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Rays hope to compete as prospects mature

Building strong young core key to Tampa Bay's vision
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Giving their younger players a shot while remaining competitive is the Rays' vision heading into the 2018 season.

While the roster remains in limbo due to the stagnant market, it's clear Tampa Bay is thinking long term. Yes, the Rays want to remain competitive, but they also want to build a foundation that can be counted on to put together sustained future runs.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Giving their younger players a shot while remaining competitive is the Rays' vision heading into the 2018 season.

While the roster remains in limbo due to the stagnant market, it's clear Tampa Bay is thinking long term. Yes, the Rays want to remain competitive, but they also want to build a foundation that can be counted on to put together sustained future runs.

Regardless of what moves the club makes between now and the start of the season, the wealth of talent bubbling up from a strong Minor League system makes the Rays' vision seem reasonable.

Among the higher-profile players who could be in the mix this season are first baseman/outfielder Jake Bauers, shortstop Willy Adames, infielder Christian Arroyo and right-handers Brent Honeywell, Jaime Schultz and Ryne Stanek.

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"We got to see a lot of these guys take steps forward [in 2017]," Chaim Bloom, the Rays' senior vice president of baseball operations, said earlier in the offseason. "The new pieces to this ongoing core take steps forward and show what they could do this year to where we feel good about the depth we have in pitching and the upside of both the guys guys in our rotation, and also some of the guys who might be a part of our bullpen.

"And you go around the diamond, and I think you feel pretty good about having a number of different options we like, whether it's in the infield or the outfield or behind the plate."

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Gone from the team are Evan Longoria, who was dealt to the Giants in December (with Arroyo among the players Tampa Bay acquired in the trade), and many of the veterans who helped the team win 80 games in 2017 are free agents. That mix includes Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, Steve Cishek (who signed a two-year deal with the Cubs), Lucas Duda, Sergio Romo, Xavier Cedeno, Tommy Hunter (who signed a two-year deal with the Phillies), Trevor Plouffe and Peter Bourjos (who reportedly inked a Minor League deal with the Cubs).

Many have suggested that the Rays would be better served to undergo a complete makeover, but that's never been their style. But they do have a keen understanding of what it takes for them to be in the hunt.

"There's no question for us to be competitive, we have to grow our own," Bloom said. "For us, it's all about having that competitive core of players that we can sustain for many years. And that has to be driven in large part by contributions from our system.

"You can never have too much talent, but we think our system is in as strong a place as it's been in years. There are a number of guys with really good upsides. I think when you step back and you look at a lot of the contributions we got individually, and you look at the progress a lot of our young players showed, both at the Major League level and through the Minor Leagues from start to finish, you can get really excited looking around the diamond and thinking what some of these guys might be capable of."

Tampa Bay still has a lot of questions about how its roster might look this season, the but idea of assembling a core group will be at the heart of the decisions it makes.

"That's going to drive the success of that team," Bloom said.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays