Amidst some fear and a whole lot of excitement, the Tampa Bay Rays will kick off Summer Camp — formerly known as Spring Training 2.0 — on Friday. About 18 Rays players already made it safely through six weeks of optional workouts at the Trop, although there were a “small number” of cases within the organization.
According to Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times), Rays General manager Erik Neander said the “odds are” they will have some positive tests among the 60 players and dozen-plus field staff members coming back to work. Members of the organization will undergo saliva tests as they report and then every other day going forward. The new normal, as it were.
How the team limits exposure to COVID-19 and contains the spread from those infected is a major topic of discussion within the organization. Still, the team is confident it can cobble together a safe and productive training camp leading up to Opening Day on July 24.
The initial plan for the three-week Summer Camp is focused on separation and social distancing, which they feel worked well over the last six weeks. Yet because of it, the team might not be together as a whole until the final few days for exhibition or intrasquad ball-games.
The question begs, what will Spring Training 2.0 look like? Topkin rattled off a number of relevant bullet points worth considering on Thursday. An annotated version of his original list follows:
- Players will be split into four groups of eight to 10 — a mix of pitchers and hitters — and assigned one-hour, staggered shifts using different areas of the Trop.
They’ll have a set 15-minute window to arrive for either their every other- day COVID-19 saliva tests or temperature screening, then 45 minutes to get ready (eat, lift weights, get treatment from the athletic trainers) before their scheduled workout session. Afterward, they will have limited time for other optional activities before leaving.
- To comply with Major League Baseball’s distancing protocols for clubhouses, the Rays will split the group among three rooms.
Position players, Cash, and some coaches will use the normal home clubhouse. Pitchers, pitching coaches and bullpen catchers will be in the visiting clubhouse. Additional staff will use the auxiliary clubhouse.
- The initial work on the field will look somewhat normal, except for the limited number of participants: swings at the plate, ground balls and fly balls in the field, throwing sessions off the mounds, running, and conditioning for all. They’ll bump up the intensity with some live batting practice/simulated game sessions.
There will be ample time for individual defensive work, such as getting Jose Martinez better at first base and newcomers Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe comfortable with the quirky outfield.
- Special care will be taken with common space and equipment.
Staff, and not players, will pick up balls on the field and do so wearing protective gloves. All balls and shared equipment used on one day will be collected, disinfected with the Clorox Total 360 electrostatic spray system, and stored in a room with ultraviolet lights for a set number of days, with a different clean assortment of balls used the next day.
- Holding training camp at a regular-season stadium with one field — a domed and air-conditioned stadium, at that — would seem limiting, but the Rays have some plans.
Running and conditioning work will be done outside at times, some in the adjacent sloped players parking lot. Some throwing could be done at nearby Al Lang Stadium, where the Rays-owned Rowdies soccer team practices and plays.
Some pitchers might get acclimated to the heat by throwing their simulated games in Port Charlotte, where the other 23 Rays players (chosen to provide roster depth and get development time) will be working out daily, as well.
Other less-visible space at the Trop will be used, too. There are batting cages under the stands near both clubhouses, and what had been storage space (and the postseason interview room) was converted this offseason into a hitting/pitching “lab” stocked with high-tech analytical devices, including a full mound and large net to hit into.
With MLB emphasizing limiting the use of confined spaces, the Rays also are discussing building another batting cage in a fan party area behind the bullpen.
The Rays also have a number of roster questions to answer. For example, how many pitchers will the team carry? At the start of the season, all big-league squads will carry a 30-man roster which will be whittled down to 26 two weeks into the shortened season. Additionally, how many starters might Kevin Cash and Kyle Snyder use?
The plan had always been to air on the side of caution with Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow across a 162-game season. After all, the 36-year-old Morton is coming off a career-high 33 starts, while Glasnow and Snell are both coming back from injuries.
But thanks to the vastly shorter season, there will not be any restrictions on the Rays top-line hurlers. Still, the team will continue to seek ways to utilize the six total off-days over the course of the campaign to give Morton, Glasnow, and Snell an occasional sixth day in between starts.
Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) made note of another potential roster altering point, saying, “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.”
Going into a typical 162-game season, we were already mapping out in preparation for some of those year-over-year workload concerns. But as of right now, I don’t think there’ll be any limitations as it relates to guys and their innings totals.— Kyle Snyder
To that end, how might the overall pitching total impact the position player pool? Once the number of position players is determined, Cash and Neander will need to make sure they have the right amount of roster depth and flexibility, including positional coverage and a balance in terms of left-handed hitters, right-handed hitters, and switch-hitters. Might the team carry a bevy of right-handed position players, like Mike Brosseau and Daniel Robertson? Might the team carry left-handed position players, like Nate Lowe, given the other southpaw bats on the roster (Yoshi Tsutsugo, Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle, and Ji-Man Choi)?
The Rays will have approximately 21 days to evaluate things before their home opener against Toronto. Whatever the case, given the construct of their 60-man player pool roster, Tampa Bay has fantastic depth and positional flexibility to consider a myriad of possible options. That evaluatory period starts now.