Rays News

Tampa Bay Rays: Let the 25-man Roster Battles Begin

By Althea Pashman
Feb 18, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Andriese (35) poses for a photo during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Andriese (35) poses for a photo during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Tampa Bay Rays open the Grapefruit League with their first game on Friday night against Minnesota, signifying the actual start of battles amongst teammates for a spot on the 25-man roster.

Friday night against the Minnesota Twins, the Tampa Bay Rays begin their 34-game spring schedule. With that, comes the start of the real battle – that being players vying for a position on the 25-man Opening Day Roster.

With the majority of the positions already filled with incumbents such as Evan Longoria, Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Miller to name a few, there is however those players considered “on the bubble,” which is likely to come from battles in the bullpen, outfield, utility role and catcher.

Starting in the catchers spot, assumption is that Curt Casali and Luke Maile will open the season as the two primary catchers. However, the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Jesus Sucre from the Seattle Mariners and though he has struggled offensively at the plate while in the majors, his defense has been stellar.

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His big weapon is his arm, as in his four seasons with the Mariners, though in limited action he has thrown out 35 percent of the attempted base stealers (17-for-37, 88 GMS) according to Baseball-Reference.

Casali on the other hand, has thrown out 30 percent of attempted base stealers (25-for-57, 142 GMS), with his best season coming in 2016 when he nailed 36 percent of the runners (14-25, 76 GMS). Maile would make 34 starts in 2016, and caught just 28 percent of attempted base stealers (7-for-18), and career wise at the major league level he holds a 31 percent rate.

In terms of minor league options, according to RosterResource, Casali has one remaining, Maile 2 and Sucre has no options. Sucre though is not on the 40-man roster and is a non-roster invitee, so if he were to make the club, the Tampa Bay Rays would need to make a corresponding move on the on the 40-man roster.

In the outfield, some would call it a logjam as there are six players listed as outfielders on the 40-man roster. Included is Nick Franklin, also an infielder plus Corey Dickerson, Colby Rasmus, Mallex Smith, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. and if you want to go one-step further, add Tim Beckham to the mix.  There is also a non-roster invitee, and that is Rickie Weeks Jr.

According to RosterResource, Corey Dickerson (3), Steve Souza Jr. (2) Kevin Kiermaier (2) and Mallex Smith (3) all have minor league options remaining, Rasmus, Weeks and Franklin have no options and unless something drastic happens, I would assume that the only “bubble” player would be Beckham.

Beckham has no options and since he is still “learning” the outfield and though he spent a bit of time at first base last season, Franklin has the upper-edge as does Weeks over Beckham. In addition, Beckham would need to have the best spring training of his life – offensively, defensively and more than that attitude wise.

Finally yet importantly will be the pitching battles for the final spot in the rotation and in the bullpen, where it looks as though there could be at least one or possibly two openings. Right now, the first four spots in the rotation are more or less set with Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi and Blake Snell.

The final spot is up for grabs between Matt Andriese, Jose De Leon and Erasmo Ramirez. Speculation on my part is that Andriese returns to the rotation where he spent the majority of his time in 2016.

In 19 starts, he went 7-7 with a 4.80 ERA (105 IP) with 90 strikeouts and gave up 22 walks. His downfall was the long ball, as he allowed 15 home runs. Overall, on the season he was 8-8 with a 4.37 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 25 walks in 127.2 innings pitched.

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De Leon, the prized prospect coming over from the Dodgers, is probably headed to Triple-A Durham for some more seasoning. There is no need for the Rays to rush him into the rotation, as there are capable incumbent arms.

Ramirez, who came over from the Mariners in 2015 and made 27 starts while going 11-6 with a 3.75 ERA, with 126 strikeouts and 40 walks in 163.1 innings pitched. However, last season he was used solely out of the bullpen where he went 7-11 with a 3.77 in 64 appearances over 90.2 innings.

His season was as inconsistent as they come, likely because he was used so much by the time mid-season rolled around. His best month came in April when he went 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA, however, he logged 21 innings over 10 appearances. May and June his ERA zoomed to 5.71 and 7.43 respectively where he combined to throw 30.2 innings while appearing in 23 games. July the ERA went down, but it was up the final two months of the season.

The bullpen is where the real battles will be as Chase Whitley, Danny Farquhar, Ryan Garton, Shawn Tolleson, Ryne Stanek, and Kevin Gadea all who currently resides on the 40-man roster will battle non-roster invitees Dana Eveland, Tommy Hunter, Justin Marks and Cory Rasmus to support Brad Boxberger, Alex Colome, Xavier Cedeno and Erasmo Ramirez.

Gadea was a Rule 5 selection and was automatically added to the 40-man roster. However, he has never pitched above Class A and must remain on the roster throughout the entire season – that is unless the Rays decide he is not going to make the team. At this point, he would then be waived or offered back to Seattle.

Next: Kiermaier Focused on Taking the Next Step

Speculation on my part is that the Tampa Bay Rays will go with Whitley, who can also spot start and Farquhar. However, Hunter with a good spring could change everything and if the Tampa Bay Rays want another lefty in the bullpen besides Cedeno, they could go with Marks or Eveland.

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