Tampa Bay Rays spring training guide
New moves, new beginnings . . . same goal.
Spring has come after an active winter for the Tampa Bay Rays, a perennial American League East contender over the past five seasons. A near miss last fall kept them out of the playoffs for only the second time since 2008, and their offseason saw the loss of a centerpiece of their recent past (right-hander James Shields) and the arrival of promising faces for the future (outfielder Wil Myers and right-hander Jake Odorizzi).
How will it all translate to the present? This is a time when anything seems possible, and third baseman Evan Longoria and defending AL Cy Young Award winner David Price return as veteran presences that could help Tampa Bay threaten for its first division title since 2010.
New start, new outlook, same destination in mind: A run at the playoffs.
Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, Fla.
Pitchers and catchers first workout on Feb. 12; First full-squad workout on Feb. 16; First game is Feb. 23.
90-72, third in AL East
Joe Maddon (eighth season)
Maddon enters another season as a large reason for the Rays’ consistency, having led Tampa Bay to at least 90 victories in four of the past five seasons. High-profile offseason moves will make this campaign one of his more fascinating to study.
Rocco Baldelli (Special Assistant), Stan Boroski (Bullpen), Scott Cursi (Bullpen Catcher), Tom Foley (Third Base), George Hendrick (First Base), Jim Hickey (Pitching), Dave Martinez (Bench), Jamie Nelson (Major League Coach), Derek Shelton (Hitting), Don Zimmer (Adviser).
Hickey will have the difficult task of piecing together a rotation after workhorse right-hander James Shields was traded to the Kansas City Royals in December. Foley, named to his position in October 2001, is the longest-tenured coach in franchise history.
Hendrick, a former outfielder, played 18 major-league seasons before joining the Rays in his current role in November 2005.
1. Desmond Jennings, CF – Batted .246 with an on-base percentage of .314 in 132 games last season.
2. Kelly Johnson, 2B – Signed a one-year deal early in February after spending parts of the past two seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s a career .255 hitter who could see time in the outfield.
3. Evan Longoria, 3B – Agreed to a six-year, $100 million extension in November. Rays need him to stay healthy.
4. Ben Zobrist, RF – A consistent hitter who batted in a combined 165 runs over the past two seasons.
5. Luke Scott, DH – Signed to a one-year deal early in February. He batted .229 with 55 RBI in 96 games in his first season with the Rays last year.
6. Matt Joyce, LF – He had 17 home runs, 59 RBI and a career-high 55 walks in 124 games last season.
7. James Loney, 1B – Replaces Carlos Pena at the position after spending last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox. He’s a career .282 hitter with 459 RBI.
8. Yunel Escobar, SS – Traded to the Rays from the Miami Marlins in December. He’s a career .282 hitter with 298 RBI who played a career-high 145 games with the Toronto Blue Jays last season.
Veteran presence behind the plate who hit .223 in 102 games last season.
OF Sam Fuld, OF Brandon Guyer, C Jose Lobaton, IF Sean Rodriguez
Fuld was limited to 44 games last season because of surgery on his right wrist, but he’s expected to return to a reserve role.
Guyer, another outfield reserve, played in only three games last season because of a left shoulder strain.
Lobaton batted .222 with 20 RBI in 69 games last season.
Rodriguez, entering his fourth season with the Rays, hit .213 with 32 RBI in 301 at-bats last year. 1. LHP David Price – The returning AL Cy Young Award winner had a career-high 20 victories and a career-low 2.56 ERA last season.
2. RHP Jeremy Hellickson – Started a career-high 31 games last season and earned a 10-11 record with a 3.10 ERA.
3. LHP Matt Moore – Pitched 177.1 innings last season, third on staff behind Shields (227.2) and Price (211). He struck out 175 batters and had a 3.81 ERA.
4. RHP Alex Cobb – Pitched 136.1 innings in 23 games last season. He finished 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA.
5. RHP Jeff Niemann, RHP Chris Archer, RHP Roberto Hernandez – Niemann, who had a 3.08 ERA in eight starts last season, could become a consistent starter. But there’s potential for Archer (4.60 ERA in six appearances last season) and Hernandez (acquired after seven years with the Cleveland Indians) to add depth. With Shields gone, strong arms deep in the rotation will be key.
RHP Kyle Farnsworth, RHP Brandon Gomes, LHP Jake McGee, RHP Joel Peralta, LHP Cesar Ramos, RHP Fernando Rodney (closer). Some key players return from a bullpen that topped the major leagues with a 2.88 ERA last year and limited hitters to a .208 batting average.
Rodney is back after earning a career-high 48 saves last season, his first with the Rays after spending two campaigns with the Los Angeles Angels.
Peralta figures to be the right-handed setup man, after earning a 3.63 ERA in a career-high 76 games last summer.
McGee will likely be the left-handed setup man, after a 1.95 ERA in a career-high 69 games in 2012.
Farnsworth, who had a 4.00 ERA in 34 appearances last season, is back to add depth.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi, acquired with Myers in the deal with the Royals, could compete for a job as well. 1. How will the Rays fill the void left by Shields’ departure?
This is perhaps the most significant question of the season. It will be hard to replace Shields’ presence on the mound – he threw 227.2 innings last summer, a year after throwing a career-high 249.1. Each starter must add innings to make up the difference and avoid strain. But that’s no easy task.
2. How will Longoria approach this season?
Longoria cemented his position as a franchise face by signing the well-deserved extension in the offseason. Still, he was limited to 74 games last season because of a torn left hamstring. His health will be crucial to any potential postseason run.
3. What are the key position battles?
It will be interesting to see how the Rays handle second base. Johnson could spend time in the outfield, opening a chance for Ryan Roberts at the position. Replacing former center fielder B.J. Upton, signed by the Atlanta Braves in November, won’t be simple. But Jennings is capable of filling the role.
4. Will Myers and Odorizzi earn major-league roster spots?
Both young talents will be worth watching throughout the season. Many considered Myers to be the minor league’s best player last season after earning a .314 batting average with 37 home runs in time split between Class AA Northwest Arkansas and Class AAA Omaha. Odorizzi, meanwhile, had a 4.91 ERA in 7.1 innings in two games for the Royals last summer.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at email@example.com.