In 2013, catcher Curt Casali hit .383 with a .483 on-base percentage for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, establishing himself as a prospect to watch in the Tampa Bay Rays system. He started 2014 with the Biscuits, and picked up where he left off, hitting .314 with an amazing .500 OBP. The Rays promoted him to Triple A Durham, where he started strong but faded a little bit. When the Rays brought him to the big club to replace the injured Ryan Hanigan, Casali was hitting .237–but his .335 OBP showed that he could make an offensive contribution. Casali hit a single in his first major league at bat as the Rays swept their three game series with the Twins.
Even though Casali didn’t get another hit during the series, he hit the ball with authority in the two games he played and demonstrated defensively that he could be a competent major league catcher. The Rays’ current catchers, Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan, are 39 and 33, respectively. It’s a comfort to Rays management and their fans that Casali gives the team a 25 year old option at that key position.
Casali will probably return to Durham when Hanigan comes off the DL. The Rays won’t carry three catchers if they don’t absolutely have to. However, if the Rays trade Molina to a contending team looking for veteran catching for the stretch drive, Casali would be a more than adequate backup to Hanigan. Plus, at the very least, the Rays always need a third catcher in September and now Casali can be that. Even in a Rays catching picture where both Hanigan and Molina are under contract for next season, Curt Casali has the ability to make an impact.
Casali is just the latest example of the youth movement that has reinvigorated the Rays’ season. Many commentators and even some Rays players said the team’s revival began when Kevin Kiermaier was brought up at the end of May. Kiermaier’s all-out style of play inspires his teammates, and, more importantly, his .315 average and 8 home runs in 51 games has significantly improved the offense. Kiermaier is only one example. Also rising to the big leagues over the course of the season have been 26 year old Brad Boxberger and 27 year old Kirby Yates, both of whom have become critical pieces of the Rays bullpen.
In addition, the Rays’ turnaround was also helped out by several younger players receiving more extended opportunities and finding their form. Brandon Guyer, 28, has given the Rays another strong outfielder since receiving regular playing. Jake Odorizzi, 24, has thrived after breaking through early season struggles the second time through the batting the order. There is also much maligned 27 year old infielder Logan Forsythe, who was a part of the problem with his struggles but has since begun to turn everything around. Finally, we have to remind ourselves that the new de facto Rays closer, Jake McGee, is among the Rays’ younger relievers at 27 years of age. The Rays team that started the year relied heavily on veterans and underperformed. Adding younger, hungrier, players has fueled this run that the Rays hope to continue tonight.
If the Rays continue to close in on the division leaders, it might be the return of one more youngster–23 year old Wil Myers–that puts them over the top. If this new, energized Rays group keeps playing well for the next week, don’t be surprised if the trades that keep being talked about of David Price and Ben Zobrist never in fact take place.