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Mahtook brings new confidence to Rays camp

After excellent end to '15, outfield prospect competing for roster spot
MLB.com @wwchastain

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- "Mr. September" finished the 2015 season with a bang. However, given the outfield competition in this year's Rays camp, Mikie Mahtook is a long shot to earn a roster spot at the beginning of the season.

Mahtook, 26, had four stints with the Rays and started 24 games at the three outfield spots in 2015. His final callup to the team came on Sept. 1, and from that point on, the Louisiana native showed the skills that enticed the Rays to select him in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- "Mr. September" finished the 2015 season with a bang. However, given the outfield competition in this year's Rays camp, Mikie Mahtook is a long shot to earn a roster spot at the beginning of the season.

Mahtook, 26, had four stints with the Rays and started 24 games at the three outfield spots in 2015. His final callup to the team came on Sept. 1, and from that point on, the Louisiana native showed the skills that enticed the Rays to select him in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft.

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For the month of September, Mahtook hit .356, which was the second-highest average ever posted by a Rays rookie in a calendar month, trailing Rocco Baldelli in April 2003 (.368).

Included in Mahtook's late-season run were five home runs in his final 23 at-bats, and on Sept. 18 against the Orioles, he set a Rays rookie record with five hits, going 5-for-5 with two doubles.

Top 30 Rays Prospects

Mahtook, ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the Rays' No. 10 prospect, said he can't "really pinpoint one thing" to account for his September performance.

"I think I was finally comfortable," Mahtook said. "It was a mixture of a few things. I think when I got called back up, it was as good as I felt all year. The comfort factor was a big deal.

"I'd been up and down a few times, and I knew I was going to be there for the duration of the season, and knew I wasn't going to be sent down. And I had enough at-bats before that in the Major Leagues in different situations to know what to expect and what to anticipate. I was able to relax and calm down, and everything was able to come together, and I was able to have a really good last month."

Video: BAL@TB: Mahtook knocks five hits in Rays' 8-6 win

Overall, Mahtook hit .295 with nine home runs and 19 RBIs in 41 games for the Rays.

"You can't help but be excited about him," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "What Mikie did, to his credit, I don't know if he had ever had a month like that in his life. Hopefully he can kind of pick up where he left off.

"There were other outfielders on the roster that definitely could have played and gotten some at-bats, but he kind of took it and ran with the opportunity. When we got toward the end of the season, it was like, 'Let's try to get this guy in, let's try to get that guy in.' Well, it was next to impossible to get Mikie out of the lineup. It just wouldn't have made sense."

Most players could bank on making the team after posting the numbers Mahtook did last season. He finds himself in a crowded outfield mix with Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson, Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer. Logan Morrison, Steve Pearce and Taylor Motter can all play outfield as well.

"For me, competition has always made me better my whole life," Mahtook said. "It's the best thing for a team. I'm just coming into this camp and trying to just play as well as I can. Taking into this season what I did in September, being more consistent and playing my game."

Video: Top Prospects: Mikie Mahtook, OF, Rays

Mahtook allowed that the worst thing he can do is worry about his numbers.

"All I need to concentrate on is my game and being the best player I can be," Mahtook said. "I welcome all the guys that are here. I know they're going to help us in the long run. And ultimately that's what it's about -- making it to the playoffs, making a playoff run and going for a World Series run.

"I'm just coming to camp and just focusing on making me better. I think everything will take care of itself after that. I think that we brought in a great group of guys. The guys we already had were great. So I think it's going to be a great Spring Training. So I'm just going to go out there and try and make their decision they have to make on me as hard as possible."

Cash said he sees a different Mahtook this spring than the one he saw last year.

"The confidence is there," Cash said. "Like [Saturday], we were joking around. Matt Moore blew him up and broke his bat. I wouldn't have joked with him last year about that happening in live BP, and he wouldn't have joked back with me. But he's got a lot of confidence, that he can handle things. That's a credit to what took place for him in September."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays, Mikie Mahtook