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State of the 2019 Tampa Bay Rays bullpen

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ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 10: The bullpen bench of the Tampa Bay Rays is empty as the game enters the 14th inning against the Boston Red Sox June 10, 2013 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Boston won 10 - 8. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 10: The bullpen bench of the Tampa Bay Rays is empty as the game enters the 14th inning against the Boston Red Sox June 10, 2013 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Boston won 10 - 8. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) /
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The Tampa Bay Rays forever changed the way bullpens are used in 2018, taking “bullpening” to another level. The Rays bullpen opened games, held games, and saved games and were one of the best at doing so. Hopefully, in 2019 they can do the same.

The Tampa Bay Rays pen played such a pivotal role in 2018 and will be leaned on heavily again this season. With Jonny Venters being traded mid-season and Sergio Romo becoming a free agent, Chaz Roe remains as the lone veteran in the pen, at least until the Rays sign an additional veteran reliever (potentially). But as of now, it’s just Roe and a handful of young guns. Let’s break it down.

Due to their glut of young arms in Durham, the Rays may still only carry 12 pitchers on opening day and employ the weekly shuffle of relievers they have become so adept at. Or, because of the use of the opener strategy, Kevin Cash and Kyle Bird may opt to enter 2019 with 13 pitchers in total as opposed to 12. Three of the twelve to thirteen would obviously be made up of starters Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow.

I would venture to say that Ryan Yarbrough, Ryne Stanek, Diego Castillo, and Jose Alvarado also secured spots down the first base line in Tropicana Field. Throw in Chaz Roe and the newly acquired Emilio Pagan, that leaves three to four remaining spots on the opening day roster.

Here is what the staff looks like today (Assuming 13 pitchers on roster)

Starting Rotation: 

  • Blake Snell, LHP
  • Charlie Morton, LHP
  • Tyler Glasnow,

Bulk Guys:

  • Ryan Yarbrough, LHP
  • ?

Relievers: 

  • CL: Jose Alvarado, LHP
  • SU/OP: Diego Castillo, RHP
  • SU/OP: Ryne Stanek, RHP
  • MR/SU/MU: Emilio Pagan, RHP
  • MR/MU: Chaz Roe, RHP
  • ?
  • ?
  • ?

* CL= Closer, SU=Setup, OP=Opener, MR=Middle Relief, MU=Matchup

I mentioned the glut of the young arms they will have at the major and minor league levels in 2019 which will only be boosted by the mid-season additions of Brent Honeywell, Jose De Leon, and Anthony Banda. I also alluded to the possibility that they will look to add a veteran reliever via free agency, which I think is needed and likely.

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A team’s bullpen can never be too good, nor too deep. And in 2019, the Rays pen will be both good and deep. There is always a chance that in a trade for J.T. Realmuto, Edwin Encarnacion, or Jose Martinez that one or more of the names listed above could be moved which would allow for more opportunity, but for now, this is how the Rays relief core is shaping up.

As for the question marks above, they aren’t questions but merely openings. The Rays will open the year with three starters and 2 opens, meaning at least 2 pitchers on the staff will need to have the ability to pitch innings 2-7. One of those is Ryan Yarbrough and the other is up in the air in my opinion. Yes, Yonny Chirinos is probably the front-runner for the second job, but don’t rule out Jacob Faria, Jalen Beeks, and Wilmer Font.

Font, Beeks and Faria all have the ability to make the opening day rosters even if Chirinos is pegged as the other go-to bulk guy. Beeks showed promise down the stretch last year and could become a lefty specialist. Prior to a year ending injury Font was fanstastic for the Rays. As for Faria, who struggled in 2018, we could see him in a constant shuffle between Durham and Tampa, or with a strong spring he may beat out Chirinos.

The 2 or 3 remaining openings in the Rays pen will likely boil down to a group of in-house options and one veteran signing. These spots will be the most hotly contested in spring training as the last few remaining bullpen spots are every year. Here is a list of the in-house options the Rays will have to choose from this spring…

2019 In-house options:

  • Jalen Beeks, LHP
  • Jacob Faria, RHP
  • Wilmer Font, RHP
  • Hoby Milner, LHP
  • Hunter Wood, RHP
  • Austin Pruitt, RHP
  • Adam Kolarek, LHP
  • Jaime Shultz, RHP
  • Colin Poche, LHP
  • Cole Sulser, RHP
  • Ian Gibaut, RHP

With 11 in-house options for 2019 the Rays may opt not to sign a veteran reliever like Cody Allen or David Robertson. If they do, then the competition becomes even stiffer for the 10 names listed above. Bullpen battles are commonplace in spring trainings and will likely steal most of the headlines coming out of Port Charlotte.

Kolarek may have an edge because he is one of three left-handed in-house options. The other two, Beeks and Milner may be on the outside looking in for a reliever position. In 2018, Kolarek pitched well out of the pen posting an ERA+ of 106 and an ERA of 3.93 with an even better FIP of 2.58. Milner struggled in 2018 with the Phillies and Rays and as I mentioned before, Beeks will likely make his money this year in the bulk role.

Even if prospects Poche, Gibaut, and Sulser don’t make the opening day roster, expect them to make an impact in Tampa at some point in 2019. The same goes for Shultz and Wood. In all reality each of the pitchers above will likely see time with the Rays in 2019. The question is who will break camp with the team. I like Kolarek and Poche out of this group to take Johnny Venters’ role as a specialist.

We don’t know what the finished product will look like out of spring training. What we do know is that the Rays organization is loaded with arms and Kevin Cash will have tons of option to close from not only out of spring training but really throughout the entire season.

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As we approach spring training I will be taking a look at possible free agent targets that the Rays may look to. I will also be breaking down a number of the in-house options named above. Pitchers and catchers report next month, until then all we can do is speculate.

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