Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays Rays formally announced their 60-man player pool ahead of Sunday’s roster deadline. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays announced the 60-man player pool that skipper Kevin Cash and Rays Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Erik Neander will draw from for the team’s 30-man Opening Day roster.

Note: those not on the 40-man roster are designated by a *, while those in italics are headed to Port Charlotte. Finally, those designated by ** are MLB Pipeline Top 100 Prospects.

Pitchers (30)

Jose Alvarado, Nick Anderson, Anthony Banda, Shane Baz* **, Jalen Beeks, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Dylan Covey*John Curtiss*, Oliver Drake, Peter Fairbanks, Josh Fleming*Sean Gilmartin*, Tyler Glasnow, Andrew Kittredge, Aaron Loup*, Shane McClanahan*, Brendan McKay**, Sam McWilliams*, Charlie Morton, Colin Poche, Trevor Richards, Chaz Roe, Joe Ryan*Ryan Sherriff*Aaron Slegers*, Blake Snell, DJ Snelten*Ryan Thompson*, Ryan Yarbrough.

Catchers (5)

Roberto Hernandez, Chris Herrmann*, Michael Perez, Kevan Smith*, Mike Zunino

Infielders (15)

Willy Adames, Mike Brosseau, Vidal Brujan**, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, Lucius FoxWander Franco* **, Brandon Lowe, Nate Lowe, Jose Martinez, Kevin PadloEsteban Quiroz*, Daniel Robertson, Taylor Walls*, Joey Wendle.

Outfielders (10)

Randy Arozarena, Dylan Cozens*, Kevin Kiermaier, Ryan LaMarre*Josh Lowe*, Manuel Margot, Austin Meadows, Brian O’Grady, Hunter Renfroe, Yoshi Tsutsugo.

In a Zoom call, Neander noted that versatility, flexibility, and depth are the strengths of the roster.

The position player side, I think we’ve got a group that allows us a lot of flexibility with how we match up on any given night from a handedness standpoint, from a positional versatility standpoint. There’s a lot of different ways we can put a starting lineup together. Certainly on the pitching side, versatility, adaptability has been our thing. We have a lot of pitchers that are conditioned to suit us in a lot of different roles.

— Erik Neander

The 60-man player pool is grouped by players who will participate in Summer Camp at Tropicana Field (37 players) and those who will work out at Charlotte Sports Park (23 players). Those in St. Petersburg will compete for the 30 Opening Day roster spots, while the others will participate in player development activities while also staying prepared should they be added to the taxi squad.

The bulk of the 60-man player pool was focused on big-league depth.

First and foremost we prioritized what we felt we needed to help our Major League club. And then hit a point where we had some spots we could play with where if things go haywire we have some pleasant surprises from guys in our system, kind of identified the next wave of sorts that could potentially be well down the list in terms of Major League options for us but kind of that next wave and could benefit developmentally from the experience.

— Erik Neander

Wunderkind Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan, Shane Baz, Josh Lowe, and Shane McClanahan are among those that will participate in Port Charlotte. Meanwhile, Esteban Quiroz, who played in Triple-A last season, was acquired after the pandemic began; Quiroz was a player to be named later in a trade with San Diego.

Neander expects that all big-league coaches will remain in St. Petersburg, while Field Coordinator Michael Johns will oversee the group in Port Charlotte.

As per Neil Solondz (Rays Radio), the players in the 60-man pool who are not on the 40-man roster still have to be added to that group through a transaction to play for the Rays. Additions to the 60-player pool can be made, but any player removed from the group cannot be added again.

Ball clubs will start the season with a 30-man active roster for the first two weeks of the shortened 60-game campaign. The roster then will be reduced to 28, and finally to 26 for the balance of the season. Any player who contracts COVID-19 will not count against the 60-man player pool or the 40-man roster until they are deemed healthy.

