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2015: New Year, New Tampa Bay Rays Roster

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Today marks the beginning of 2015, but the Tampa Bay Rays’ fresh start began weeks ago and they may not be done making changes. In any event, with the new year upon us, let’s take a look at what the Rays’ roster picture looks like as of right now and gain some insight into the work they still have to do.

Starting Pitcher Locks (4): Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi

In Competition (6 players for 1 spot): Alex Colome, Nate Karns, Burch Smith, Matt Andriese, Enny Romero, Mike Montgomery

The top four in the Rays’ rotation looks very good, and Matt Moore will make it an excellent five when he return from Tommy John Surgery in late May or early June. Until then, the Rays will have a battle for their fifth starter position, and while Colome is the runaway favorite, the Rays have several other talented arms who will push him in the spring. In addition, don’t discount the possibility of the Rays bringing in a veteran fifth starter at least on a minor league deal.

Bullpen Locks (5): Brad Boxberger, Kevin Jepsen, Grant Balfour, Ernesto Frieri, Jeff Beliveau

In Competition (6 for 2 spots): Alex Colome, Kirby Yates, Jose Dominguez, C.J. Riefenhauser, Steve Geltz, Brandon Gomes

Jake McGee‘s injury will make the Rays’ bullpen a little weaker to begin the year, but they still look to have a strong late-inning group. Much of the bullpen competition will be determined by whether Colome wins the fifth starter job–either Colome will start and the bullpen needs a long reliever and a middle reliever or Colome will be the long guy and the best arm available will join him on the roster.

If Colome starts, we will see Yates, Dominguez, and Geltz battle for the middle relief role while Riefenhauser and Gomes aim for the long relief job. Given that neither Riefenhauser nor Gomes is a true long man, it would make sense for the Rays to add another name to the mix. With that in mind, maybe the starter we mentioned above could make the team even if Colome beats him out for the fifth starter job.

If Colome is in the bullpen, meanwhile, Riefenhauser and Gomes would likely be out of luck. The Rays would be down to Yates, Dominguez, and Geltz for their final spot, and Yates is the favorite (both here and above) because the other two could use continued work on their command at Triple-A.

Catcher Lock (1): Rene Rivera

In Competition (2 for 1 spot): Bobby Wilson, Curt Casali

The backup catcher spot looks like a weak point on the Rays’ roster, but just how weak it is has been exaggerated. The Rays don’t really need another move because Wilson’s hitting against lefties and pitch-framing will be enough for him to be fine at least until Casali or Luke Maile is big league-ready.

It doesn’t make sense for Casali to make the team out of spring training because he didn’t look so great in Durham last year, let alone in the big leagues, and he needs more seasoning to have a chance to reach his potential. At the end of the day, though, either him or Maile should emerge as an option soon and Justin O’Conner is not so far away either at Double-A. The Rays just need a backup catcher for a few months, and Wilson can be that guy.

Infielder and Outfielder Locks (10): Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, Asdrubal Cabrera, Kevin Kiermaier, James Loney, David DeJesus, Yunel Escobar, Brandon Guyer, Logan Forsythe

In Competition (3 for 1 spot): Nick Franklin, Steven Souza, Tim Beckham

I wish I could write out the Rays’ infield and outfield situations a little more nicely, but it is a fool’s errand to separate them given the versatility of Zobrist (and also Franklin). What we can say definitively as of this moment is that the Rays’ starting infield will be Longoria at third Base, Escobar at shortstop, Cabrera at second base, and James Loney at first base. In addition, Jennings will be the starting centerfielder, Kiermaier (right field) and DeJesus (DH) will start against right-handed pitching, and Guyer (left field) and Forsythe (DH) will see time against lefties.

Once we take all those things into account, it becomes clear that Zobrist is lined up to be the Rays’ left fielder against right-handed pitching and right fielder against lefties. And once we say that, there is starting time available for anyone else unless the Rays make a trade.

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No matter what, it seems like Beckham or a right-handed bench bat that the Rays have yet to acquire will make the team. Then, if anybody is traded, whether it’s DeJesus, Escobar, or Zobrist, the Rays could find significant at-bats for either Franklin or Souza. Franklin appears to have the edge to make the roster because he has much more Triple-A experience–Souza has just 407 plate appearances there and could use continued work. Most of the available at-bats will be in the outfield, but Franklin began getting experience there last season and that shouldn’t be an issue for him.

The Tampa Bay Rays’ 2015 roster is coming together, and the only real needs they have left are a starter/swingman and a righty bench bat to push Beckham. Both of those could come on minor league deals, so it looks like the Asdrubal Cabrera signing will be the last significant big league deal the Rays make. A trade could certainly mix things up, but even if it happens, it would serve more to give Franklin or Souza more opportunities than to necessitate further moves.

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