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Will McGriff get voted into Hall of Fame?

Mo, Edgar, Doc right on track for election; Moose sits on the bubble
MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

The Hot Stove has dominated conversation this winter, but believe it or not, it's almost Hall of Fame time.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot today, live on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com (coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET, with the announcement shortly after 6 p.m.), and the baseball world will find out who will join Veterans Committee selections Harold Baines and Lee Smith in the Class of 2019. This year's class figures to follow suit with the last five elections that featured at least two BBWAA inductees, further clearing the ballot "logjam" that has characterized the most recent voting cycles.

The Hot Stove has dominated conversation this winter, but believe it or not, it's almost Hall of Fame time.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot today, live on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com (coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET, with the announcement shortly after 6 p.m.), and the baseball world will find out who will join Veterans Committee selections Harold Baines and Lee Smith in the Class of 2019. This year's class figures to follow suit with the last five elections that featured at least two BBWAA inductees, further clearing the ballot "logjam" that has characterized the most recent voting cycles.

It seems that more and more BBWAA voters are making their ballots public with each passing year, and so while we don't know this year's results for certain, the 200-plus ballots aggregated by tracker Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) can help us make educated guesses (as a reminder, players need to be named on at least 75 percent of ballots to gain election). Scanning those public ballots, here are the storylines emerging from this year's Hall vote.

Video: Will Mariano Rivera be a unanimous Hall of Famer?

Mo still has a chance at perfection
Ken Griffey Jr. came oh-so-close to being the first unanimous Hall of Fame electee when he garnered a record 99.3 percent of the BBWAA vote in 2016, but longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera could claim that honor -- or at least break Griffey's record. Rivera's name had appeared on all public ballots compiled by Thibodaux as of Monday, for some obvious reasons: He was an essential part of five World Series championship teams in the Bronx, owns the all-time saves record and also the best league-adjusted ERA+ (205, where 100 represents the league average) in history by a wide margin.

But there's a reason why legends like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays (and countless others) were not voted in unanimously; getting roughly 400 people to agree on anything is nearly impossible. At least one voter will likely omit Rivera for a variety of factors, including his role as a reliever, a strategic decision to give his vote to another candidate more in need or to simply hold the line that no player should go in with a perfect vote. That won't take anything away from Rivera, who was destined for Cooperstown the moment he stepped off the mound for the last time in 2013.

There was some uncertainty whether the late Roy Halladay would also be a first-ballot choice, but the longtime ace now seems like a lock with his current percentage hovering around 94 percent.

This could be the year for Edgar and Moose
The past 10 players who have received between 70-74 percent of a BBWAA vote gained election the very next year, and Edgar Martinez looks like he'll be No. 11. The Mariners legend, who earned 70.4 percent of last year's vote, has already gained a net 17 ballots from returning voters. He now looks like a sure bet with more than 90 percent of the public ballots going his way.

Video: Roundtable breaks down Mussina's HOF candidacy

Mike Mussina has also gained a net 17 votes from 2018, when he improved his chances significantly by earning 63.5 percent. The former Orioles and Yankees stalwart needs to maintain that pace, as Thibodaux estimates Mussina will need to land on roughly 70 percent of the unknown ballots. That would give the Hall a four-player BBWAA class for just the fifth time ever, but it would be the third such class within the last five years.

Two ballot mainstays are changing the conversation
Larry Walker entered the BBWAA ballot in 2011 as Coors Field's first major test case in Hall of Fame voting, and now the conversation around Walker seems to be changing in his penultimate year of consideration. Many voters are recognizing Walker's excellent numbers away from Denver's mile-high altitude (along with his performances in Montreal and St. Louis), and that's helped him surge in the polls. The popular right fielder has already gained 37 net votes -- more than any other returning candidate -- from 2018, when he finished at just 34.1 percent. Walker stands to enjoy the same final-year push as Martinez and Mussina in 2020 if he can remain somewhere near his current 67-percent pace on public ballots. His case will likely have a lot of bearing on fellow Rockies great Todd Helton, who's currently hovering around 20 percent in his ballot debut.

Video: A look back at Walker's first and last MLB home runs

Slugging first baseman Fred McGriff is trending at roughly 36 percent and won't get into the Hall this year, but he should get serious consideration in his first Veterans Committee cycle (the "Today's Game" era electorate in 2022) thanks to a significant bump. McGriff has gained a net 32 ballots in his 10th and final year of eligibility as voters have begun to recognize his consistency and clutch postseason performances at the precipice of baseball's "Steroid Era."

The debate continues
Speaking of that high-octane era, the Hall conversation wouldn't be complete without mention of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Their numbers would be unassailable if there weren't questions as to how they attained them, and that complicated question has split the electorate ever since the pair landed on the ballot in 2013. Bonds and Clemens are currently trending right near the 75-percent threshold, but the pair has gained just three votes apiece from 2018, when they finished at 56.4 percent and 57.3 percent, respectively. They'll likely need much more than that over the next week, since private voters have historically left Bonds and Clemens off their ballots. More ballot stagnation would mean the superstars' candidacies could truly come down to the wire if they don't gain election before their final year of eligibility in 2022.

Video: Bonds Moments

Curt Schilling is another player who could already be in the Hall if not for off-field considerations, but his 13 net votes gained give him an outside chance of election as soon as this year. Schilling, like Bonds and Clemens, has until 2022 to get over the hump.

These stars are on the bubble
Former Yankees great Andy Pettitte started and won more postseason games than any pitcher in history, but nevertheless he's in some danger of being a one-and-done candidate. Pettitte has been named on 6.8 percent of public ballots to this point, and needs to stay above 5 percent to remain on the ballot. Ten-time Gold Glove Award winner Andruw Jones is also in jeopardy, having received roughly 9 percent of the vote so far. Fellow first-timers Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Michael Young will all need significant help to stick around for 2020.

Video: MLB Now debates Edgar Martinez, Lance Berkman for HOF

There are a handful of interesting cases in the middle of the pack. Manny Ramirez has gained just four points over his 22-percent total in 2018, and he needs to build significant momentum moving forward. Another pair of 500-homer hitters in Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa remain stagnant between 10 and 15 percent, and second baseman Jeff Kent and closer Billy Wagner remain stuck under 20 percent. Defensive stalwarts Scott Rolen and Omar Vizquel have gained a net 15 and 14 votes, respectively, with eight years of BBWAA consideration left.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Around the Horn: Rays confident in Zunino

Strong defensive catcher eyes bounce-back season at plate
MLB.com @juanctoribio

With Spring Training approaching, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Rays, breaking the team down position-by-position. Next up: catchers.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Aside from an All-Star-caliber first half from Wilson Ramos last season, the catcher position has been a revolving door of sorts for the Rays. Because of that, acquiring a catcher was a top priority.

With Spring Training approaching, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Rays, breaking the team down position-by-position. Next up: catchers.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Aside from an All-Star-caliber first half from Wilson Ramos last season, the catcher position has been a revolving door of sorts for the Rays. Because of that, acquiring a catcher was a top priority.

The Rays wasted no time addressing their need at the position, making a deal with Seattle on a five-player trade that brought Mike Zunino to the Rays on Nov. 8. While Tampa Bay is reportedly still in the mix on a possible trade for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, the club feels confident in what it has behind the plate heading into the 2019 season.

Around the Horn: RotationBullpen

Adding Zunino gives the Rays another right-handed-hitting option in the lineup, while young catchers Michael Perez and Nick Ciuffo afford the club even more flexibility, as both backstops hit from the left side of the plate.

The starter: Zunino

Most of Zunino's value comes on defense, but the Rays are hoping to help the 27-year-old approach the offensive numbers he put up in 2017 as opposed to the down season he had in '18.

