Tampa Bay Rays: Spring Training State-of-the-Union

Mar 27, 2016; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) looks on against the Toronto Blue Jays at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 27, 2016; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) looks on against the Toronto Blue Jays at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, senior VPs Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander held their annual spring training media conference, answering questions about the off-season, players health and position competition and more.

The sun was shining bright on Monday afternoon when Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash and senior VPs Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander addressed the media in their annual spring training media conference. From off-season acquisitions to the expectations of the upcoming season were some of the many questions that were asked and answered.

Cash is very optimistic of the upcoming season and he is excited about the various options that he has concerning the right side of the infield and the outfield. He is also very confident what the Rays did this off-season in player additions and what this means in terms of depth and competition.

The goal for the Rays this season is not just playing meaningful games in September but playing games in October. “Playing in October is the goal of the organization and the team – we are all confident that it a goal that can be reached,” said Cash.

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Expanding on that goal, the organization is confident with how the core players the team had that finished the season, their optimism with the pitchers and the overall core of the team. The core of players returning are keys to the success, not only from a personal performance but also as a whole team.

The veteran bats will pay a big role production wise, especially if Logan Morrison, Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson can get off to better starts than how they did last season. All three suffered through slumps before catching fire, especially Morrison and Dickerson who finally produced, but a little too late.

The biggest strength the Rays had going into last season was their pitching and that is the case again as they head into 2017. Despite the trade Drew Smyly, the Rays still have a solid core of five starters – six if you add newcomer Jose De Leon who will be monitored closely during training camp. There is a possibility that he could begin the season at Triple-A, since the Rays really do not want any extra pressure on him.

Speculation is that Miller will slide over to second base, replacing Logan Forsythe – however, there was no solid commitment from Cash regarding that.

"“Miller, Tim Beckham, Nick Franklin and Daniel Robertson will see plenty of reps and we will take a look at some of our younger players as well. All the players will get lots of reps in different spots,” said Cash."

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In the outfield, the options are plenty, and Cash is excited since he feels that they are great ones to have – especially in center where he will get to see Mallex Smith strut his speed, the one element that he is really looking forward to seeing. Smith was a machine stealing bases in the minors, racking up 64 in 2013, 88 in 2014, and 57 in 2015. Called up to the majors last season with the Braves, Smith stole 16 in 24 attempts over 72 games.

The corners will provide the most competition during spring, as Dickerson, Colby Rasmus and Steven Souza will battle it out and if all goes as expected things will begin to balance out as the spring games get started.

Health wise, Matt Duffy (heel surgery), Souza (hip surgery), Morrison (wrist surgery) and Rasmus (hip and core muscle surgery) should all be ready for opening day and will be handled with “kid gloves” during spring training.

"“Most of them, we expect to be moving along at a controlled pace during Spring Training, expecting that they’ll be ready by Opening Day,” said Chaim Bloom."

Wilson Ramos is the only player that will begin the season on the DL as he is still recovering from major knee surgery and is not expected to play until July at the earliest, and August until he is able to get behind the plate.

“Ramos, we’re going to learn as he goes along,” Bloom said. “We know he’s going to be longer. We’ve talked about it before. We don’t exactly know when. … We knew when we signed him he’s got very high expectations for when he’ll be back, and that’s great.”

Positions Battles

While there seemed to be mixed reviews on the Rays off-season, it was done to create depth and competition. No player is assured of a position unless you are named Evan Longoria or Kevin Kiermaier.

Versatility is key so, expect Tim Beckham to spend lots of time in the outfield – and Smith to get plenty of time in the corners – Weeks could get lots of reps at first as well.

It looks as though the Rays will see a handful of players at first base – Morrison of course is the leading candidate to win the position, though he’ll likely platoon with Franklin and Beckham. Do not count out Miller – if he fails at second he could make a return engagement.

At second, there is Miller leading the way with Nick Franklin and Beckham – if Miller fails, expect Beckham to get first crack. However, Rickie Weeks Jr. could be the sleeper of all sleepers.

In the outfield, Rasmus and Dickerson will battle it out in left – Rasmus has the upper hand here and in right, it is Souza’s position to lose. If he goes south early, Rasmus slides in.

Smith and Weeks Jr. will have to have exceptional springs to make the team… and let us not forget the outside chance that Matt Wieters could change everything if he is signed. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Rays are talking with him.

Odorizzi Pitches His Case

Jake Odorizzi who completed his third full season (10-6, 3.69 ERA) with the Rays in 2016 pitched his case on Monday afternoon to arbitrators Edna Francis, Margaret Brogan and James Oldham asking them for a raise from $520,700 to $4.1 million. The Rays argued their case, stating that Odorizzi should be paid $3,825.00.

Since Odorizzi was a first-time arbitration eligible player, no decision will come until all first-time eligible starting pitchers have had their cases heard according to the Associated Press via ESPN.

Four first-time starters have already had their hearings, and like Odorizzi are waiting decisions. There are five hearings scheduled for this week.

Evolving Eovaldi

There were reports on Sunday that the Rays were nearing on signing pitcher Nathan Eovaldi to one-year deal with an option for 2018. Bloom and Neander could not comment on that – so until something happens, mums the word.

Next: Miller Not Thrilled About Move to Second

If a deal does happen, the Rays will have to make room on the 40-man roster first (trade or release a player) and then Eovaldi will go on the 60-day DL once he is signed.

Check out the full video of the spring training media conference here.