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Inbox: Could Arozarena start season in Majors?

Beat reporter Juan Toribio answers questions from Rays fans
@juanctoribio
January 31, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays pitchers and catchers are set for their first Spring Training workout in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Feb. 13, marking the official start of baseball season. The first full-squad workout for Tampa Bay will be on Feb. 18, and that’s when things start getting very real. After

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays pitchers and catchers are set for their first Spring Training workout in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Feb. 13, marking the official start of baseball season. The first full-squad workout for Tampa Bay will be on Feb. 18, and that’s when things start getting very real.

After a long but exciting offseason, which didn’t lack for activity, this will be the last Rays Inbox of the offseason. We’ll continue to run these during the season, but this just means that we are very, very close to watching baseball again.

Thanks to everyone who stayed engaged throughout the offseason and submitted a question, but with that being said, let’s get right into it.

Randy Arozarena is definitely going to be a player to watch during Spring Training. Hunter Renfroe, Kevin Kiermaier and Austin Meadows are the projected starters in the outfield, but Brandon Lowe, José Martínez, Joey Wendle, Daniel Robertson and Michael Brosseau are all capable of playing the outfield as well. However, one area where Arozarena has an advantage over the rest is his ability to be versatile in the outfield and play center field. Kiermaier certainly has a history with injuries, and Arozarena can serve as quality insurance at the position. But aside from his flexibility in the outfield, the final decision on whether Arozarena is on the Opening Day roster will come down to his performance and just how much opportunity he’ll get at the big league level. Arozarena has played in just 19 games in the Majors, and while he has displayed a lot of the tools that make him a quality prospect, he still needs to prove that he can contribute at this level. If the Rays decide that Arozarena can benefit from playing regularly, then there’s a chance he starts at Triple-A Durham as the everyday center fielder.

Heading into the offseason, the focus for the front office was to add more power to the lineup. Whether they were able to accomplish that remains to be seen, but the potential is certainly there. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will have to acclimate himself to the Major Leagues, but the potential is there for him to hit 20-25 home runs. Lowe and Yandy Díaz were on their way to a 30-homer campaign before the injuries, so that should also be a boost. Having a flexible lineup should also help the Rays. Tampa Bay has a lot of capable hitters on the roster, which should make finding the right matchups a little bit easier for manager Kevin Cash. The Rays certainly have the talent to set a new franchise record in home runs, but a lot of things will have to go their way in 2020.

We’ve all learned that anything is possible with the Rays, but I would be surprised if the club makes any other significant moves. Tampa Bay feels confident with its pitching staff and fully expects José Alvarado and Chaz Roe to have better seasons in 2020. If Peter Fairbanks, Colin Poche, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo continue to improve, the Rays’ bullpen could be even better this season. The Rays, however, will likely sign a couple of pitchers to Minor League deals with invites to big league camp, adding some more depth and creating competition.

They’re all set. Barring something unforeseen, Mike Zunino will be the Opening Day catcher for Tampa Bay. His backup is still unclear. Michael Perez, who was on the Opening Day roster last season, seems like the obvious pick, but the Rays signed veterans Chris Herrmann and Kevan Smith to Minor League deals with an invite to camp, creating more competition for the backup role.

The rule will definitely have an impact on the Rays and the rest of the league, but Tampa Bay believes it is well-equipped to handle the change. None of the relievers on the projected 26-man roster have extreme splits, but it could affect the club in September. Last season, the Rays relied on pitching changes in September and had pitchers like Hoby Milner, a lefty specialist, on the roster. Other than in September, Tampa Bay should be fine. The best way to attack the rule is to stack your bullpen up with quality arms, and the Rays have certainly done that.

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