Despite his offensive struggles last season, Zunino's barrel rate was 13.8 percent, which was in the top six percent in the Majors, and his hard-hit percentage was a very good 44.9 percent. One area of concern for Zunino was the strikeout number. Over the last two seasons, Zunino has struck out at least 150 times. He has at least 130 strikeouts in four of his six years in the big leagues.

Zunino attributes some of last season's struggles to an oblique injury and a couple of other nagging health issues that he dealt with. The power numbers remained, as he finished with 20 home runs, but his .201/.259/.410 slash line took a significant hit from his breakout 2017 season.

In 2017, Zunino had his best offensive year, finishing with career highs in home runs (25), RBIs (64), batting average (.251), on-base percentage (.331) and OPS (.840). The Rays are hoping that the combination of being healthy, working with new hitting coaches and a change of philosophy can help Zunino get back to those numbers.

Defensively, Zunino is one of the best catchers in the league. According to FanGraphs, Zunino finished tied for first among American League catchers with 12 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018. He also finished the season with a .998 fielding percentage, which ranked fifth in the Majors among qualifying catchers. In addition, Zunino did an excellent job controlling the opposing team's running game, throwing out 29.2 percentage of potential basestealers.

Video: SEA@ARI: Zunino catches Ahmed trying to steal second

Who wins the backup job?
Assuming that the Rays don't add Realmuto or anyone else before the Feb. 13 Spring Training report date, the backup job will be between Perez and Ciuffo, with Perez having the edge.

Perez was acquired from the D-backs on July 25, and he was immediately inserted onto the team's 25-man roster. Being an above-average defender was the reputation Perez had in the Arizona organization, and that carried over into the big leagues. While it was a small sample size, Perez showed an ability to call a good game and block pitches in the dirt. He also got a chance to show off his arm last season, throwing out 29 percent of potential basestealers. A hamstring injury in September limited him to just 24 games on the season, but the 26-year-old finished with a .284/.304/.392 slash line.

Video: BOS@TB: Perez nabs Pearce at second with strong throw

Ciuffo's 2018 season began with a 50-game suspension for failing a second drug test. It ended with the 23-year-old catcher making his Major League debut in September and playing in 16 games for the Rays. In the limited time, Ciuffo struggled at the plate, finishing with a .189/.262/.297 slash line. The 2013 first-round pick will get a chance to beat Perez out for the backup catcher spot, but he could be better served getting consistent playing time with Triple-A Durham.

Who else is in the Pipeline?
No. 7 Ronaldo Hernandez (Age: 21; Highest level: Class A Bowling Green)

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays, Nick Ciuffo, Michael Perez, Mike Zunino

Rays sign Avisail to one-year contract

MLB.com @juanctoribio

ST. PETERSBURG -- When Avisail Garcia entered free agency, he was looking to sign with an organization that made him feel at home, and a team that would give him a chance to prove that he's better than his numbers in 2018 showed. Once the Rays communicated with the outfielder, he knew there was a match.

"They're a competitive team and they play hard every single day, and that's who I am," Garcia said, when asked why he decided to sign with the Rays. "I think it's going to be fun this year."

ST. PETERSBURG -- When Avisail Garcia entered free agency, he was looking to sign with an organization that made him feel at home, and a team that would give him a chance to prove that he's better than his numbers in 2018 showed. Once the Rays communicated with the outfielder, he knew there was a match.

"They're a competitive team and they play hard every single day, and that's who I am," Garcia said, when asked why he decided to sign with the Rays. "I think it's going to be fun this year."

On Friday, the Rays announced that the club had come to a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Garcia. The 27-year-old has a chance to earn up to $6 million if he reaches the incentives. In order to make room for Garcia on the 40-man roster, the Rays designated right-handed reliever Oliver Drake for assignment.

Video: Rays reportedly close to a deal with Avisail Garcia

After becoming an All-Star in 2017, Garcia struggled to get going at the plate in 2018. He played in just 93 games, which is the lowest since 2014, and saw his batting average go from a career-high .330 in '17 to a career-low .236 in '18. Garcia attributes most of his struggles last season to lingering pain in his right knee.

"I was fighting the whole season with pain," he said. "Sometimes you feel good, sometimes you don't. I was fighting the whole season, but still trying to do my best."

After the season, Garcia had arthroscopic surgery to clean up the issues in his knee. The surgery took place in November.

"I'm 100 percent now," Garcia said. "I'm happy with my new team and just ready to go."

Garcia, who is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, was able to finish the 2018 season with a career-high 19 home runs. His barrel rate was a career-high 11.6 percent and he saw his launch angle increase from 7.6 degrees in 2017 to 9.6 last season.

Garcia admits that he got into some bad habits last season. His strikeout rate ballooned to a career high. He said he's working on trying to hit the ball to all fields, all while maintaining the power in his swing.

"I'm just thankful to be back and be a full player," Garcia said. "Right now, I'm feeling great and just trying to make adjustments."

Video: Avisail Garcia has signed a deal with the Rays

Adding Garcia fills a need in the Rays' roster. Ever since designating C.J. Cron for assignment, the Rays have been in the market for a power-hitting right-handed bat. Adding Garcia gives the Rays a good bounceback candidate who's motivated to have a much better year.

"We think that he's a lot closer to his 2017 version than his 2018 [version]," said Rays general manager Erik Neander. "He has the right mindset and motivation to fit in with our group and be part of what we hope is a selfless, but very talented team."

Garcia is a career .304 hitter against left-handed pitching and projects to be the team's designated hitter when the Rays are facing a southpaw on the mound. Ji-Man Choi is projected to be the designated hitter when the team is going against a right-hander. Garcia also gives the team much-needed depth in the outfield, and could see time at right field whenever the team needs it. The 27-year old Garcia joins an outfield group that includes Tommy Pham, Kevin Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, Guillermo Heredia and Brandon Lowe.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays, Avisail Garcia

Brujan, Lowe among MLB's Top 10 2B prospects

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list on Saturday, with a one-hour show on MLB Network at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

MLB Pipeline ended last week with a look at our Top 10 first-base prospects for 2019, a group teeming with future sluggers, some on the cusp of the Major Leagues.

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list on Saturday, with a one-hour show on MLB Network at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

MLB Pipeline ended last week with a look at our Top 10 first-base prospects for 2019, a group teeming with future sluggers, some on the cusp of the Major Leagues.

Our new list of the Top 10 second basemen has even more players nearly ready for the big leagues, as well as some familiar names, with Keston Hiura and Luis Urias headlining the five holdovers from last year's list.

Urias, Garrett Hampson and Brandon Lowe all reached the Majors in 2018, and they all seemed poised to make a greater impact in the upcoming season. They also account for half of the six total players on the list who are expected to arrive in the Majors in '19 -- a group that could grow even deeper should a few others surpass projections.

Top 10 Prospects by Position

Additionally, many second basemen who made our Top 10 list in previous years have gone on to have successful careers. Among MLB Pipeline's Top 10 lists for position players dating back to 2011, second basemen have been the third-most valuable group with 308.0 Wins Above Replacement, trailing only outfielders (496.7) and shortstops (569.5).

The Top 10 (ETA)
1. Keston Hiura, Brewers (2019)
2. Luis Urias, Padres (2019)
3. Nick Madrigal, White Sox (2020)
4. Vidal Brujan, Rays (2020)
5. Garrett Hampson, Rockies (2019)
6. Jeter Downs, Dodgers (2021)
7. Brandon Lowe, Rays (2019)
8. Cavan Biggio, Blue Jays (2019)
9. Jahmai Jones, Angels (2020)
10. Isan Diaz, Marlins (2019)
Complete list »

Top tools

Best Hitter: Hiura, Urias (70)
Hiura led NCAA Division I hitters with a .442 average as a UC Irvine junior and was widely considered by scouts as the top pure hitter in the 2017 Draft. After posting a .371 average in his pro debut, Hiura reached Double-A in his first full season, hitting .293 across two levels, and then raked in the Arizona Fall League en route to circuit MVP honors. Urias won the California League batting title (.330) and MVP award as a 19-year-old in 2016 and owns a .306 career average in 467 Minor League games.

