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Five Things to Watch During the Rays Spring Training

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Spring training always means competition. The Rays don’t have a lot of holes to fill but they always seem to have some bullpen and position jobs up for grabs. Let’s take a look at five interesting battles that will take place in Port Charlotte.

Will Alex Colome and Enny Romero emerge as late inning set up men? The Rays traded both of their 2015 set up men when they sent Kevin Jepsen to Minnesota and Jake McGee to Colorado. They did not add anybody in the off season who would be a lock to work in late inning pressure situations. That leaves internal candidates and the two that quickly rise to the surface are Colome and Romero. Both are former top ten prospects who were promising starters at AAA. Like many minor league starters they have transitioned to the bullpen. Colome has a mid nineties fastball and a variety of breaking pitches. Romero is a lefty with a high nineties fastball, a curve and a nasty cutter. This would seem to make them logical candidates for the set up jobs. We’ll see if that plays out in spring training.

Which catchers will make the 25 man roster? The catching position has always been a dark hole for the Rays. This spring three catchers, Curt Casali, Rene Rivera and Hank Conger, will duke it out for the two jobs. Casali, once seen as a big league backup at best, burst on the scene late last season with 10 home runs in 100 at bats. Rivera, once seen as the Rays short term answer, was a disaster at the plate but worked with an outside hitting coach is the off season and is looking for a comeback. Conger, once a top LA Angels prospect, has disappointed at the big league level and was obtained from Houston for cash. All are good defensively, although Conger has had throwing issues. Casili has an option left and the Rays might keep three catchers, but it’s likely that only two out of three will go north.

Can Brad Miller win the full time shortstop job? Miller was obtained for Nate Karns in the off season and is expected to replace Astrubal Cabrera as the regular shortstop. The Rays like his left handed power bat. The only issue is that Miller has never started more than 100 games at shortstop in a single season and was seen by his former team, Seattle, as more of a Ben Zobrist utility player. Nipping at his heels is former number one overall pick Tim Beckham. It took Beckham a long time to develop but last year he showed surprising power with 9 home runs and 37 rbi’s in 200 at bats. That translates to some 25 home runs and 100 rbi’s over a full season. He also played a decent shortstop. Will Miller win the full time job? Will Beckham? Will there be one of the many Rays platoons? It should be interesting.

Will Steven Souza Jr. be the opening day right fielder? The Rays are always looking for inexpensive power and they thought they had found it in Souza. Coming over in a trade with Washington, Souza had a monster year at AAA in 2014 and looked like he was poised to carry that performance over to the big leagues. However, it didn’t work out that way. While Souza hit some monster home runs, he also struck out 144 times in 373 at bats and often looked totally out of whack at the plate. Add to that some misadventures in the field and a late season injury and it results in a pretty forgettable year. He’s off to a rocky start again this year as he will miss the first week due to a rib injury. The Rays would really like his power bat in the lineup but he has an option and with at least seven other players looking for outfield/dh spots, Souza had better get healthy and productive in a hurry.

Is there a spot for Mikie Mahtook or Richie Shaffer? The Rays go into spring training with plenty of veteran right handed hitting corner infielders and outfielders. So where does that leave rookies Mahtook and Shaffer? Mahtook played well last season with a .295 average and 9 home runs in 105 at bats and played all three outfield spots. Shaffer only hit .189 in 74 at bats but he plays four corner positions and has a ton of raw power. Both of them will probably start the season at Durham but if they show well in spring training and Souza does not, who knows what can happen.

This is what makes spring training so much fun. Jobs are available and players compete to fill them. Hopefully, the end result will be a Rays ‘team that will be playing meaningful ball games in September and October.

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