Spring Training and the regular season were delayed because of the lockout, but now we are two weeks from Opening Day. Every team and its fans comes to Opening Day with a feeling of hope, and in the Rays case that hope makes sense. In contrast to many Rays teams, the 2022 squad has had very little turnover from a team that won 100 games and is coming off back-to-back seasons with the best record in the American League.
The Rays tried to aim high over the last few weeks but ended up short of landing Freddie Freeman, Matt Olson, or Matt Chapman. It appears that they were looking for an everyday upgrade and not a role player. The team is likely short a right handed bat or two from optimal construction, but they will bring the lumber against right handed pitching with a left handed heavy lineup.
This is my best guess at the Opening Day roster now that the big names are off the board and most moves will be of the minor league variety unless an injury opens up a need. For the first month of the season the roster has been expanded to 28 to help teams cover innings due to a shortened Spring Training.
C Mike Zunino
C Francisco Mejia
1B Ji-Man Choi
2B Brandon Lowe
SS Wander Franco
3B Yandy Diaz
UTI Taylor Walls
1B/3B Ryon Healy
OF Randy Arozarena
OF Kevin Kieramaier
OF Austin Meadows
OF Manuel Margot
OF Brett Phillips
I expect we’ll see 13 position players. This is what I would’ve expected with a 26 man roster, so there is no change and the additional two players will add depth to the bullpen.
10 of the 13 players were on last year’s Opening Day roster. Wander Franco is coming off a very strong rookie season and signed the largest contract in team history this winter. Taylor Walls takes over the spot vacated by Joey Wendle as the utility man that can cover shortstop and anywhere else in the infield.
Ryon Healy is the surprise. He signed a minor league deal with the Rays last week. He has been a league average hitter in the majors putting up a 101 wRC+ over 1,606 plate appearances. He is a butcher in the field, grading out poorly at first and third base. He has shown virtually no split with a 101 wRC+ versus left handed pitchers and 102 wRC+ versus right handed pitchers. He’s not the impact right hand bat that I would’ve necessarily wanted, but I think he gets a shot to see if he can earn a spot on the roster. This is a spot that I think could be used to try out some of the prospects throughout the year and eventually be a target to upgrade at the trade deadline when a right handed bat could be more impactful in the playoffs.
Vidal Brujan and Ford Proctor are two potential options. Vidal Brujan could play all over the infield and outfield and as a switch hitter could be given an opportunity to earn a bigger role, but there’s a lot of people he would need to jump to earn consistent playing time. Ford Proctor is interesting because he could be a left handed hitting third catcher who can play second or third base if needed. He would be a versatile bench piece for the first month.
With Shane Baz going under the knife to clean out loose bodies in his elbow earlier in the week I would be surprised if these aren’t the five starting/bulk pitchers. The young pitchers are going to have their innings limited this year.
I would be surprised if anybody outside of Corey Kluber or Ryan Yarbrough would have the opportunity to get more than 150 innings if they stay healthy. Kluber can’t be expected to be the workhorse he once was, but if he’s healthy he’ll be given every inning he can handle. Yarbrough has thrown 140-160 innings in each of the last three full seasons, so I would expect he’ll land somewhere in that range once again, but if they need him to throw 170-180 innings he can handle it.
It is possible that the Rays could go with a six man rotation while they have expanded rosters. If they do choose to go that route Josh Fleming is the next man up.
Having ten relievers should help the Rays more than most. They use their bullpen more than any team in baseball, but they also have three players returning from injury in Jalen Beeks (Tommy John surgery), Colin Poche (Tommy John surgery), and Jeffrey Springs (ACL). All three pitchers have already appeared in Spring Training games, but this allows them to ease them back into a normal reliever workload.
Brooks Raley, Matt Wisler, and JT Chargois are the only players without options. The Rays will continue to make use of the Durham Shuttle to keep fresh arms in the pen even with the limit of five optional assignments before they could be given an opportunity with another team.