Video: Top Prospects: Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers

Best Power: Hiura (60)
Hiura recorded 52 extra-base hits including 13 home runs in his first full season, and he's poised to tap into even more of his plus raw power as he gains experience and refines his approach. He projects to hit for power to all fields, too, thanks to a preternatural feel for barreling the baseball with a short, impactful right-handed swing that consistently produces loud contact.

Fastest Runner: Brujan (70)
Brujan's 112 runs scored and 55 steals were the first- and second-highest totals in the Minors, respectively, in 2018. That he hits for average, reaches base at a high clip and doesn't strike out much provides Brujan with ample opportunities to wreak havoc on pitchers and defenses with his wheels.

Video: Top Prospects: Vidals Brujan, 2B, Rays

Best Arm: Urias, Brujan, Downs (55)
The keystone doesn't require the type of arm strength needed for the left side of the infield, so it shouldn't be a surprise that no player on this list has a true plus arm. That said, Urias, Brujan and Downs all have seen time at shortstop in their respective careers because they have above-average arms.

Video: Top Prospects: Luis Urias, 2B, Padres

Best Defender: Madrigal, Hampson (60)
Madrigal could be deployed by the White Sox as a shortstop because he has the hands and actions for the position, but his average arm makes him a better long-term fit at second base, where he could be a Gold Glove Award winner. The same goes for the speedy, slick-fielding Hampson, who has seen time at both middle-infield spots.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox

Superlatives

Highest Ceiling: Hiura
Hiura's ability to hit for both average and power makes him one of the more exciting offensive prospects in the Minors, and with just one full season under his belt, he's only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. He's a future middle-of-the-lineup run producer and could be the best second baseman in baseball during his prime.

Highest Floor: Madrigal
The White Sox made Madrigal the No. 4 pick in last year's Draft because there's very little doubt that he'll be an everyday player in the Majors. In addition to his aforementioned defense, Madrigal also was one of the better hitters in his class, with an approach and contact skills that will have him hitting atop a lineup for years to come.

Rookie of the Year Candidate: Urias
Urias made his big league debut last August and showed he could do a little bit of everything over parts of 12 games before a hamstring injury prematurely ended his season. Assuming he makes the Opening Day roster, he could have an early advantage in the National League ROY race based on his ability to hit near the top of an order and make everyday contributions on both sides of the ball.

Highest Riser: Downs
Signed by the Reds for $1,822,500 after they selected him with the No. 32 overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Downs posted 13 homers and 37 steals in his first full pro season as a 19-year-old in the Class A Midwest League. That power-speed combo caught the attention of the Dodgers, and they acquired him in December as part of a package for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer.

Humblest Beginning: Urias
Urias was a 16-year-old playing in the Mexican League when the Padres purchased his rights for $100,000 from Mexico City in December 2013. He's quickly proved a bargain for the club, excelling as a younger player at every stop in his career en route to the Major Leagues. He's one of two players on the list who wasn't taken in a Draft.

Most to Prove: Jones
The Angels' second-round pick from 2015 reached Double-A as a 20-year-old last season, but, overall, he hit just .239 across two levels. A shift from the outfield to second base likely played a part in that, and he'll need to make further defensive improvements to remain at the position. Jones does, however, have at least average tools across the board, including plus speed, and he'll carry momentum from a solid Arizona Fall League campaign into 2019.

Keep An Eye On: Kevin Kramer, Pirates
A revamped swing and an emphasis on hitting the ball in the air enabled Kramer to tap into his power last season, as he connected on a career-high 15 home runs and finished second in the Triple-A International League in both average (.311) and doubles (35) before making his big league debut in September.

Video: PIT@CIN: Kramer lines an RBI single into right field

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Rays fill out Minor League coaching staff for '19

MLB.com @juanctoribio

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays announced their Minor League coaching-staff assignments for the 2019 season on Friday, with notable changes throughout the system.

After five seasons as the manager of Double-A Montgomery, Brady Williams becomes the manager of Triple-A Durham, replacing Jared Sandberg, who left the organization after the 2018 season for a spot on the Mariners' Major League staff.

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays announced their Minor League coaching-staff assignments for the 2019 season on Friday, with notable changes throughout the system.

After five seasons as the manager of Double-A Montgomery, Brady Williams becomes the manager of Triple-A Durham, replacing Jared Sandberg, who left the organization after the 2018 season for a spot on the Mariners' Major League staff.

Williams led Double-A Montgomery to 79 wins last season -- its most since 2007 -- and a fourth consecutive playoff berth. The former first baseman was selected by the Red Sox in the 1999 Draft and played five seasons in the Minor Leagues with the Red Sox, Twins and Rays.

Another addition to the Triple-A coaching staff is former outfielder Quinton McCracken, who joins the organization after one season as the Minor League outfield and baserunning coordinator for the Marlins. McCracken, 48, played in the Majors for 12 seasons, including three with the Rays. He was the club's second selection in the 1997 expansion draft, and hit leadoff in the team's inaugural game in 1998.

Morgan Ensberg, 43, was hired to replace Williams as the manager of Double-A Montgomery. Ensberg spent the previous two seasons managing in the Astros system, with Class A Buies Creek in the Carolina League in 2018, and with Class A Short-Season Tri-City in the New York-Penn League in 2017. Ensberg played eight MLB seasons with the Astros, Padres and Yankees. Most notably, the new Double-A manager was named the Astros' MVP in 2005, when the team won the National League pennant.

Other notable changes in the Minor League coaching staff include Jeff Smith being named manager for Class A Charlotte and Reinaldo Ruiz going back to Class A Bowling Green after one season at the helm in Charlotte. Craig Albernaz was named Minor League field coordinator, joining Michael Johns. Tomas Francisco was named the Minor League catching coordinator, replacing Paul Hoover, who is now on Kevin Cash's staff as the Major League field coordinator. Rafael Valenzuela, 31, will enter his first season managing at any level as the manager of the Gulf Coast League Rays.

There were also a couple of changes to the Major League staff. The Rays hired Jean Ramirez as bullpen catcher, replacing Mayo Acosta, and Josh Rodrigues was named replay administrator.

Here are all of the Rays' Minor League coaching-staff assignments for the 2019 season:

Triple-A Durham
Manager: Brady Williams
Pitching coach: Rick Knapp
Coach: Dan Dement
Coach: Quinton McCracken
Athletic trainer: Scott Thurston
Conditioning coach: Bryan King

Double-A Montgomery
Manager: Morgan Ensberg
Pitching coach: RC Lichtenstein
Coach: Jamie Nelson
Coach: Gary Redus
Athletic trainer: Kris Russell
Conditioning coach: Carlos Gonzalez

Class A Advanced Charlotte
Manager:
Jeff Smith
Pitching coach: Steve Watson
Coach: Joe Szekely
Coach: Ivan Ochoa
Athletic trainer: James Ramsdell
Conditioning coach: Sergio West

Class A Bowling Green
Manager:
Reinaldo Ruiz
Pitching coach: Brian Reith
Coach: Manny Castillo
Coach: Jeremy Owens
Athletic trainer: Brian Newman
Conditioning coach: James McCallie

Class A Hudson Valley
Manager:
Blake Butera
Pitching coach: Jose Gonzalez
Coach: Alejandro Freire
Coach: Sean Smedley
Athletic trainer: Tsutomu Kamiya
Conditioning coach: Dan Rousseau

Rookie-level Princeton
Manager:
Danny Sheaffer
Pitching coach: Jim Paduch
Coach: Wuarnner Rincones
Coach: German Melendez
Athletic trainer: Ruben Santiago

Gulf Coast League Rays
Manager:
Rafael Valenzuela
Pitching coach: Alberto Bastardo
Pitching coach: Marty DeMerritt
Coach: Brady North
Coach: Jim Morrison
Athletic trainer: Peter Walukiewicz
Athletic trainer: Shinichiro Fukuda
Conditioning coach: Paul Jones

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays

Inbox: Are Rays still in mix for Realmuto?

