Yes, another spring is here, a time for new beginnings and familiar goals. For the Tampa Bay Rays, October dreams in February are old routine.
David Price is back. Grant Balfour is here (again). Wil Myers has returned, as well as an infield — Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist and James Loney — in which each member was recognized as an American League Gold Glove Award finalist.
Sound good? Sound promising? It should.
Another march toward 90 victories, a mark the Rays have reached each season since 2010, begins now.
”What we did last year — it’s baseball, what happened, happened,” left-hander Matt Moore said. ”Not saying the team that we had last year out there couldn’t have got the job done. We just didn’t. So we’re very optimistic heading into this season. We’re glad to have the guys back. Getting James (Loney) back is big for us. Having the new additions is going to be something that will help us out later on.”
With pitchers and catchers reporting Friday, here’s a closer look at the Rays as they enter spring training …
Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training Primer
Where: Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, Fla.
When: Pitchers and catchers first workout on Feb. 15; First Full-Squad workout on Feb. 20; First game is Feb. 28.
The Rays will look for their fourth postseason berth in five years and fifth in the last seven under Maddon. With 92 victories last season, Tampa Bay has earned at least 90 in the past four seasons and five times in the last six years. On paper, this looks like another team that Maddon should lift to contention in the American League East. A division title should be the goal.
Coaches: Stan Boroski (Bullpen), Scott Cursi (Bullpen), Tom Foley (Third Base), George Hendrick (First Base), Jim Hickey (Pitching), Dave Martinez (Bench), Jamie Nelson (Major League Coach), Derek Shelton (Hitting), Don Zimmer (Senior Baseball Adviser).
Hickey will enjoy one of the AL’s strongest rotations. David Price, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore all will be dangerous, and Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi have shown promise as well. The Rays finished 12th in the majors in team ERA last season by posting a 3.74 in the category. If they improve that figure this summer, look out.
1. Desmond Jennings, CF — He hit .252 with 54 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 139 games last season.
3. Evan Longoria, 3B — He hit .269 with 32 home runs and 88 RBI in 160 games last season.
4. Wil Myers, RF — He hit .293 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI in 88 games after his promotion from Triple-A Durham last June. He became the third Rays player in six years to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, following Evan Longoria (2008) and Jeremy Hellickson (2011).
5. Matt Joyce, DH — He hit .235 with 18 home runs and 47 RBI in 140 games last season.
6. David DeJesus, LF — He hit .251 with eight home runs and 38 RBI in a nomadic 2013 season that included stops with the Rays, Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals. In 35 regular-season games with the Rays after being claimed on revocable waivers in August, he hit .260 with two home runs and 11 RBI.
7. James Loney, 1B — He hit .299 with 13 home runs and 75 RBI in 158 games last season, but some of his most impressive work was done on defense.
8. Yunel Escobar, SS — He hit .256 with nine home runs and 56 RBI in 153 games last season. He started slowly — he hit .169 last April — but he recovered well and became a valued clubhouse presence.
9. Ryan Hanigan, C — He was acquired in a three-team December deal that also brought reliever Heath Bell to Tampa Bay. He hit .198 with two home runs and 21 RBI in 75 games with the Cincinnati Reds last season.
Projected Reserves: OF/INF Sean Rodriguez, INF Logan Forsythe, OF Brandon Guyer, C Jose Molina.
The Rays lost Sam Fuld to the Oakland Athletics, but expect Rodriguez to be as versatile as he was in appearing in 96 games last season (.246 batting average, five home runs and 23 RBI). Forsythe is an interesting addition brought over in a seven-player trade with the San Diego Padres in January, and he looks to improve on his 2013 totals of a .214 batting average with six home runs and 19 RBI. Molina, with Haniganâs addition, should take on more of a reserve role.
1. LHP David Price — He followed his AL Cy Young Award-winning season by going 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 27 starts last year.
2. RHP Alex Cobb — He went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 22 starts last season, becoming the rotation’s most dependable presence after returning from a mild concussion sustained last June.
3. LHP Matt Moore — He went 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 27 starts last season, a year in which he earned his first All-Star Game appearance.
4. RHP Chris Archer — He went 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 23 starts last season, becoming a consistent presence in the rotation starting in June.
5. RHP Jake Odorizzi, RHP Jeremy Hellickson — Hellickson is expected to miss the first six to eight weeks of the regular season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in January. Odorizzi went 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA and 22 strikeouts in seven appearances (four starts) last season.
Projected bullpen: RHP Grant Balfour (closer), RHP Heath Bell, LHP Jake McGee, RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo, RHP Joel Peralta, LHP Cesar Ramos.
The Rays know what they’ll receive in Price, Cobb and Moore. Archer and Odorizzi could be wild cards early in the season, though both have the potential to be steady in time. Hellickson, whenever he returns, will be the one to watch. Will he find himself after skidding late last season? He must be better than the 12-10 record he posted with a career-worst 5.17 ERA in 32 appearances. Meanwhile, the bullpen should be strong, especially with the addition of Balfour to complement steady veteran relief options in McGee and Peralta. The Rays will miss relievers Alex Torres, traded to the Padres, and Jamey Wright, lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency. But overall, they should feel confident about their pitching depth.