Spring training and the month of April have been a battleground for the Tampa Bay Rays. A dozen players have fallen to injury and ended up on the disabled list. Fortunately, everyone except Matt Moore, Jeff Beliveau, and John Jaso will be back in May. What will the Rays roster look they when the rest of the injured players get back on the field? Well, it’s complicated.
On Opening Day, sixty percent of the Rays starting pitching staff was on the disabled list (not even counting Moore, who we knew would be out). They plugged Nate Karns into the third spot in the rotation, but the team did not really have a fourth or fifth starter. Drew Smyly’s return took care of one of the spots and Alex Colome’s return this weekend will take care of another.
When Alex Cobb returns mid May, the Rays will suddenly have six starters and have to choose between Karns and Colome as to who stays in the rotation. Karns has had his ups and downs as a starter and can be optioned. Colome has yet to pitch this season and is out of options. My guess is whichever pitcher is most effective in early May stays in the rotation and the other goes to the bullpen.
If you think the starting rotation is complicated, the relief corps is even worse. Jake McGee will return in early May giving the Rays three strong late-inning relievers in McGee, Brad Boxberger, Kevin Jepsen, and a possible fourth in the surprising Steve Geltz. In an ideal world, the rest of the bullpen would consist of a mid-inning pitcher who can throw a couple of innings and get ground balls, a situational lefty, and a long reliever/spot starter (either Colome or Karns).
Brandon Gomes looks to be the middle relief guy but he has teased and disappointed before so we will have to see what happens with him. Rookie Matt Andriese is a ground ball machine and has thrown a couple of good multi-inning stints of late, but he will probably go back to Durham to continue his growth as a starter. Ernesto Frieri is on the roster with a modest guaranteed salary but he has been up and down and my not be on the roster when all of the shuffling is done.
The Rays didn’t have a situational lefty until this week, when they picked up Xavier Cedeno from the Los Angles Dodgers. He’s an unknown but getting left-handed hitters out seems to be his strength. Karns or Colome will probably be the long man with Erasmo Ramirez and Everett Teaford being designated for assignment–Teaford sooner rather than later.
The catching duo of Rene Rivera and Bobby Wilson has been healthy and looks to stay in tact for the near future. The outfield of Steven Souza Jr., Kevin Kiermaier, Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer and David DeJesus has been healthy and, for the most part, solid. Jennings’s bat needs to perk up.
The infield gets a little tricky. In spring training, Nick Franklin was penciled in as the starting second baseman, probably in a platoon with Logan Forsythe. However, an oblique injury put him out until May and Forsythe and Tim Beckham have taken advantage of the opening and started off with a bang. The pair have 5 home runs and 19 RBI between them and have showed versatility with Forsythe playing first, second, and third while Beckham plays second and shortstop.
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Franklin, on the other hand, remains unproven as a major league regular and health will not the only thing he will be battling as he hopes to crack the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster. Unless Beckham or Forsythe slows down or Franklin plays exceedingly well, the Rays will be in no rush to end his rehab assignment. The Rays could face a major decision as they decide whether to option Beckham or Franklin when Franklin is fully ready. Jake Elmore will stick around for the Rays in the short-term as a utility player..
When the Rays acquired John Jaso, he was to be their DH against right handed pitchers. One at-bat into the 2015 season and he was on the DL with an injured wrist. He has just been transferred to the 60 day DL and won’t return until early June. In the meantime, David DeJesus has stepped up and become one of the best hitters on the Rays team and the primary DH against right-handed pitchers. Beckham, Forsythe and Guyer can handle the right side of the platoon.
All of this makes up both the good part of the game and the tough part. Smyly, Colome, Cobb, McGee and Franklin come back to action and that’s good. Players like Ramirez and Frieri may be designated for assignment and that’s tough. New guys like Cedeno are unknown quantities. Finally, prospects like Andriese may be optioned to Durham even though they have done a good job. It’s all part of the game as the Tampa Bay Rays hope to win the AL East.