Beat reporter Juan Toribio answers questions from fans
MLB.com @juanctoribio

Are the Rays still in the mix for J.T. Realmuto and/or Jose Martinez?
-- @theicchamp11 via Twitter

Even with the acquisition of outfielder Avisail Garcia, the Rays will continue to look for ways to improve, and that includes going after Realmuto, Martinez and others. The Marlins have been consistent with their asking price, and it remains to be seen whether any club will meet their demands. Tampa Bay can check off every box on Miami's asking price, which includes a young Major League player and a variety of top prospects. Realmuto is one of the best catchers -- if not the best -- in baseball and the Rays will look to acquire someone of that caliber if the offer fits their plans.

Are the Rays still in the mix for J.T. Realmuto and/or Jose Martinez?
-- @theicchamp11 via Twitter

Even with the acquisition of outfielder Avisail Garcia, the Rays will continue to look for ways to improve, and that includes going after Realmuto, Martinez and others. The Marlins have been consistent with their asking price, and it remains to be seen whether any club will meet their demands. Tampa Bay can check off every box on Miami's asking price, which includes a young Major League player and a variety of top prospects. Realmuto is one of the best catchers -- if not the best -- in baseball and the Rays will look to acquire someone of that caliber if the offer fits their plans.

:: Submit a question to the Rays Inbox ::

It's also worth noting that Realmuto only has two more years of control, which could play a factor in Tampa Bay's pursuit. The Rays believe they can compete in 2019 and '20, but they also don't want to trade away too many of their younger players, as their goal is to have sustained success with its young nucleus.

As for Martinez, it still remains to be seen whether St. Louis is willing to trade him. With the addition of Paul Goldschmidt, it appeared that the Cardinals were going to begin shopping Martinez, but nothing has come to fruition over the past couple of months. Martinez is under control for four more seasons, so the Cards aren't forced to make any quick decision on him.

Any chance the Rays bring back Sergio Romo? He was a great clubhouse guy and would help the bullpen.
-- @KyleSmelter via Twitter

There's always a chance, especially with how slow the reliever market has been moving along, but odds are that Romo will be playing elsewhere in 2019. Romo served as the team's primary closer over the last couple of months of the season, finishing with 25 saves, but he saw a reduced role in September as the Rays continued to evaluate some of their young pitchers.

The 35-year-old had a very good impact in the clubhouse, especially with the young relievers, but it might be in the best interest of Romo and Tampa Bay to go their separate ways.

Video: Top Prospects: Brandon Lowe, 2B, Rays

If the Rays do trade from their prospect depth for a middle-of-the-lineup bat, who would you say is the odd man out on the current roster?
-- @m_nantai via Twitter

If the Rays were to add another impact bat via trade, it would likely cost them a player or two from their current 40-man roster, plus prospects, depending on the player.

The decision of who the odd man out would be depends on who the player is and what position he is expected to play. If it's another outfielder, there's a chance that Guillermo Heredia, who still has options, starts off the season in Triple-A Durham. The same goes for Brandon Lowe, despite his ability to play second base.

If the move was for an infielder, then the decision becomes even tougher for the Rays. Tampa Bay has a lot of depth in the infield, and every player is deserving of playing in the big leagues. At the end of the day, if the Rays were to make any more additions to its roster, it'll likely be paired with another really tough roster decision. But that's a good problem to have.

What young players do you think will break out and make a name for themselves this spring, even if they don't break camp with the MLB team?
-- @z_awkwardturtle via Twitter

The Rays' farm system continues to be absolutely stacked, and there's going to be a lot of attention in the back fields when Spring Training gets going in less than a month. It's hard to pick breakout names because the Tampa Bay's Minor League Pipeline is so highly regarded, but some of the names that I will keep my eye on this spring include: outfielder Jesus Sanchez, catcher Ronaldo Hernandez, infielder Vidal Brujan, outfielder Joe McCarthy, infielder Lucius Fox, outfielder Tanner Dodson and pitchers Shane McClanahan, Brendan McKay and Curtis Taylor.

None of these players will break the 25-man roster out of camp, and there's a chance we won't see any of them until 2020, but the potential they offer is something to watch.

Hernandez projects as the catcher of the future after hitting 21 home runs in 2018. Sanchez and McCarthy were added to the 40-man roster this offseason and could make an appearance with the big league club if all goes right in the Minor Leagues, while Brujan and Fox are dynamic athletes who provide a lot of excitement.

Dodson and Taylor aren't as highly rated as the other players on the list, but Dodson, who was drafted with the 71st pick in 2018, has the potential to be another two-way player for the Rays. Taylor, who finished with a 2.37 ERA with Double-A Montgomery last season, was used as an opener four times and could be another option for the club in that role.

Video: SEA@TB: Arroyo laces a single to left, scores Smith

I was excited about the profile of Christian Arroyo when we acquired him. I understand he has had trouble staying on the field, but I hear little talk about his future. Is he still in the team's plans or has his star faded?
-- @brucecarr53 via Twitter

Yes. Arroyo is still in the team's plans, but the Rays have a couple players that are a bit more big league ready right now. The infield remains a logjam, even without considering Arroyo, and the 23-year-old still has something to prove in the Minor Leagues after suffering a plethora of injuries over the past few seasons.

The talent itself isn't in question when it comes to Arroyo, but he has dealt with multiple surgeries on his left hand, an oblique injury and even suffered a concussion while playing with Triple-A Durham last season.

Tampa Bay has a lot of options in the infield, so there's a strong chance that Arroyo begins the season in Durham, with the chance to contribute at the big league level as the season goes on.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays

Lowe, McKay among best 1B prospects

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

First basemen don't usually draw a lot of acclaim as prospects, in large part because they tend to be less well-rounded players than those at other positions. When MLB Pipeline releases its new Top 100 next week, Minor League home run leader Peter Alonso will be the only first baseman who's not a two-way performer on the list.

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

First basemen don't usually draw a lot of acclaim as prospects, in large part because they tend to be less well-rounded players than those at other positions. When MLB Pipeline releases its new Top 100 next week, Minor League home run leader Peter Alonso will be the only first baseman who's not a two-way performer on the list.

However, there has been a resurgence in first-base prospects in the last couple of years. The 2017 Draft featured five first basemen in the top 35 picks, and four of them -- Brendan McKay (Rays), Nick Pratto (Royals), Evan White (Mariners) and Brent Rooker (Twins) -- rank among the 10 best in the Minors at this moment.

Last June, Triston Casas (Red Sox) and Grant Lavigne (Rockies) went before the second round and quickly claimed spots on our first base Top 10. Another Rockies farmhand, Tyler Nevin, boosted his stock by leading the Arizona Fall League in all three slash categories (.426/.535/.593).

Top 10 Prospects by Position

While first base may not be loaded with five-tool prospects, the position possesses more depth than it typically does.

The Top 10 (ETA)
1. Peter Alonso, Mets (2019)
2. Evan White, Mariners (2020)
3. Nathaniel Lowe, Rays (2019)
4. Brendan McKay, Rays (2020)
5. Brent Rooker, Twins (2019)
6. Nick Pratto, Royals (2021)
7. Triston Casas, Red Sox (2022)
8. Grant Lavigne, Rockies (2022)
9. Tyler Nevin, Rockies (2020)
10. Matt Thaiss, Angels (2019)
Complete list »

Top Tools

Best Hitter: White, Lowe, McKay, Pratto, Lavigne, Nevin, Thaiss (55)
Lowe always had good plate discipline, but he broke out in 2018 by driving more balls in the air and tightening his strike zone further. He batted .330 and ranked fifth in the Minors with a .985 OPS. Nevin opened eyes in the AFL with his pure hitting ability and mastery of the strike zone, while organization mate Lavigne did the same in his pro debut by batting .350 and topping the Rookie-level Pioneer League with a .477 on-base percentage.

