Today, we are about half way into spring training. The ‘dog days of spring’ if you will (not sure if that’s a thing but we’ll go with it). Cuts have been made, guys who had hot starts are coming back to Earth, and competitions for the last few spots on the roster begin to heat up.
I like to equate the spring to a high school baseball tryout.
First, you have your locks. These are the guys who were on varsity last year, the ones who stand around and watch everyone else. Then, you have your junior varsity guys, who still aren’t ready, but could still be called upon to help the varsity team throughout the year. Finally, you have your bubble guys. These are guys who are now too old for JV, so they either prove they are good enough for the varsity team, or get cut (or transfer schools, like I did when I was in high school).
In a Major League spring training, it’s obviously a little different. The varsity squad, or the big league incumbents, use the time to work on something specific. Chris Archer almost always is ‘working on his changeup,’ while Jake Faria works on his tempo. They are the reason you often year that ‘the results don’t matter.’
For the JV guys, they have to be so good that the team has to justify losing a year of service time to carry them on the opening day roster. For context, Kris Bryant didn’t even make the Cubs out of camp in 2015. Evan Longoria and David Price were also kept off the ’08 and ’09 Rays opening day rosters, respectively. Often times, they are good enough to make the big league club, but not good enough to play every day, at least not yet. Most, if not all, will see big league action at some point this year, but need more reps playing every day in the minors before they can play every day in the majors. A top prospect is not going to develop well in a bench role in the majors, so they are sent down to get more consistent playing time.
The bubble guys, are a little harder to peg. Sometimes, they are JV guys that are given one last chance (think Tim Beckham last year). Sometimes they are non roster invites competing for a bench role (Rickie Weeks, ’17) or looking to win the fifth starter job (Erik Bedard, ’14). Sometimes they are guys who are on the 40 man roster, but are expendable, and would get cut if they are out played by someone else, or if the team simply decides to go in another direction (James Loney, ’16). For both the JV and the bubble guys, the results do matter. Some of them are fighting for roster spots, while others fight for employment.
With all that, let’s take a look at the Rays roster, who fits where, and what it might actually look like on opening day.
Catcher: Wilson Ramos and Jesus Sucre. This one is obvious.
Infield: CJ Cron, Brad Miller, Adeiny Hechavarria, Matt Duffy. Lots of questions and depth needed here. Miller and Duffy are oft-injured, CJ Cron needs to prove he can hit lefties, and Hechavarria needs to prove he can hit in general.
Outfield: Denard Span, Mallex Smith, Kevin Kiermaier, Carlos Gomez. All four of these guys are good enough to play centerfield. Tropicana field will be a no fly zone in 2018.
Starting Pitcher: Chris Archer, Nathen Eovaldi, Blake Snell, Jake Faria. This is set, barring injury of course. You’ve already read and heard about this enough, so I’ll spare you.
Bullpen: Alex Colome, Sergio Romo, Daniel Hudson, Dan Jennings, Matt Andriese. This area may have the most change.
If you were counting, that’s only 19 locks, leaving 6 spots remaining. So there are spots to be won, and depth to be had.
The JV Guys
Infield: Willy Adames, Christian Arroyo, Jake Bauers, Nick Solak, Daniel Robertson. All of these guys except for D-Rob have been optioned. That doesn’t mean he projects better, or that he’ll even be better this year, but he does have the most MLB experience than the other 4 combined. So, unless anything crazy happens, he’ll be the lone guy in a Rays uniform come March 29th. That’s 20.
Outfield: Jonny Field, Justin Williams, Bauers. Bad news here is the lack major league ready depth. Good news is the Rays already have 4 strong guys, and that they are giving guys who are normally infielders reps in the outfield, because you can never have enough Ben Zobrists, right? As long as they don’t all have wives who will butcher the national anthem, I’m on board.
Pitchers: There’s quite a lot here. Jose Alvarado, Anthony Banda, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Chih-Wei Hu, Jaime Schultz, Ryne Stanek, Hunter Wood, Ryan Yarbrough. This is the area with the most openings, as well as the one with the most qualified applicants. Like the infielders, many of them have already been optioned. Alvarado is ready to be a late inning reliever, and Banda should make the team as one of the team’s ‘fifth starters.’ Again, a lot can happen between now and 15 days, but for now, that’s 21 and 22.
The Bubble Guys
Infield: Micah Johnson, Joey Wendle, Brandon Snyder. Two of these three can make the team, but it could get messy. Wendle is already on the 40 man roster, so it’s his spot to lose, but he’ll need to hit well enough so not as to get DFA’d mid may when one (or both) of Arroyo and Adames forces their way in. Johnson, however, is not not on the 40 man, so someone will have to get cut if he makes it. Of the two, Johnson has been the better performer thus far. While they are both plus defenders, Johnson has elite speed, has shown some power, and has even made a handful of starts in centerfield. Snyder has been OK, but at 31, there isn’t much upside there. Wendle and Johnson are the guys, making 23 and 24.
Outfield: Jason Coats. So he’s not quite on the bubble, as he has options, but he would’ve needed to light the field on fire to make the squad, and, well, he hasn’t. Not to mention he, like Johnson, is a non roster invite. Because of that, he gets left off. Still at 24.
Pitchers: Again, there’s a lot. Cody Hall, Andrew Kittredge, Adam Kolarek, Vidal Nuno, Austin Pruitt, Chaz Roe, Jonny Venters. Nuno brings the most MLB experience, Hall has opened the most eyes, Roe’s slider has gone viral, and Venters, if he returns to the majors, may be the best story in all of baseball. Pruitt, however, is the best fit considering the direction the Rays want to go with the pitching staff this year.
And that, makes 25.