Tampa Bay Rays: Latest Spring Training News and Notes

Sep 22, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Curt Casali (19) talks with manager Kevin Cash (16) during the ninth inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 22, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Curt Casali (19) talks with manager Kevin Cash (16) during the ninth inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

One week from Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays will open the 2017 season at home against the New York Yankees and in this last week of spring training a mass of decisions are on the horizon.

It will be down to the wire with roster decisions as the Tampa Bay Rays head into the last week of training camp and from the way things are shaping up, there could be some surprises along the way.

On Saturday, the Rays announced the signing of catcher Derek Norris to a one-year deal. Norris has been penciled in as the starting catcher and as of this writing the backup is yet to be determined. However, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Rays are leaning towards Jesus Sucre as the backup and sending Curt Casali or Luke Maile to Triple-A Durham, with the odd-man out possibly involved in a trade.

With no room on the 40-man roster, the Rays would need to make a two corresponding moves for Norris and Sucre if he gets the nod. Speculation is that pitcher Kevin Gadea (Rule 5 Draft) who is out with a strained shoulder and or catcher Wilson Ramos could be placed on the 60-day DL.  Sucre has no minor league options, so either he makes the team or will head to the waiver wire where the Rays would hope that he goes unclaimed in order to be sent to the minors.

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The news of Norris coming aboard surprised incumbents Maile and Casali, “I’m pretty surprised by the news, Maile said. I’m going to do my best to not let it affect me and I expect that it won’t. And I expect to continue to get better, like I have since the last time I was here a year ago.”

“But I think that’s just human nature,” Casali said. “I feel like I’ve come into camp in pretty good [shape], just like the three of us have. And this is not to take anything away from Derek, he’s a good player and I’m sure he’s a good guy, and a good teammate. At this point, it’s out of my control.”

Manager Kevin Cash made the formal announcement that outfielder Colby Rasmus will begin the season on the 15-day DL. Although Rasmus has participated in game action activities, he has only been used as the designated hitter and has not played the field.

“But I don’t feel like I’m ready to run something down in the gap for nine innings,” Rasmus said. “I’ve been doing a lot of outfield work and it feels pretty good. But I don’t feel like I’m quite to that point yet, to [be ready to] play a full nine innings and run [balls] down in the gap.”

Earlier this week the Rays trimmed their spring training roster down to 41 when they reassigned eight players to minor league camp, which included Jake Bauers (INF/OF), Johnny Field (OF), Casey Gillaspie (1B), Andrew Kittredge (RHP), Jake Hager (INF), Patrick Leonard (INF), Dayron Varona (OF) and Neil Wagner (RHP). Additionally, they released pitchers Jeff Walters and David Carpenter.

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Shortstop Matt Duffy was in Charlotte, North Carolina this past week to see Dr. Bob Anderson who did his season-ending heel surgery back in September. The results are status quo.

"“Nothing [new] other than all was good,” said Cash of Duffy’s visit. “But I have not heard an actual doctor’s report.”"

Remaining Position Battles

The position battles are taking shape – Mallex Smith and non-roster invitee Rickie Weeks are locks. Smith will likely start in leftfield since Rasmus begins the season on the DL, and Weeks, being a right-handed bat is headed towards a platoon role at first with Logan Morrison. He can also lend a day/inning at second and the outfield if needed.

However, there is a trio of relievers that I am placing on the bubble to make the team: – Jaime Schultz, Justin Marks and Tommy Hunter.

Schultz also has had an outstanding spring, (0-1, 1.98 ERA, 13.2-IP) in eight appearances, has 21 strikeouts with nine walks. The plus for Schultz is that he is on the 40-man roster and could force the Rays to part ways with Farquhar or Erasmo Ramirez.

Unfortunately, Marks is not on the 40-man roster and the Rays would need to do some creative magic to make the 25-man roster. Saturday against the Red Sox, Marks was perfect again as his pitched another scoreless inning, making him eight-for-eight. Overall (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 11.2-IP) he has eight strikeouts, with one walk, and has given up just eight hits.

Hunter is not on the 40-man roster, but being the veteran he is and the way he has pitched this spring he is the most likely among this trio to make the 25-man roster. So far, he is 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in seven appearances over eight innings pitched. He has given up five runs on nine hits, with nine strikeouts and just three walks.

Statistically Speaking

The Rays have always prided themselves on their defense, last season the defense went awry, with power taking over. One of the areas of improvement that Cash was to focus on the defense… well, this spring the defense has been invisible.

Heading into the game on Saturday against Boston, the Rays had committed seven errors in their last two games and six errors in their last nine innings. They added three more against the Red Sox, to bring their Grapefruit League total to 40 – the most errors this spring, including the teams in Arizona.

On the production side, entering Saturday’s games the Rays have hit 32 home runs for fourth best in the Grapefruit League behind the Yankees (40), Mets (33) and Orioles (33) and are averaging five runs per game. With the mega swingers in the lineup, strikeouts are going to happen, and entering Saturday’s game, the Rays had 244 to lead the Grapefruit League.

Next: Rays Rotation Announcement Not Surprising

Pitching once again looks to be the key for the Rays… entering Saturday’s game the Rays ranked fourth in the majors with a 3.90 ERA (237.2-IP, 103-ER) with the pitchers holding opponents to a .248 average. With 236 strikeouts, they rank third and rank second with a 2.99 SO/BB ratio in the Grapefruit League.