Video: Top Prospects: Tyler Nevin, 1B, Rockies

Best Power: Alonso, Rooker, Casas (60)
Alonso led the Minors with 36 homers during the regular season and the Arizona Fall League with six more, not including a shot off a 103-mph Nate Pearson fastball during the Fall Stars Game. His bat speed and strength produce tremendous exit velocities and translate his impressive raw power into game production.

Video: Top Prospects: Peter Alonso, 1B, Mets

Fastest Runner: White (60)
White has a highly unusual profile for a first baseman, as he bats right-handed and throws lefty, his hitting ability stands out more than his power and he's as athletic as it gets at the position. He's a plus runner, though his quickness is more apparent in the field than on the bases.

Video: Top Prospects: Evan White, 1B, Mariners

Best Arm: McKay, Pratto, Casas (60)
Both McKay and Casas had low-90s fastballs when they pitched as amateurs, and McKay continues to deal that kind of heat as he tries to make it as a two-way player. Pratto also was a two-way star as an amateur, throwing in the upper 80s and helping the U.S. national 18-and-under team win a pair of gold medals at international events.

Video: Top Prospects: Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox

Best Defender: White (70)
White's defense gets the same rave reviews that Cody Bellinger's did when the Dodgers slugger was rising through the Minors. It's easy to envision him winning Gold Gloves in the big leagues, but he also has the quickness and solid arm strength to fit anywhere in the outfield if needed.

Superlatives

Highest Ceiling: Pratto
Pratto has the best chance to be a plus hitter for both average and power, and he also has Gold Glove potential at first base. After a slow start in his first full pro season, he batted .322/.394/.518 in the second half in the low Class A South Atlantic League and helped Lexington win the championship.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Pratto, 1B, Royals

Highest Floor: White
White is a safe bet to hit thanks to his advanced approach and ability to barrel the ball, and he's beginning to unlock the power potential in his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame. He's also an outstanding defender and has the versatility to play all three outfield spots.

Rookie of the Year Candidate: Alonso
The Mets have crowded their infield by trading for Robinson Cano and J.D. Davis and signing Jed Lowrie, and they have plenty of candidates to play first base. None of them can match Alonso's power, however, and he has little to prove in the Minors except for upgrading his defense.

Highest Riser: Lowe
Lowe hit just seven homers in his first full pro season and ranked 13th on MLB Pipeline's Rays Top 30 Prospects list a year ago. After making adjustments to his swing, he slammed 27 homers during his coming-out party in 2018 and should push for a big league role with Tampa Bay, which lacks a surefire starter at first base or DH.

Video: Top Prospects: Nate Lowe, 1B, Rays

Humblest Beginning: Lowe
When the Rays signed Lowe for $100,000 as a 13th-rounder out of Mississippi State in 2016, it was seen as a favor to his younger brother Josh, whom they selected 13th overall in the first round of the same Draft. Two years later, Nathaniel had surpassed him as a prospect.

Most To Prove: McKay
Trying to make it as both a hitter and a pitcher is a difficult task. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 Draft, McKay lived up to his reputation as being more advanced on the mound by logging a 2.41 ERA with a 103/14 K/BB ratio in 78 1/3 innings on the mound in his first full pro season. He batted just .214/.368/.359, however, and he'll have to up his production if he wants to continue pulling double duty.

Video: Top Prospects: Brendan McKay, LHP/1B, Rays

Keep An Eye On: Luken Baker, Cardinals
Another two-way star, Baker could have gone in the top two rounds of the 2015 Draft as a pitcher out of high school if he hadn't been set on attending Texas Christian. He gave up pitching after his freshman season but has tremendous strength and leverage in his 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame, giving him huge power upside that led the Cardinals to draft him in the second round last June.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

30 best defensive prospects -- 1 for each team

MLB.com

MLB Pipeline recently unveiled its annual All-Defense Team, but there were only so many spots to fill. It made us realize there were so many outstanding defenders across all 30 organizations.

Evaluating defense is still very much subjective, with metrics measuring fielding still imperfect. Still, each system has glovework that stands out more than others, and we considered many to present one best defender from each organization.

MLB Pipeline recently unveiled its annual All-Defense Team, but there were only so many spots to fill. It made us realize there were so many outstanding defenders across all 30 organizations.

Evaluating defense is still very much subjective, with metrics measuring fielding still imperfect. Still, each system has glovework that stands out more than others, and we considered many to present one best defender from each organization.

American League East

Orioles: Cadyn Grenier, SS, No. 9
Grenier's stellar glovework at shortstop was key in helping Oregon State win the 2018 College World Series, and in the process, he established himself as one of the best defensive prospects in the Draft before going to the Orioles as the No. 37 overall pick. With good hands, plus arm strength and plenty of range, Grenier has all the ingredients needed to stick at the position long term.

Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec, 3B, No. 6
Dalbec has always possessed a strong arm and has worked hard to improve his agility and range at third base, with several Red Sox officials rating him as a plus defender and scouts outside the organization grading him more as solid. He also owns prodigious raw power and ranked second in the Minors in extra-base hits (70) and RBIs (109) last year, and fourth in homers (32).

Yankees: Estevan Florial, OF, No. 1 (MLB No. 45)
Florial has some of the best all-around tools in the Minors, with well-above-average raw power, speed and arm strength. He continues to improve as a center fielder, projecting as a plus defender, and has an exceptionally strong arm for the position.

Rays: Lucius Fox, SS, No. 9
While there's no shortage of standout defenders in the highly athletic Rays system, Fox, a top-flight athlete with plus-plus speed, could be the best. He's played shortstop exclusively as a pro and committed 15 errors in 105 games last season while reaching Double-A at age 21. His athleticism makes him an electrifying defender, and he has the requisite physical tools to remain at the position for the long haul.

Video: EAST@WEST: Fox showcases range, slick glove in 3rd

Blue Jays: Kevin Vicuna, SS, unranked
The Blue Jays felt so good about Vicuna's defense in 2017 that they had the then-19-year-old handle shortstop duties for Class A Advanced Dunedin from April 23-June 1, even though Vicuna previously had never played above the Rookie Gulf Coast League. He's an athletic and, at times, flashy defender, with quick, twitchy hands that help him absorb anything hit his way and a quick release that causes his average arm strength to play up across the infield.

AL Central

White Sox: Nick Madrigal, 2B, No. 5 (MLB No. 49)
The White Sox may try Madrigal at shortstop, because he has the hands and actions to thrive there, but his average arm makes him a better fit at second base. With his quickness and instincts, he could be a Gold Glove Award winner at the keystone, and he also rated as the best pure hitter in the 2018 Draft, where he went No. 4 overall.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox

Indians: Eric Haase, C, No. 27
Haase reached the Majors for the first time late last season, seven years after the Indians took him in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft. Though he's blossomed on both sides of the ball during the past two seasons, it's been Haase's defensive gains that have helped him climb the Tribe's depth chart. After throwing out 37 percent of attempted basestealers in 2017, Haase improved that mark to nearly 49 percent in '18 (33 of 68).

Tigers: Jake Rogers, C, No. 12
The Tigers got Rogers as part of the Justin Verlander deal, and in Rogers' first full season with the organization, he cemented himself as the game's best defensive catching prospect, earning a spot on MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team for the second year in a row. He threw out 55.6 percent of potential basestealers in 2018, upping his career rate to 48.5 percent.

