Spring Training is here and with the first games of spring just around the corner, the fight for the last few roster spots comes into focus. The Tampa Bay Rays had a fairly uncharacteristic offseason, retaining rather than trading. The Rays of 2023 look an awful lot like the Rays of 2021 and 2022. In fact, for the first time in what feels like forever, the starting lineup on Opening Day feels already mostly locked in.
Around the horn you have:
C - Christian Bethancourt/Francisco Mejía
1B - Yandy Diaz
2B - Brandon Lowe
3B - Isaac Paredes
SS - Wander Franco
LF - Randy Arozarena
CF - Jose Siri
RF - Manuel Margot
DH - Harold Ramírez
Under the new CBA, teams must carry 13 position players on their roster until September 1st. With those 10 players listed above as locks (as of now, and of course nothing is truly set in stone with the Rays), that leaves us with 3 potential spots for the bench and 3 spots to be won in camp battles. Let’s dive into what the Rays could want to add in, and the internal options who will attempt to earn those spots.
A lot has been written about the quest to add some left-handed hitting to Tampa Bay. Currently, there are some interesting options to fill the bench and platoon roles. With the OF sitting at about 3.5 (Harold Ramirez can technically play in the OF, but mostly utilized at DH or 1B in his time with the Rays), adding a lefty corner outfielder to pair with Margot in RF seems like a good use of the roster space.
The two big contenders here will be Josh Lowe and Luke Raley. Ben Whitelaw has already written about the potential of Josh Lowe to contribute after his shaky rookie campaign. There were opportunities to add a vet bat for this role, including David Peralta who was on the market for quite awhile. However, through price or just general apathy towards the upside of the vets, the team seems ready to give an opportunity to Lowe to earn a spot and tap into that high prospect potential.
The other name to talk about for corner OF lefty hitter is Luke Raley. Raley still feels like a longshot, but at a certain point I have to stop overlooking him entirely. Raley has survived multiple roster cut downs, and at a certain point the fact he remains makes me wonder if there’s more here that the team internally is liking. A few years back there was another camp battle, where an unknown and very overlooked player ended up sticking around and winning an opening day job as a utility infielder. The lessons of Joey Wendle have given me pause for entirely overlooking any single player, and I don’t think we should be so fast to discount Raley. It’s being reported Raley will get some 1B reps over the spring, and he’s out of options so if he doesn’t make the team he will have to be DFA’d.
Rays starting infield seems fairly set, but depth is always important and the Rays love to switch stuff around and make substitutions for added defensive help late in game. In particular, the team will want to have somebody who can play at least passable or better SS, to give Wander a day off here and there.
This spot feels like a strong lead coming in for Taylor Walls. His bat has been shaky in the majors, but the glove is his strength and that still showed out in his time in the majors. Often called the “Kiermaier of the infield”, Walls can dazzle all over the infield, giving plus-plus level defense at 3B, 2B, and especially SS.
The main competition for this spot is fellow switch-hitting infielder Vidal Bruján. We recently learned that Bruján does indeed have an option remaining, which came as a very pleasant surprise. Bruján has shown some excellent bat to ball skills and on base ability in the upper minors, and there is untapped pop in that bat. Bruján has also gotten some time in the OF which further increases his versatility. There’s still a lot of Jurickson Profar in his game (who at the time of writing this is still weirdly unsigned) and that’s a good thing.
Other options for this spot are two vet non-roster camp invites: Daniel Robertson and Charlie Culberson. Both are right handed, both have had multiple seasons of major league experience, and both can handle shortstop (albeit at a lower level than somebody like Walls or even Bruján).
The last spot could go a number of different ways. Do you go with one of the folks from the previous category who narrowly lost out? Maybe the team doubles up on the bench utility with Walls and Bruján to go with the winner of the Lowe vs Raley battle? Or perhaps you double up on the bats and take both Raley and Lowe to pair with Walls? Or maybe, you have the ability to keep an all bat but no glove player to platoon at DH with Harold Ramirez or give Yandy Diaz a rest at 1B.
Enter Jonathan Aranda. One of the most advanced hitting prospects the Rays have in their upper minors, Aranda very quickly was able to show off a high level bat in the majors. The big issue is his glove. Aranda is a liability most places on defense. He’s played at 3B, 2B, and 1B with some very limited time in the OF. The bat absolutely can play up in the majors, but seems likely that he’ll be mostly limited to DH and occasional 1B work.
If the team keeps Harold Ramirez, will they select Aranda for the larger side of the platoon? Is there enough playing time to keep an all bat no glove player on the bench? Or perhaps with the mandated 13 position player rule, this is an opportunity to have a DH platoon and PH guy stashed away?
There are a lot of ways this and all of the camp battles could go. Perhaps we even see a meteoric Curtis Mead surge that forces his way onto the roster. Maybe one of the non roster invite vets like DRob or Culberson could sneak on in. Of course spring trades are nothing new to the Rays, and could absolutely change the landscape before Opening Day.
Check out the results of the polls I ran recently on twitter to see what Rays twitter has to think.
Heading into Spring Training, it's looking like the Rays will have 2-3 jobs for bench/utility or platoon roles to fight for. I almost see it as several camp battles that turn into a round robin— Darby Robinson (@darby_robinson) February 20, 2023
Switch hitting defensive IF
Who do you pick, Rays fans?
1st LHH OF
2nd Switch hitting defensive IF— Darby Robinson (@darby_robinson) February 20, 2023
3rd Wildcard— Darby Robinson (@darby_robinson) February 20, 2023
Please share your own thoughts below: Which three players do you predict will make the club and win their camp battles? Which three would you want to see fill out the roster?