Yandy's goal for '24 season: Play all 162

February 19th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- First things first: still looks plenty strong.

The Rays’ All-Star first baseman hasn’t lost his signature biceps or muscular build. But he did drop about nine pounds during the winter as part of his offseason focus on agility and endurance, with one particular thought driving his whole training program.

“One of the goals for me is to be able to play 162 games,” Díaz said Monday morning through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think that’s going to help me stay on the field and be able to accomplish those goals and try to be healthy as much as I can for this season.”

Díaz didn’t spend a single day on the injured list last season, but he was occasionally sidelined and otherwise limited by a left groin injury that popped up early in the year and lingered the rest of the way. It affected his work in the weight room and how much he could practice, as the Rays knew they needed as many at-bats as they could get from their leadoff-hitting star.

With that in mind, it’s even more impressive Díaz won the American League batting title and finished sixth in American League Most Valuable Player voting while hitting .330/.410/.522 with a career-best 22 home runs and 78 RBIs in 2023. He also played 137 games for the second straight year, tied for his career-high mark. Only Randy Arozarena had more plate appearances for the Rays (654 to Díaz’s 600).

“When you focus on your goals and try to achieve what you have in mind, you try to carry that over to the next year and keep that mentality for the next season,” Díaz said. “[The groin] affected me a little bit, obviously. There was still pain throughout the year, but it's something that just happened. You don't expect injuries to happen, but hopefully this year it'll be better.”

Of course, Díaz did more than just hope for better health. He swapped out some of his heavy weightlifting over the offseason in favor of agility training. The Rays noticed a difference even before he reported to Charlotte Sports Park and fielded ground balls during Monday’s first full-squad workout.

Will that actually result in him playing 162 games? Almost certainly not, given the greater emphasis placed on rest and recovery in today’s game.

Only four players in the Majors did it last season: Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, Juan Soto and Eugenio Suárez. Only three players in Tampa Bay’s franchise history have played all 162 in a season: Aubrey Huff in 2003, Delmon Young in ‘07 and Evan Longoria in ‘14. Since ’15, only seven Rays players have topped 150 games; Longoria did it three times, and Arozarena has done so each of the past two years.

“I love that Yandy wants to play 162,” manager Kevin Cash said. “You balance that out a little bit. The game has changed. It's evolved a little bit. The way these players come in, how strong they are, what they put their bodies through, it's probably a benefit to give them a day off here or there.

“But I admire guys wanting to be out there all the time for the team, for the organization. And they know when they're out, they're helping us win games.”

Around the horn
• Center fielder Jose Siri (visa issue) and second baseman Brandon Lowe (illness) did not take part in the Rays’ first full-squad workout on Monday. Siri was expected to arrive later Monday, and Lowe should be back soon.

• One highlight of the first workout was Cash throwing batting practice to a powerful group with Arozarena, Harold Ramírez and top prospects Junior Caminero and Curtis Mead.

“That’s a pretty talented group of hitters to get to throw to on Day 1,” Cash noted. “They all looked good.”

• Cash, a former backstop, spent some time watching the catchers’ throwing drills and came away impressed, specifically mentioning René Pinto, non-roster invitee Alex Jackson and prospect Kenny Piper.

“We've got some catchers that can really throw the baseball. That was fun to watch,” Cash said. “Good to see where that's going. Our catching this spring … might be the deepest that we've had -- maybe not ready right [away] to contribute at the big league level, but deepest we've had as far as talent in quite some time.”

• The Rays expect a standard progression for their pitchers as games begin this weekend. Starters will pitch an inning or two as they begin building up their pitch counts, and relievers will work one inning.