Royals: Sebastian Rivero, C, unranked
M.J. Melendez is very athletic for a catcher and has a chance to become a plus defender with an arm to match. Yet South Atlantic League managers rated Rivero, his teammate at Lexington last summer, the low Class A circuit's best defensive backstop in a Baseball America survey last year. The Royals liken Rivero to a young Salvador Perez, and in addition to his physical ability, Rivero also draws raves for his leadership skills, intelligence and work ethic.

Twins: Gilberto Celestino, OF, No. 14
Signed by the Astros for $2.5 million in 2015, Celestino made his United States debut in '17, then got dealt to the Twins in the Ryan Pressly trade last season. He's drawn comparisons to Albert Almora Jr. for his instincts in center, and coaches in Elizabethton feel he's one of the best defenders they've ever seen.

AL West

Astros: Myles Straw, OF, No. 15
Straw has double-plus speed that gives him tremendous range in center field, where his plus arm also stands out at a position not noted for strong throwers. That quickness also plays well on the bases (he topped the Minors with 70 steals in only 79 attempts in 2018) and allows him to beat out hits (he led the Minors with a .358 batting average in '16).

Angels: Jordyn Adams, OF, No. 6
The Angels signed Adams away from playing football and baseball at North Carolina, and he immediately put his tools on display during his pro debut and during instructs. He's still raw, but the Angels feel he has elite range and the highest ceiling as a defender in the organization.

A's: Nick Allen, SS, No. 15
Allen was viewed by many scouts as perhaps the best defensive prospect available in the 2017 Draft, and he's done nothing to diminish that reputation after signing for more than double slot value as the A's third-round pick. There is no doubt among scouts that Allen can stick at shortstop. He's already a plus defender there, with outstanding range that leads to many highlight-reel plays and plus arm strength that allows him to make throws from all over the diamond.

Mariners: Evan White, 1B, No. 5
It's not often a first baseman is mentioned as one of the premier defensive players in the Minors, but that's the reality with White, who recently was named to the All-Defense Team. All signs point to him becoming a Gold Glove Award winner at the position, as he's athletic with outstanding footwork, a strong arm and plus range. His ability to pick throws is elite, and he makes every infielder on his team better as a result.

Video: Top Prospects: Evan White, 1B, Mariners

Rangers: Jose Trevino, C, No. 28
Trevino won Rawlings Minor League Gold Gloves in both 2016 and '17, before surgery on his non-throwing shoulder last July squashed any chances of a three-peat. He's an outstanding receiver and blocker, gets the most out of his strong arm with a quick release and accurate throws and also earns high marks for his ability to run a pitching staff.

National League East

Braves: Cristian Pache, OF, No. 6  (MLB No. 68)
Pache is generally considered to be the best defender in the Minor Leagues, leading our All-Defense Prospect Team. He has the speed and instincts to be a Gold Glove center fielder to go along with a right fielder's arm.

Video: Mayo looks at MLB Pipeline's 2019 All-Defense Team

Marlins: Jose Devers, SS/2B, No. 13
The cousin of Red Sox third basemen Rafael Devers, Jose was acquired by the Marlins last offseason in the blockbuster trade that sent Giancarlo Stanton to the Bronx. While he doesn't have his cousin's offensive profile, Devers is a far superior defender, with the soft hands, slick footwork and strong arm needed to be a big league shortstop. He showcased his defensive prowess last season, committing only seven errors and posting a .971 fielding percentage as an 18-year-old in full-season ball.

Mets: Andres Gimenez, SS, No. 1 (MLB No. 55)
The shortstop on our All-Defense Team, Gimenez reached Double-A in 2018 as a teenager. While he needs to add strength offensively, he has everything he needs to play shortstop defensively in the big leagues. He has plus hands, range and the internal clock to allow him to slow the game down.

Phillies: Luis Garcia, SS, No. 14
Signed for $2.5 million in July 2017, Garcia had a tremendous debut in the Gulf Coast League in '18 on both sides of the ball. He has a strong arm to go along with terrific hands and feet, and speed that gives him excellent range to stay at shortstop long term. He's only going to get better as he matures.

Nationals: Victor Robles, OF, No. 1 (MLB No. 4)
Revered as one of the top defenders in the Minor Leagues and a member of MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team, Robles has game-changing abilities in center field. His near top-of-the-scale speed gives him range for days in center field, and he's made strides in improving both his reads and routes in the past two years. His plus-plus arm is among the strongest in the Minors, and he totaled 29 outfield assists from 2016-17 before an injury-plagued campaign in '18.

Video: Top Prospects: Victor Robles, OF, Nationals

NL Central

Cubs: Miguel Amaya, C, No. 1 (MLB No. 87)
Amaya's defensive ability and makeup led the Cubs to sign him for $1.25 million out of Panama in 2015, and he continues to impress even though he has been pushed aggressively in the Minors. His aptitude to frame and block pitches is advanced for a teenager, and his arm strength has improved to at least solid and plays up because of his quick transfer and accuracy.

Reds: Mike Siani, OF, No. 9
The Reds' fourth-round pick got first-round money to sign because of his all-around tools. But his defensive skills have long stood out, and he might have been the best defensive outfielder in the 2018 Draft class, with the ability to cover a ton of ground in center and an arm that allowed him to throw low-90s fastballs from the mound in high school.

Brewers: Payton Henry, C, No. 11
A sixth-round pick in 2016 who signed for nearly twice his slot value, Henry threw out nearly 44 percent (46 of 105) of attempted basestealers and had only six passed balls in his first full season. A quick release and a strong, accurate arm help Henry to combat the running game, and evaluators have been impressed with how he's developed a receiving style that utilizes his big, athletic frame. Henry is also praised for his energy and leadership skills.

Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, No. 2 (MLB No. 48)
Hayes was the third baseman on our All-Defense Team, and for good reason. He entered pro ball as one of the better defenders at the hot corner, but he's gotten even better as he's committed himself to his conditioning, adding to his agility and range to make him the best in the Minors at the position.

Cardinals: Delvin Perez, SS, No. 28
The Cardinals' first-round pick in 2016 has had trouble finding any traction offensively, but there are no concerns about his defensive chops. He gets plus grades on his arm and his overall fielding, thanks to a plus arm when he needs it, above-average hands and plus speed that helps him cover a lot of ground.

NL West

D-backs: Geraldo Perdomo, SS, No. 21
Perdomo's United States debut in 2018 was solid all-around, and he even earned a promotion from the Arizona Rookie League to the Pioneer League in the process. Tall and rangy, the teenager has shown the tools to stay at shortstop long term with outstanding range, actions and hands to go with a strong arm.

Rockies: Yonathan Daza, OF, No. 18
Thanks to his plus speed and fine instincts, Daza covers a lot of ground in center field, and he possesses a plus-plus arm that stands out at his position. He's also a career .310 hitter who won the Class A Advanced California League batting title in 2017 with a .341 mark.

Dodgers: Will Smith, C, No. 5
An outstanding athlete for a catcher, Smith has already shown that he's capable of playing third base and filling in at second. He has very soft hands and impressive agility, making him a fine receiver and framer, and he has a solid arm that plays better than that because of his fast footwork.

Padres: Buddy Reed, OF, No. 13
A member of MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team, Reed's 70-grade speed and long, gliding strides allow him to cover huge swaths of territory in center field -- and he showcased that with his catch in last year's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. Reed also has a strong arm and recorded 12 outfield assists in 2018, surpassing his combined total from his first two seasons.

Video: WLD@USA: Reed wired up, makes great grab at the wall

Giants: Joey Bart, C, No. 1 (MLB No. 23)
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Bart draws more attention with his bat, but his work behind the plate is impressive as well. He has improved markedly since high school, when scouts wondered if he could stay at catcher, enhancing his agility and receiving and improving the accuracy of his strong arm.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Around the Horn: Rays' bullpen to start it up

Club sticking with 'Opener' after successful first season
MLB.com @juanctoribio

With Spring Training approaching, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Rays, breaking the team down position-by-position. In this installment, we are focusing on the bullpen.

