) appear next to those not expected to appear in Spring Training games.
Even with all the excitement that this wonderful time of year brings, the purpose of Spring Training shouldn’t be lost. With that in mind, join me as I catch you up to speed on what to look for over the next month-plus.
Sample sizes are so small that any meaningful conclusion about a player’s performance cannot truly be determined
Everyday starters, and players getting serious roster consideration, will get around 60 at-bats during the spring. The small sample size isn’t enough to give an accurate depiction of what to expect out of a batter. Why? Among other things, the first statistic to stabilize for hitters is strikeout percentage, and it takes at least 60 plate appearances to do so. Hitters ultimately aren’t worried about looking for the perfect pitch to clobber, rather they are trying to get their timing down. Anything above and beyond that is the icing on the cake.
Conditions for hitting in south Florida are vastly different than in the Trop
The Rays play in a dome where there is less air resistance on the ball in flight — clearly wind resistance is not as much of a factor. Compare that with Charlotte Sports Park, where a stiff breeze blowing in can turn a home run into a routine fly ball.
I distinctly recall a 2015 Grapefruit League game that took place in Tampa between the Rays and Yankees. Then catcher Luke Maile hit a ninth-inning double that should have left the confines of Steinbrenner Field if not for the wind blowing in, which was enough to keep the ball in the park. True, that game took place in Tampa, not Port Charlotte, but you catch my drift.
Pitchers aren’t worried about setting up a batter for a punch out, rather they are concerned with staying healthy and building up arm strength
Pitchers are focused on getting ready for the season, not getting batters out. It takes time for pitchers to build up their arm strength. Dips in velocity are going to happen, homers are going to happen, and a pitcher might look like, well…crap prior to Opening Day.
Bear in mind that a handful of poor spring outings likely is not indicative of a pitcher’s regular-season performance.
Pitchers use Spring Training to work on pitches
The time for trial and error is now. Pitchers know that they should not spend their time experimenting with a different variation of a changeup or a slider, for example, during the regular season. That tinkering is generally reserved for side and bullpen sessions, and exhibition games that do not count.
Spring Training offers pitchers a stress free environment to try out some changes that could be beneficial to his future performance.
Pitchers will often throw a particular pitch on the outside corner to work on their command over the outer half of the plate. Sometimes a pitcher will only work inside and give up a couple of bombs because he missed his spot. At the end of the day, it’s only Spring Training.
Players are going to make errors, and that’s fine
Cloudless skies turn poppers into doubles, and errors from players playing out of position likely would not happen during the regular season. Spring Training is a time for players — many of whom are untested at the Major League level — to prove their worth. Instead, watch how a player jumps on the ball. Is he quick? Does he have good range? Do his movements seem fluid or stilted? What about his arm?
The win-loss record at the end of Spring Training is meaningless
The Miami Marlins went 15-13 in the Grapefruit League in 2019, While the Royals went 18-12 in Arizona. In the end, the positive Spring Training outcomes were meaningless. Meanwhile, the Rays went 13-17 last season, while the Dodgers went 14-15, and both teams appeared in the postseason.
In the wise words of Neil Solondz…
Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) wrote his own Spring Training primer boasting a few Rays-centric things that I didn’t touch on:
Is Jose Alvarado strike-throwing — Alvarado was good for the first six weeks last year and then he walked nearly a batter an inning from mid-May on. To make the Rays Opening Day roster, Alvarado will need to show that he can throw strikes, as he did in the previous season. With Emilio Pagan traded, he can be an important part of the bullpen, joining Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Oliver Drake, Colin Poche, and Chaz Roe to make it a formidable group.
Where is Yoshi playing — It’s clear that the Rays signed Yoshi Tsutsugo to be an every-day piece of the lineup. However, it’s not clear whether he’ll play first base, third base, left field or DH. As the Rays gain a greater comfort level with Tsutsugo defensively and where he can play, it will help determine what players make the remaining roster spots.
How Healthy Are Last Year’s Injured Players — Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe each missed nearly half a season last year due to injury. When healthy, each put up tremendous numbers. Both managed to come back for the playoffs, which is sooner than expected. Now with a full off-season to rest and recover, can both play daily in 2020?
How do the Rays Determine the Outfield Mix? — We know how important Kevin Kiermaier is to the Rays success. When he’s on the field they have a better chance of being successful. With Manuel Margot added over the weekend, he joins Hunter Renfroe, Austin Meadows, and Yoshi Tsutsugo as the options with Randy Arozarena possible too. Renfroe, Margot and Kiermaier were top 14 in MLB among outfielders in defensive runs saved. In terms of late inning tight game situations, that trio could cover as much ground as any in baseball.