ST. PETERSBURG -- In ideal circumstances, the Rays would enter the 2020 season with a five-man rotation of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough, with Brendan McKay possibly joining as the sixth man.
But with a shortened, 60-game season that could present some challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Rays -- and every other club -- will have to have plenty of contingency plans in the event that a player lands on the injured list or on the COVID-19 list.
With all the pitching in the 60-man player pool, the Rays could be better equipped than most teams for what this season could throw at them. The Rays pride themselves on their organizational depth, particularly on the pitching side, and it could all be on display this season.
“You have to take an all-hands-on-deck approach.” manager Kevin Cash said. “We have to be able to build them up and tack innings on. We’re just going to have to see where we are from a health standpoint, from a buildup standpoint, of a lot of the other members of the pitching staff.”
Just after a week of Summer Camp, the Rays have seen some of that depth tested. Tampa Bay has been without Glasnow and Chirinos, who have not been seen on the field at all during camp, and McKay, who has been away from workouts for the last four days. All three pitchers have been away from camp for undisclosed reasons.
Depth will be key this season, so let’s take a look at some other starting options the Rays have in the 60-man player pool.
Jalen Beeks, LHP
Since being acquired from the Red Sox in 2018, Beeks has been one of the pitchers the Rays have leaned on to provide bulk innings, mostly behind an opener. In 45 appearances with Tampa Bay, Beeks has made just three starts, but he has tossed two or more innings 40 times. On Friday, he threw 49 pitches over three innings in a simulated game, and the expectation is that the club will continue to try and build up his innings over the next two weeks. If Glasnow, Chirinos and McKay are forced to miss time during the regular season, expect Beeks to jump into one of those roles.
Trevor Richards, RHP
Though Nick Anderson was the headliner in the deal with the Marlins last July, Richards is a pitcher the Rays have been excited about since they acquired him. A lot of that excitement is due to Richards’ changeup, which held opponents to a .205 average in 2019. Richards got plenty of starting experience last season, making 23 starts with the Marlins while posting a 4.06 ERA in 30 appearances overall. The right-hander had some struggles during Spring Training, but he was dominant in his first Summer Camp sim game, striking out seven in just 2 2/3 innings.
Anthony Banda, LHP
After returning from Tommy John surgery, Banda didn’t have a ton of success on the mound, finishing with a 6.04 ERA in nine appearances with Triple-A Durham last season. Banda also made three appearances with the Rays in September, allowing three runs in four innings. But now that he’s over a year removed from Tommy John surgery, Banda is a legitimate candidate to pitch bulk innings for the Rays, when needed.
Banda’s velocity is up a couple of ticks, his breaking balls look sharper and he said he added a cutter to his repertoire during the quarantine period. Cash said Banda pitches “fearlessly” and that showed during Friday’s sim game, where the left-hander struck out two over two scoreless frames.
While Banda, Beeks and Richards are the most likely contributors, the Rays also have some options deeper in the 60-man player pool. Prospects Joe Ryan, Josh Fleming, Sam McWilliams, Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz and Aaron Slegers can provide innings.
Slegers made one appearance with Tampa Bay last season, allowing one run in three innings. Ryan and Fleming showed off their potential during Spring Training and would be next on the list. McClanahan has some of the best pure stuff in the system, but could serve as a left-hander reliever. Baz finished the season in Class A Bowling Green, so it’s unlikely that he pitches in the Majors this season.