Most of the talk around the Rays last season was about the "Opener" and the way the club utilized its bullpen. As Tampa Bay moves into the 2019 season, the club has made it clear that it will continue to use the same strategy.

With Spring Training approaching, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Rays, breaking the team down position-by-position. In this installment, we are focusing on the bullpen.

Most of the talk around the Rays last season was about the "Opener" and the way the club utilized its bullpen. As Tampa Bay moves into the 2019 season, the club has made it clear that it will continue to use the same strategy.

"Oh, we're going to do it," manager Kevin Cash said during the Winter Meetings in December. "I'm very confident that we're going to be doing it definitely twice and potentially three times through the rotation to start the season."

The way the Rays used their bullpen in 2018 caused a lot of chatter throughout baseball. Some teams said the strategy wasn't in their best interest, while others supported it and even embraced it as the season moved along.

For Tampa Bay, it was certainly a move that helped the team finish with 90 wins last season.

Before Sergio Romo was tabbed as the team's starting pitcher on May 19 against the Angels, the Rays ranked 22nd in the Majors in ERA. Once the team introduced its new strategy, the club finished with the third-lowest ERA in baseball, behind just the Dodgers and the Astros.

The Rays have some questions heading into the 2019 season, but having enough talented arms is certainly not one of them.

Video: NYY@TB: Stanek K's Judge swinging in the 1st

Opener candidates: Diego Castillo, Emilio Pagan, Ryne Stanek, Hunter Wood
For the most part, the Rays have preferred to use a hard thrower as their opener. Romo was the first to do it, mostly because of his experience and willingness to try something new. But once Tampa Bay rolled out the experiment a couple of times, it began to lean more on Stanek, Wood and Castillo.

Stanek, whose four-seam fastball often reaches triple digits, started 29 games and quickly became Cash's primary option to open games. The 27-year-old reliever embraced the role and had a lot of success in it, finishing with a 2.22 ERA in the first inning.

Video: SF@SD: Castillo strikes out the side in the 7th

Castillo had mixed results in his 11 starts last season. The 24-year-old could have the best stuff out of this group, but he seemed to struggle with opening games in his first few attempts. He'll get every opportunity to flash his sinker, which tops at around 100 mph.

Wood -- who displayed a strong fastball, slider and curveball combination -- also excelled in the first inning, finishing with a 1.12 ERA in his eight starts last season.

Video: TB@NYY: Wood K's Gardner swinging in the 1st inning

As for Pagan, he was acquired in a three-team deal with the A's and the Rangers in December, and he has never been used as an opener. Pagan had an impressive rookie season with the A's, finishing the season with a 3.28 FIP in 2017. However, the right-hander struggled with walks last season (from eight in 2017 to 19 in '18), which saw his FIP increase to 4.92.

Late-game options: Jose Alvarado, Chaz Roe
The Rays will be losing Romo and his 25 saves, but unless the team adds a veteran reliever to the back end of the bullpen, it will likely be Alvarado and Roe closing games to begin the season.

"We always like some experience to help the group along and provide some calmness in tough situations," Rays vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. "But at the same time, sometimes the best man for the job might be someone that's less experienced, and we want to make sure that we give every chance to our young guys to step up and step into big roles."

Video: NYY@TB: Alvarado strikes out Judge, the side in 7th

Alvarado is one of those young players, and he could be one of the best young relievers in baseball. While Alvarado didn't get many chances to close games last season, he showed glimpses of having the necessary mindset to be a closer. The hard-throwing left-hander finished second on the team with eight saves. He finished the season with a 2.39 ERA and had success against hitters from both sides of the plate. Thanks to a vastly improved cutter, Alvarado fared better against right-handed hitters, who ended the year with a .167 batting average, while lefties finished with a .215 average.

Roe, who has one of the best sliders in baseball, could also be an option for Cash and Tampa Bay in late-game situations. The 32-year-old right-hander finished the 2018 season with a 3.58 ERA and set career highs in innings pitched (50 1/3) and strikeouts (53) despite missing time with a left knee injury.

Video: TB@CLE: Roe induces fly out, strands runner on third

Depth: Oliver Drake, Ian Gibaut, Adam Kolarek, Colin Poche, Ryan Merritt, Hoby Milner, Andrew Kittredge
Out of this list, the two names that stand out are prospects Poche and Gibaut. Poche is the No. 24 prospect in the Rays' organization, according to MLB Pipeline, while Gibaut comes in at No. 29.

Poche, who was acquired from the D-backs as the player to be named in the Steven Souza Jr. deal, was one of the most dominant pitchers in the Minors last season. The left-handed reliever ended the season with a 0.82 ERA and struck out a staggering 110 batters in just 66 innings between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Tampa Bay loves his strikeout ability, and while he's not on the 40-man roster, there's a strong chance that Poche will be pitching at Tropicana Field at some point in 2019.

Kolarek served as a quality left-handed option for the Rays last season, and he will likely be in that role heading into this season. He finished with a 2.58 FIP in 34 1/3 innings last season, but most important, he limited left-handed hitters to a .208/.222/.302 slash line.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays, Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Emilio Pagan, Chaz Roe, Ryne Stanek, Hunter Wood

Hernandez among MLB's Top 10 C prospects

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

There's a good amount of turnover on this year's Top 10 Catching Prospects list compared to the 2018 version. That starts at the top, with a member of the 2018 Draft Class, Joey Bart, leading the way.

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

There's a good amount of turnover on this year's Top 10 Catching Prospects list compared to the 2018 version. That starts at the top, with a member of the 2018 Draft Class, Joey Bart, leading the way.

Video: Top Prospects: Joey Bart, C, Giants

Francisco Mejia, now with the Padres, continues to be a mainstay, sitting in the top two for the third straight season. Keibert Ruiz of the Dodgers, the A's Sean Murphy and Danny Jansen from the Blue Jays are the other holdovers from last year's Top 10. Graduation caused some serious turnover, with Carson Kelly, now with the D-backs, Jorge Alfaro (Phillies), Chance Sisco (Orioles) and Victor Caratini (Cubs) all moving on to larger big league contributions.

Top 10 Prospects by Position

The Top 10 (ETA)
1. Joey Bart, Giants (2021)
2. Francisco Mejia, Padres (2019)
3. Keibert Ruiz, Dodgers (2020)
4. Sean Murphy, A's (2019)
5. Danny Jansen, Blue Jays (2019)
6. Ronaldo Hernandez, Rays (2021)
7. Miguel Amaya, Cubs (2021)
8. Daulton Varsho, D-backs (2020)
9. MJ Melendez, Royals (2021)
10. Andrew Knizner, Cardinals (2019)
Complete list »

Top tools

Hit: Mejia (60)
Mejia has hit at pretty much every stop in the Minors, starting with his 50-game hitting streak and .342 average in 2016. Following his trade to the Padres last year in the Brad Hand deal, he showed what the fuss was about by hitting .328 with Triple-A El Paso en route to making his San Diego debut. His ability to swing the bat from both sides of the plate is well ahead of his defense behind it.

Video: Top Prospects: Francisco Mejia, C, Padres

Power: Bart (60)
The No. 2 overall pick in last June's Draft, Bart not only has a strong college power resume, with double-digit home runs as a sophomore and a junior, but he showed that it would translate immediately in the pro game when he hit 13 home runs in just 45 Northwest League games during his pro debut. He has the potential to hit at least 25 homers annually.

Run: Varsho (55)
There are some who feel Varsho is athletic enough to play second base if catching doesn't work out, and he certainly did nothing to dampen that evaluation during his first full year. Varsho stole 19 bases in 22 tries in just 80 California League games. He then went on to swipe eight more during his Arizona Fall League stint.

