Breaking down the Rays' roster battles
This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays entered Spring Training with only a handful of minor questions to answer about their roster. They’ve learned a lot in the past five weeks, but those issues officially remain unresolved.
Two weeks from now, Opening Day will be behind us and the 162-game marathon that is the regular season will be underway. Here are four questions facing the Rays over the final stretch of Spring Training.
Who’s the fifth starter?
The candidates to fill Tyler Glasnow’s spot remain the same: Yonny Chirinos, Luis Patiño and Josh Fleming. Tampa Bay isn’t going to make decisions based strictly on Spring Training statistics, but they’ve all had some impressive outings and looked less crisp at other times. Chirinos might be the safest pick. Patiño offers the most upside. Fleming is the only lefty in the mix.
There’s also a chance that two or three of those candidates get in the mix early on, depending on matchups and whether the Rays need to add a fresh arm to their bullpen in the early going. The way they use their roster, it’s never just about who makes the 26-man club on Opening Day.
What about the position players?
There are two spots up for grabs, if you assume the following players are locks: Christian Bethancourt, Francisco Mejía, Yandy Díaz, Brandon Lowe, Wander Franco, Isaac Paredes, Taylor Walls, Randy Arozarena, Jose Siri, Manuel Margot and Harold Ramírez.
The top four candidates on the 40-man roster for the final jobs are Josh Lowe, Luke Raley, Jonathan Aranda and Vidal Bruján. Granted, Aranda has been playing with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, but Lowe and Raley look like the front-runners to claim the last two jobs.
Lowe and Raley could provide the left-handed bats the Rays didn’t land in the offseason. Lowe’s a natural fit with the outfield group, and Raley -- who hit his fourth spring homer on Friday -- could play the outfield corners and has done a nice job at first base.
And the bullpen competition?
With Shawn Armstrong sidelined and unlikely to crack the Opening Day roster, there are two spots for a big group of candidates that includes Calvin Faucher, Kevin Kelly, Trevor Kelley and experienced non-roster invitees Kyle Crick and Heath Hembree.
From a roster management standpoint, it would make sense to carry Kelly, the Rule 5 Draft pickup with nasty stuff, and see how he handles himself in the Majors. Otherwise, he’ll have to be offered back to Cleveland. Meanwhile, fellow sidearmer Kelley -- who’s looked great this spring and earned a spot on the 40-man roster -- has a Minor League option remaining.
From a performance standpoint, Faucher is making a strong case for himself. The righty’s live batting practice sessions drew rave reviews, and in his first two Grapefruit League outings, he’s rung up four strikeouts and allowed only one hit, a solo homer to center field on Friday.
How healthy are they?
Glasnow, recovering from a left oblique strain, won’t be back until at least late April. There has been no timeline presented for Armstrong, who’s dealing with a neck injury.
Reliever Andrew Kittredge (Tommy John surgery) won’t return until mid/late this season. Young starter Shane Baz (Tommy John) will begin throwing soon, but isn’t expected back until 2024.
But Walls is back from his oblique issue, as is Faucher. Otherwise, it’s been a relatively healthy spring for the Rays. They’d love to keep it that way leading up to -- and well after -- Opening Day.