If Tyler Glasnow had to sum up a collective feeling shared by his teammates in one word, it would likely be “ecstatic.”
Everyone was just ecstatic. We’re all in the group chat, so I think guys are just arranging to travel back to Tampa (Bay) or wherever they’re going. And then we’re going to pick it up from there.— Tyler Glasnow
Even though the 60-game 2020 campaign could be perceived as a public health disaster waiting to happen — which is a very valid criticism of the league’s plan — it would appear that barring any unforeseen circumstances, Spring Training will resume the middle of next week.
Tampa Bay enters Spring Training 2.0 ahead of its peers in some respects. Over the past month, between 10 and 18 players have participated in voluntary staggered workouts at Tropicana Field three times a week. Rays skipper Kevin Cash told Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) that that would help them in a shortened season, in a media Zoom call on Wednesday.
I think it’s been very helpful. Certainly, it’s been beneficial to the players in getting them built up. We’ve learned a lot over the last month on implementing some of our own protocols.— Kevin Cash
Cash also praised the buy-in by the staff, including players, who have been respectful of the safety protocols that have been enforced over the last month. Supplementary details, on how the team will practice once camp officially opens on Wednesday, are expected over the next few days.
While none of the big-leaguers on the roster have come down with COVID-19, Rays General Manager Erik Neander acknowledged the challenge ahead of the team during the media Zoom call.
We’re going to have to be extra cautious, we’re going to have to be disciplined, there’s going to have to be some sacrifices made, all for the spirit of trying to give our team a chance to compete this year and get this season in. I think we all collectively recognize what’s at stake and that we’re going to have to be really disciplined in our behaviors to make sure we’re not putting any individual at risk, we’re not putting families at risk in any undue ways and we have the opportunity to play.— Erik Neander
Tampa Bay will be faced with a difficult slate of games, which will prove to be challenging for the Rays.
Consider that two-thirds of the schedule will be against division rivals, while the other third will come against some fairly accomplished National League East teams. The Yankees will be a good team once again, and Boston’s pitching staff should benefit from the shortened season. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have a young talented squad, and the abbreviated season could work in their favor. Then there are the Interleague matchups, which will include 14 games against the reigning World Series champions, not to mention Atlanta, the Phillies, and the Mets. Contrast that with a team like the Twins or Cleveland, who will battle teams from the other two Central Divisions. They may have an advantage in accruing additional wins … wins that could benefit either squad in the hunt for a postseason berth.
Still, a 60-game sprint could benefit the Rays pitching staff, one of the best in the game. Aside from building up any given hurler, neither Cash nor Kyle Snyder will need to worry about limiting the number of bullets fired by Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow, and Brendan McKay. Neil Solondz put things succinctly, saying, “In a 60-game season, even if a player makes 12 starts and averages seven innings (highly unlikely based on the buildup time and the depth of the Rays staff), that’s only 84 innings.”
Moreover, depth favors Tampa Bay. The Rays used 57 position players in 2019, and 33 pitchers. The pitching staff likely won’t be stretched out by the end of July, making relievers or bulk pitchers that can throw 50-to-60 pitches incredibly valuable. If, for example, Charlie Morton can toss four-to-five innings in his first few starts, the Rays should have enough pitching depth to fill the middle innings before Cash can turn to the back end of the bullpen.
To that end, Neander revealed a priority heading into Sunday’s “Summer Camp” roster deadline: add players that can help the club win as many games as possible during the shortened regular season. Put another way, Neander wants to carry enough depth to protect the team from injury or illness. The last few spots on the taxi squad will be used for developmental purposes, which will benefit prospects like Shane McClanahan and Wander Franco, both of whom now have a shot of making their big league debut in 2020.
Neil Solondz likewise touched on the subject of overall team health, which will play a large role this season. “This covers two areas. For one, the coronavirus. It’s certainly an unknown and the situation with the Phillies in Clearwater that if one case can become a cluster quite quickly. It’s especially a concern in Florida as case numbers continue to rise. If the virus impacts a team for multiple weeks that can be the difference between making the postseason and not doing so. Remember that there are still only 10 playoff spots, so margins will be quite thin. In addition, it’s also unclear what kind of physical condition all players are in, and how quickly they’ll be able to ramp up and return to form. Are muscular injuries like groins, hamstrings, etc more likely to occur? Remember that any injury, even if it’s “minor” and causes an individual to miss two weeks, that amounts to nearly a quarter of a season. The teams that stay the healthiest have a huge advantage in a shortened year.”
One thing is certain, it will be incumbent on the Rays to get off to a quick start since they could ostensibly win or lose the AL East with a bad month, or even one or two bad weeks of play.
At any rate, a 2020 season no longer appears to be a hypothetical concept … fingers crossed, of course.