Video: Top Prospects: Daulton Varsho, C, D-backs

Arm: Mejia, Murphy (70)
Mejia has thrown out 33 percent of potential basestealers in his Minor League career. Last year, that was down to 28.9 percent, though he also spent less time behind the plate compared to other seasons. Murphy threw out 34.3 percent in 2018, which actually brought his career percentage down to 35.5 percent.

Video: Top Prospects: Sean Murphy, C, Athletics

Field: Murphy (65)
Murphy would be the runner-up on the All-Defense Prospect Team thanks to his all-around work behind the plate. In addition to his arm detailed above, he's agile with excellent blocking, receiving and game-calling skills. He gets very high marks for his ability to work with a pitching staff.

Superlatives

Ceiling: Melendez
The 2017 second-round pick showed off all of his skills during his first full season. He finished fifth in the South Atlantic League in home runs and slugging percentage, and he should tap into his raw power even more as he refines his approach. Behind the plate, Melendez used his plus arm to throw out nearly 42 percent of those trying to steal last season.

Video: Top Prospects: M.J. Melendez, C, Royals

Floor: Ruiz
Murphy could be a candidate if you wanted to focus solely on defense -- his glove will make him a big leaguer. But Ruiz's bat, with the ability to hit for average and power, provides a little more certainty that he'll be a big league regular at the position.

Video: Top Prospects: Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers

Rookie of the Year candidate: Jansen
There are several on this list ready to contribute in 2019, but Jansen appears to be the only one heading into the season as the No. 1 backstop on the depth chart. He had a solid big league debut in August and September last year to build a foundation for his first full year in the big leagues.

Video: Top Prospects: Danny Jansen, C, Blue Jays

Highest riser: Hernandez
Hernandez began 2018 as the Rays' No. 20 prospect, but was up to No. 7 by the end of the season. Now he's jumping onto this Top 10 list for the first time after a year that saw him hit 21 home runs in his full-season debut while throwing out 36 percent of runners trying to steal.

Video: Top Prospects: Ronaldo Hernandez, C, Rays

Humblest beginnings: Knizner
The Cardinals have a knack for finding late-round talent and it looks like they've done it again with Knizner, a seventh-round pick in 2016. The North Carolina State product was a third baseman until he began his catching career as a sophomore and now he's ready to be a big leaguer, thanks to a .310/.373/.460 line and a 36.2 percent caught stealing rate.

Video: Top Prospects: Andrew Knizner, C, Cardinals

Most to prove: Mejia
Yes, Mejia has hit pretty much everywhere he's been in the Minors, but he has a .583 OPS in 76 big league plate appearances, a small sample size for sure. That, combined with questions about his ability to catch full-time and showing he was worth trading for, makes the spotlight a little brighter on him in 2019.

Keep an eye on: William Contreras, Braves
The younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, William had a very strong first taste of full-season ball, earning a promotion to the Class A Advanced Florida State League at age 20. He has a solid approach at the plate with some pop (11 homers in 2018) in addition to a strong arm and solid receiving skills behind it.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Around the Horn: Rotation has options for '19

MLB.com @juanctoribio

With Spring Training approaching, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Rays, breaking the team down position-by-position. In this installment, we are focusing on the starting rotation.

There is no question who will take the mound when the Rays open the 2019 campaign at home against the Houston Astros on March 28. Blake Snell won the American League Cy Young Award in 2018 and established himself as one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues.

With Spring Training approaching, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Rays, breaking the team down position-by-position. In this installment, we are focusing on the starting rotation.

There is no question who will take the mound when the Rays open the 2019 campaign at home against the Houston Astros on March 28. Blake Snell won the American League Cy Young Award in 2018 and established himself as one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues.

The ace
Most of the responsibility will fall on Snell in 2019, but the 26-year-old left-hander has showed no signs of slowing down. In fact, he expects to get even better.

Just moments after winning the Cy Young Award, Snell jumped on a conference call with reporters and immediately said that his focus was on improving in 2019. Initially, it's difficult to see how a pitcher can do much better than what Snell was able to accomplish in his breakout campaign, but Snell, who has proven to be detail-oriented, believes that he can improve on his numbers, especially by cutting down the amount of walks.

The one knock on Snell's Cy Young resume was that he pitched just 180 2/3 innings last season. One of his goals is to reach the 200-inning mark, in part, by limiting the walks and keeping his pitch count low. Snell had a career-high 64 walks in 2018, but faced 153 more batters than he did in '17.

Video: Snell discusses his confidence going forward to 2019

Set starters: Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow
While Snell is the unquestioned leader of the staff, he'll have more help behind him in the rotation in 2019.

Glasnow, who was acquired from Pittsburgh on July 31 in the deal that sent Chris Archer to the Pirates, showed flashes of why he was one of the top prospects in baseball and has a rotation spot locked up. His fastball-curveball combination is lethal and his slider proved to be a big weapon, as opposing batters hit just .037 off the pitch in 2018. He did, however, struggle giving up the long ball, as the 25-year-old right-hander gave up 10 home runs over the last two months of the season.

Morton, on the other hand, was a big free-agent acquisition for the Rays. The 35-year-old signed a two-year, $30 million dollar deal in December and the team expects him to be the No. 2 starter. Morton will provide some veteran leadership for a young staff that has aspirations of pitching in October.

Video: Morton on offseason shoulder rehab

The "bulk" guys: Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos, Jake Faria, Wilmer Font, Ryan Yarbrough
The Rays have multiple options for building their rotation and bullpen heading into 2019. If Beeks, Chirinos, Faria, Font or Yarbrough have a strong spring, the Rays could elect to head into the season with a four-man rotation, which is similar to what they had planned for last season with Archer, Nathan Eovaldi, Snell and Faria.

Font, who was acquired from the Athletics on May 25, pitched well with the Rays and was on his way to earning a spot in the rotation before a lat strain ended his season on June 29. In five starts, Font gave up just four runs in 21 innings, including giving up just one run in 10 innings pitched against the Yankees. Chirinos and Faria also got starting opportunities in 2018, but both struggled to find consistency and were sidelined by injuries. Chirinos opened his career by tossing 14 1/3 scoreless innings, while Faria never got going, but the Rays are hoping he's a bounce-back candidate in 2019.

Video: NYY@TB: Font allows 3 hits, earns 1st career win

Yarbrough led all rookies with 16 wins, mostly following an opener, and despite allowing a 26.9 hard-hit percentage, he finished with a respectable 4.19 FIP in 2018. Beeks struggled in his last few outings, finishing with a 5.51 ERA.

Depth: Jose De Leon, Brent Honeywell, Andrew Moore, Austin Pruitt
Most of the depth comes from the guys listed above, but the Rays could have a couple more options as the season progresses. Both De Leon and Honeywell are recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the club expects them to contribute at some point in 2019. Both are highly regarded prospects, with Honeywell ranked as the Rays' top pitching prospect and No. 3 overall, according to MLB Pipeline.

Moore, who was acquired in the deal that sent Alex Colome and Denard Span to Seattle, finished with a 3.85 ERA over 133 1/3 innings in Triple-A last season.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays

First Spring Training workout dates for all clubs

MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

Major League Baseball has revealed the first Spring Training workout dates for pitchers and catchers and those for the full squads for all 30 clubs. MLB also announced game times for all Cactus and Grapefruit League action in February and March.

Major League Baseball has revealed the first Spring Training workout dates for pitchers and catchers and those for the full squads for all 30 clubs. MLB also announced game times for all Cactus and Grapefruit League action in February and March.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

The A's, fresh off their surprise run to the 2018 American League Wild Card Game, will be the first club to have its pitchers and catchers report. They'll do so on Monday, Feb. 11, followed by the Indians and Mariners on Feb. 12 and the remainder of MLB clubs in the days following. Oakland and Seattle will travel to Tokyo to stage two exhibition games each against Japanese teams on March 17-18, followed by the first two games of the 2019 regular season on March 20-21 at Tokyo Dome.