Jeff Niemann and Matt Joyce Headline Rays Out of Options Heading Into Camp

By David Hill

Every Spring Training, one of the continual story lines in every camp is the construction of the final roster. As it stands with the Rays, despite a couple of possible holes in the lineup, most of their Opening Day roster appears set. Right now, the biggest battles appear to be at backup catcher, a couple of spots in the bullpen, and a backup first baseman/corner outfielder.

While games have yet to be played and camp is not even a week old at this point, it may be possible to see who would have a leg up on claiming one of those spots. Presently, the Rays have six players that are currently out of options. Of those six, Jake McGee, Sam Fuld and Matthew Joyce appear to have their positions essentially locked in. McGee is expected to be one of the primary set up men this season, Fuld is expected to be the fourth outfielder, and Joyce will likely get a lot of playing time between right and left field. For the other three players that are out of options – Jeff Niemann, Jose Lobaton and Cesar Ramos – the situation may not be as clear.

Niemann is likely the favorite to win the fifth starter’s spot heading into Spring Traning, but that is not a given. He faces steep competition with free agent signing Roberto Hernandez, as well as prospects Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. Should any of those three dominate in camp, Niemann may end up as the long reliever or possibly on the trading block. Like Niemann, Ramos likely has a spot on the Rays Opening Day roster. As the Rays have only McGee and Frank de los Santos as the other left handed relief options on the 40 man roster, Ramos will likely need to implode to lose his spot in the bullpen.

Lobaton, meanwhile, faces more of a battle to retain his spot as the backup catcher, as Chris Gimenez and Robinson Chirinos could make a push during camp. While Chirinos is more of a long shot as he missed last season due to injury, the battle between Gimenez and Lobaton may be the final one to be decided. Last year, the both produced an identical OPS+ of 83. Lobaton produced a .222/.323/.317 batting line, but was helped by his 24 walks in 197 plate appearances. Gimenez hit better, at .260/.315/.330, but only had 8 walks in 109 plate appearances. This battle could be determined based on whether or not either player gets hot in March.

The Rays Opening Day roster may not have many surprises, but there are still a couple of battles to keep an eye on. Depending on how those end up, a couple of familiar faces may wind up elsewhere.