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Inbox: Where will Martínez fit in with Rays?

Beat reporter Juan Toribio answers fans' questions
@juanctoribio
January 17, 2020

Early on, the plan for José Martínez will be similar to what the Rays did with Avisaíl García last season. García was a January signing, and at the time, it looked like his addition would create a logjam in the outfield. At first, his role was going to be as

Early on, the plan for José Martínez will be similar to what the Rays did with Avisaíl García last season. García was a January signing, and at the time, it looked like his addition would create a logjam in the outfield. At first, his role was going to be as a platoon outfielder whose at-bats would mainly come against left-handed pitching. But as the season went on, García became a constant fixture in Tampa Bay's lineup due to his performance on the field. The same will apply to Martínez.

During Martínez’s four-year career, it has been no secret what he does best. He crushes left-handed hitting, and that’s what the Rays will primarily expect out of the 31-year-old. Martínez has a career .976 OPS against left-handers. But for him to gain more playing time, he’s going to have to prove that he can hit right-handed pitching and be at least somewhat serviceable at first base. If he does not show defensive improvement, Martínez will likely just serve as the team’s designated hitter against lefties.

Martínez’s performance could impact Ji-Man Choi and Nate Lowe. Choi is expected to get the majority of the reps at first base after posting a strong second half last season. His playing time would only be affected if Martínez shows improvement defensively, and even then, Choi shouldn’t worry about playing time -- as long as he’s hitting. For Lowe, the young first baseman could benefit from starting the season at Triple-A Durham in order to get regular at-bats. Lowe showed off his power last season, launching seven home runs in 152 at-bats, and he will contribute at the big league level at some point during the year.

I don’t think so. Unless something happens over the next three weeks, it looks like the Rays will roll into Spring Training with a group led by Mike Zunino and Michael Perez. General manager Erik Neander made it clear that the club would remain open to trying to improve the position, but nothing has come to fruition over the offseason. Though Tampa Bay could’ve used an upgrade at catcher, the club does feel comfortable with potentially entering the season with Zunino and Perez. That was the plan heading into the 2019 season, after all.

Saying that Wander Franco doesn’t have anything to prove at Class A Advanced Charlotte sounds crazy considering the game’s top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is just 18 years old. But that might actually be the case. Franco didn’t look out of place in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League last season, hitting three home runs and finishing with a .339 batting average in 52 games. However, he could benefit from more at-bats before earning another promotion. Franco wants to make his Major League debut in 2020 and the level he starts the season at could determine if that goal is plausible. With that being said, a guess is that Franco starts the season in Port Charlotte, but it won’t take long until he earns a promotion to Double-A Montgomery.

Just like first base, Rays manager Kevin Cash will have some juggling to do with playing time at the hot corner. Yandy Díaz will spent the most time at third against southpaws. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will have to prove that he can play the position in the spring, and if he does, he’ll get some time against right-handed hitting. There’s also Joey Wendle, who can play all over the infield. While it may seem like the Rays have too many mouths to feed, last season proved that injuries are part of the game and Tampa Bay would benefit from depth throughout the 162-game season.

The Rays’ bullpen should, for the most part, look the same as it did last season. Tampa Bay will rely heavily on Emilio Pagán, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo. One wild card could be José Alvarado. If the young left-hander bounces back and produces like he did in 2018, the Rays' bullpen should be just as strong, if not better, in 2020.

The Rays aren’t going to rule anything out, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing the opener as much this season. Tampa Bay will have one of the best pitching staffs in the American League, and a starting rotation of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough is pretty good. The club’s No. 2 prospect Brendan McKay could also be in the mix, but he could benefit from starting the season in the Minors in order to continue to develop as a pitcher and hitter. Throw in Jalen Beeks, Trevor Richards and Anthony Banda, and the Rays have a ton of pitching depth.

I’ve watched nearly a dozen shows over the last couple of months, so I totally understand. But the good news is that pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 12 and have their first workout on Feb. 13. We’re getting close.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.