Notes: Hunt's confidence; odd alignment

March 11th, 2021

As a prospect with the Padres, said he knew he had the tools and the physical ability to succeed. He just didn’t have the confidence or the aggression to maximize that ability. So last year, after Spring Training was suspended but before he reported to San Diego’s alternate training site, the catcher took on a new attitude.

“I just turned it into a ‘screw it’ type of mentality -- in a good way,” Hunt said Wednesday morning. “I think it’s more of a mindset, less any physical changes.”

That mentality seemed to further unlock the 2017 second-round Draft pick’s potential, as he impressed San Diego’s staff at the alternate training site and even more so during instructional league play. Hunt started crushing balls in batting practice and hitting for power in games, with his results more in line with what you’d expect from his physical 6-foot-4 presence in the batter’s box.

Hunt also caught the Rays’ attention, so much so that he became part of their return in the Blake Snell trade in December, then received an invitation to big league Spring Training. Hunt -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as Tampa Bay's No. 23 prospect -- has taken only five at-bats in Grapefruit League play, with no hits and one strikeout. But the 22-year-old is already standing out for his work at the plate and behind it.

“I don't think he could make any better of an impression than what he's done here in three weeks. Very strong,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You watch him take BP, he drives the ball. He's got a lot of power. … Catching-wise, you can tell that he has worked a lot on his craft. He's got somewhat of a unique body type for a catcher, would be considered a bigger backstop. But he makes it work. He's really paid attention to the movement with his glove, the framing. And as much as anything, I think we all are impressed with just how cerebral he is back there in understanding what makes him good and the care that he has when he's working with the individual pitchers.

“Really, really strong impression. We're excited about him.”

Hunt offered similarly glowing reviews about his first few weeks in Rays camp. He said he feels like he can “play free and play like myself and I don’t have to fit a mold.” He was taken by surprise when Tampa Bay’s big leaguers -- including Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Brett Phillips -- went out of their way to introduce themselves rather than making the new guy do it himself.

“That spoke volumes about what the organization stands for,” Hunt said. “It’s not one through 75. It’s one and 75, everyone’s equal at the same level, and that felt great walking into camp.”

Hunt said he has tried to learn from his time around veteran catchers Mike Zunino and Kevan Smith and fellow former Padres catcher Francisco Mejía. Like Cash, Zunino has taken note of Hunt's mature understanding of what he needs to do defensively.

“That's sometimes the toughest part of [being] a young catcher, is realizing what it takes to be good behind the plate and to help the pitching staff,” Zunino said. “The offensive stuff, obviously, he's very talented with that. It’s going to come. He looks very good when I see him hit batting practice. But seeing what he's doing behind the plate and his ability to understand what positions he wants to put himself into has been very impressive.”

Moving around
The Rays tried out an interesting infield to begin Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the Twins at Charlotte Sports Park. Yoshi Tsutsugo started at first base, prospect Vidal Bruján at second, Mike Brosseau at shortstop and Brandon Lowe at third. Aside from Tsutsugo at first, don’t expect to see that alignment starting games anytime soon.

Lowe is doing some work at third and Brosseau at shortstop to increase the Rays’ in-game flexibility. They're trying to get both versatile players comfortable in different spots just in case Cash needs to shuffle the infield in the late innings. The one Spring Training move that could stick, to a certain extent, is Tsutsugo at first.

Tsutsugo could see time at first, third, left field and designated hitter. Getting him acclimated at first base would help protect the Rays with a backup left-handed-hitting first baseman in case Ji-Man Choi is injured or is unable to play for a stretch.

Tsutsugo, who said he last played first base at the beginning of his professional career in Japan, made a nice diving stop in the second inning on Wednesday. Brosseau made a solid play on a chopper up the middle to end the inning, although he short-hopped a throw to Tsutsugo for an error in the fourth.

“I thought they all looked pretty comfortable,” Cash said. “I know Bross short-hopped the one throw. I don't even think Ji-Man would have handled that one. But Bross is a baseball player. He's got good actions wherever you put them. He'll figure it out. … We're all very excited about where Yoshi is. He feels totally comfortable.”

Around the horn
• Left-hander Cody Reed made his second Spring Training appearance, recording two quick groundouts before striking out Miguel Sanó. Cash said Reed will be stretched out to work two innings, making him more than just a lefty specialist.

“I think so far, so good,” Reed said. “Throwing my stuff for strikes. Didn’t really get ahead as much as I wanted to today, but got the job done.”

• Veteran reliever Chaz Roe made his first Grapefruit League appearance in the second, allowing a Willians Astudillo double, a hit batter and a two-run Rob Refsnyder triple and striking out Brent Rooker in a three-run inning. Cash said pitching coach Kyle Snyder was pleased with Roe’s initial outing, noting that the Twins’ swings against Roe’s breaking ball “looked to be right in line with when he’s right, when he’s healthy.”

• Right-hander Luis Patiño delivered a clean inning to start the game, getting two groundouts and a flyout while pounding the strike zone with his fastball. Pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman also worked scoreless innings, and non-roster right-hander Stetson Allie struck out two in the sixth. Left-hander Dietrich Enns allowed one run in the fifth, and lefty Jeffrey Springs allowed two in the seventh.

• The Rays will begin the season April 1 against the Marlins in Miami, which means they’ll be playing under National League rules with no DH. Cash said Glasnow has asked “every two days” when Tampa Bay’s starters will take batting practice to prepare. Cash’s answer? Probably not until the final week of Spring Training.

Up next
The Rays will make the short trip to CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla., on Thursday to play the Braves at 1:05 p.m. ET. After having his last outing pushed inside due to rain, Glasnow will start for Tampa Bay. Also scheduled to pitch are right-handers Collin McHugh, Chris Ellis and Joey Krehbiel. There won’t be a telecast or a Rays radio call, but the Braves’ radio broadcast will be available on