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5 Rays to watch in Grapefruit League action

@juanctoribio
February 21, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays don’t have many roster battles going on during Spring Training, but there’s still a lot of intrigue surrounding a couple of new faces who will be on the Opening Day roster, as well as a few players who are expected to be in the

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays don’t have many roster battles going on during Spring Training, but there’s still a lot of intrigue surrounding a couple of new faces who will be on the Opening Day roster, as well as a few players who are expected to be in the mix at some point during the season.

With Grapefruit League play set to begin Saturday, let’s take a look at five Tampa Bay players to watch throughout the Grapefruit League schedule.

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
Tsutsugo will be a big part of the Rays’ success, but there will be a lot of eyes on him during Spring Training as he makes the transition from Japan. He will play left field in the home opener against the Yankees on Sunday and is set to be the designated hitter on Monday against the Red Sox.

The plan is for Tsutsugo to play left field and third base defensively, but a lot of the attention will be on him when he steps up to the plate. Tsutsugo will tentatively get somewhere between 45 and 60 plate appearances this spring.

“There’s a lot of pitchers that I haven’t seen in my life, and even the position players, I’ve never seen them play in my life,” Tsutsugo said. “I think I have a lot to learn during these games.”

José Alvarado
Like Tsutsugo, all eyes will be on Alvarado this spring, but for slightly different reasons. Alvarado was an integral part of the Rays’ bullpen in 2019, but a month-long leave of absence to attend a family matter and a couple of injuries ultimately derailed Alvarado’s campaign. As he enters the ‘20 season, Alvarado said he has a better mental focus and is ready to prove that he can regain the form he had in ‘18.

Alvarado has impressed with his command during early bullpen sessions, but Tampa Bay will continue to hope that it all translates into games.

Mike Zunino
Zunino’s first full season with the Rays was disappointing, but the veteran catcher is looking to have a bounce-back campaign at the plate. Zunino hit a career-low nine home runs last season, but he arrived to camp in good shape and hopes that improved lower-half positioning at the plate provides better results.

A lot of the attention will be on who steps up and becomes the backup catcher, but Zunino’s improvement at the plate will be something to watch over the next five weeks.

Daniel Robertson
For most of the 2018 season, you can make an argument that Robertson was the most important player on the roster. His defensive versatility and his offensive showing gave him a very solid argument. But in ‘19, Robertson struggled offensively and was demoted to Triple-A Durham so he could get consistent at-bats.

This spring, due to his versatility on defense, Robertson has an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster, but he’ll also have to prove that he has made significant strides at the plate. Throughout camp, Robertson has shown some good swings, including a home run off Colin Poche during live BP. Now it’s worth watching if it translates into games.

Aaron Loup
Loup is one of the most intriguing non-roster invitees on the roster. After trading Emilio Pagán to the Padres, the Rays have a couple of open spots in the bullpen, and Loup could earn one of them with a strong spring. The left-hander spent the majority of the 2019 season on the injured list, appearing in just four games with the Padres. But now that he’s fully healthy, Tampa Bay is going to give him a strong look.

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