In a piece on the Rays Radio blog, Solondz reckoned there are five key questions that Neander and Cash will seek to answer as they determine the Opening Day roster:

  1. How many pitchers will they carry? With 30 players, there’s no limit at the start of the season as to the total number of pitchers a team can carry. Since you’re protecting your position players from injury too, would an even split make sense, or would you carry more pitchers or more position players?
  2. How far are the starting pitchers stretched out and how many starters do the Rays use? Are any of the Rays starters able to go five or six innings by Opening Day? One would think Tampa Bay will be cautious, especially with the possibility of at most just a few exhibition games. Could the Rays use a six-pitcher rotation? Seattle is one example of a team that already has committed to this idea to start. If starters are able to give the Rays five innings, does that limit the need for as many bulk pitchers (Brendan McKay, Jalen Beeks, Anthony Banda, Trevor Richards)? If that’s the case, Tampa Bay would have a greater need for more true relief pitchers. Also, remember that there are unique extra-inning rules and this likely means less total innings to cover another important consideration.
  3. Do the Rays add a non-roster player? This would require a 40-man move, and the team could do that without waiving anyone by putting Brent Honeywell on the 60-day injured list since he’s not expected to pitch for Tampa Bay this year. That’s assuming the team was willing to start his MLB service clock. Right now, reliever Aaron Loup and catchers Kevan Smith and Chris Herrmann are the three non-roster players slated to workout at Tropicana Field. Part of this determination would depend upon how each of the players performs and looks over the next few weeks.
  4. How does the pitching total impact the position player pool? Do the Rays have 14 pitchers, 15, more than that? How does this impact the position players selected? Once the number of position players is determined, the Rays will have to make sure they have the right amount of flexibility, and that includes positional coverage, or a balance in terms of lefties, righties, and switch-hitters on the roster. Can Tampa Bay carry multiple extra right-handed infielders like Mike Brosseau and Daniel Robertson? The same applies to having Nate Lowe since there are left-handed bats Yoshi Tsutsugo, Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle, and Ji-Man Choi that can play the infield.
  5. Do the Rays get creative with the 30-player roster? If the roster is expanded, you could add a third catcher. However, adding catchers Smith or Herrmann would require a roster move as mentioned above. Another consideration is having a possible player that would primarily as a late-inning or extra-inning pinch-runner. Remember that the tenth inning begins with a runner at second. Would you consider putting a Vidal Brujan or a Lucius Fox on the team to handle that sort of role, or would the lack of MLB experience make the Rays less likely to go that route?

Noteworthiness

— Both Yoshi Tsutsugo and Ji-Man Choi are expected to be back in time for the opening of Summer Camp, on Thursday.

— Neander: “I really, really, really like our group.”

According to Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times), Rays officials are “actively exploring” ways to attend games at Tropicana Field this season. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman isn’t discounting the idea.

The mayor is open-minded on this. He’s talked to the Rays. Everyone would like to see the trajectory of the (coronavirus) data change. But the mayor is receptive to learning more. … Let’s hear more about how we keep everyone safe.

— Mayor Rick Kriseman’s communications director Ben Kirby

Topkin also said Rays officials confirmed they are looking for ways to host fans at the Trop while working with area authorities about coronavirus concerns.

We miss the passionate support our fans bring to Tropicana Field and Al Lang Stadium, but the health and safety of our fans, players, coaches, and staff remains paramount to our reopening plans. We continue to work closely with local authorities and experts to determine a safe path forward.

— Brian Auld

Given the spike in COVID-19 cases, it would appear that the key sticking points would be plans for socially distanced seating and the number of fans that would be allowed to attend games. Under the state’s phased reopening plan, venues could open at 50% capacity, but the Rays seem likely to target a lower number.

— In the same article, Topkin spoke with Tampa Mayor Jayne Castor about the continued attempts by Tampa and Hillsborough County officials to woo the team away from St. Petersburg.

To be clear, Tampa officials recently moved a CRA away from downtown and to areas of actual need, i.e. Tampa’s already non-existent stadium funding apparatus is now even more non-existent. That’s not to mention COVID-19, an economic recession (if not depression), and Tampa’s police chief who is losing the faith of citizens and local leaders based on his response to the Black Lives Matter protests and marches across the bay.

If I may, this is the opposite of the Overton Window — using a milquetoast distraction to draw attention away from Castor’s formidable first-term challenges. Mayor Castor, how about reallocating police funding to things the community actually needs and let the mayor of St. Petersburg worry about the Rays when the time is right?

— C’mon Burgers and Tampons, wear your masks.

— In all seriousness people, wear your damn masks.

— For the love of God, WEAR A FUCKING MASK!

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